how to set goals intentionally


Today I’d like to talk how to use goals intentionally.

To some, goals may seem like the best thing ever and to others they may seem like the worst thing ever (and sometimes both at the same time).

Ironically, the source of goal excitement and fear emanates from the same source.

They are simply opposite ends of the spectrum of “What Goals Say About Me.”

On the exciting end, it can seem like goals are a pathway to feeling fulfillment, success, and happiness!

Goals = : )

On the other end of the spectrum, they can feel like indicators that we are never enough and can never measure up.

Goals = : (

Thankfully, neither of these goal perspectives is true.

Goals are simply tools that measures our effort. 

They are not essential to live a full and ‘successful’ life.

They are not good.

Or bad.

Like scissors, goals are simply tools which have the power to benefit or harm us — depending on how we use them.

Let’s take a look at how to use goals in a positive, productive way – by breaking a common assumption and measuring our goals peacefully.


Assumption: Completing goals will make us fulfilled and joyful.


Quite simply, they cannot.

We feel fulfilled and joyful when we are acting in accordance with our deepest values in the present moment (ie: intention).

Goals simply measure progress and effort on the Doing level of our lives.

If too much emphasis is put on the goal, rather than the intention behind the goal, we find ourselves caught up in our own personalized version of “the rat race.”

We’ll always be focusing on getting to the next moment so we can be closer to reaching our goal.

Then, we make new goals.

Dream Bigger.


The cycle is endless. Short bursts of pride and happiness fade quickly after we reach our goals.

Enduring fulfillment and joy illude us.

For those who find it difficult to live in the present moment, this attachment to goal setting may be partially responsible. Overemphasizing goals can leave us future tripping to the finish line, unable to focus on the moment at hand.

Now that we know that we fulfillment and joy are experienced independent of goals, we must also consider how we measure goal success.


Measure goals based on effort, not outcome.


Yes, we all know that goals should be S.M.A.R.T., but what we specifically aim for matters a great deal.

Instead of measuring goal success based on an outcome (get 500 Facebook followers, lose X pounds, make $X), we must measure goal success based on our effort. 

This might seem a little bit crazy. After all, most of the time we naturally set goals so we can get specific outcomes.

But this is really setting ourselves up for a lot of pain.

You see, outcomes are byproducts of principles.

And if we accidentally pick the wrong principle to act upon, we may have the very best intentions and try our best, but we will never reach our desired outcome.

Then, when we don’t get our desired outcome, we’ll feel like we have “failed.”

When in fact, we may have executed our goal perfectly and to the best of our ability.

To understand the relationship between principles and outcomes better, let’s take a look at flying.

Throughout history, men have tried to fly. In ancient times, they attached feathers to their arms like birds and tried jumping off of towers.

As you can imagine… they were unsuccessful.

If these men tied their “goal success” to the outcome of flying, they obviously failed.

Not because the didn’t try or want it badly enough.

Heck, they were jumping off of buildings! 

They “failed” simply because they didn’t execute according to the natural principles of flight.

The same is true for us in our daily lives.

We may deeply want a particular outcome, but we may not have a complete understanding of the principles that determine that outcome.

So we may decide to keep trying the same few methods over and over to get a specific result which may never occur.

In this scenario we have failed, regardless of our effort, heart, and perseverance.

We would be much better off deciding to measure our goal’s success on our own effort instead.

If we find that our methods outlined in our goal do not get us an outcome we desire, we can simply try new methods aligned with different principles to get the outcome we seek.

Execute our goal. Celebrate our efforts. Evaluate the result.

If we don’t like the outcome, we can try different actions that may reap different outcomes.

This process allows us to approach the “how” we do things less rigidly.

In this case, outcomes are still relevant, they are just not the determining factor to our goal’s success.

Thomas Edison is perhaps the most celebrated intentional goal setter.

He “failed” over 10,000 times to find the solution to the light bulb. But rather than look at each attempt as a failure he said,

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

He innately understood that his success dwelled in his effort, not on his attempts that defied the principles of light.

We can do this, too.

We must simply act according to our intentions in the present moment, set goals that measure our efforts, and adapt until our actions align with principles that produce our desired results.


Want to learn more about intentions, goal setting, and fulfillment?

The second Life with Intention Online class sold out last week, so I’ve added two more classes in March!

Click here to RSVP.



This Post Has 0 Comments

  1. “As you can imagine… they were unsuccessful.”
    I laughed out loud to this. You put that in such a nice way 🙂

    I really loved this post Jess – there’s a been a lot of backlash against goal setting in recent years, but when done with intention they still can be hugely useful in creating the life you feel is purposeful.

    1. Thanks, Serena! Yes, I think I’ve personally had my own battles with goals and using them in ways that were not positive.

      This way they are put in their place, they are attainable, and they can still help us get to those outcomes we seek without feeling like a failure along the way! : )

    1. That is awesome! Totally in line with what I’m sharing in this post and teaching in the LWIO class. : )

  2. tatiana


    I’ve never been much of a goal setter. In the past, I had lofty ambitions based on what I wanted, but that was the extent of it. I really liked this part here:

    “Instead of measuring goal success based on an outcome (get 500 Facebook followers, lose X pounds, make $X), we must measure goal success based on our effort.”

    As I gain more clarity in what I want my life to look like, I’ve turned toward – and away – from goal setting. I bought Danielle LaPorte’s latest craze in hopes that’ll add more focus to whatever the hell it was that I was trying to do. But it just confused me all the work, I think.

    (I’m an INTP – goal setting isn’t in my nature).

    But I do like your approach of measuring the effort. To me, as long as you’re taking steps toward you want, that’s important. 😀

    1. Tatiana, I’m glad this resonated with you! Fully formed intentions (verbalized or innate ones) lead us forward much more effectively than goals.

      Goals are simply a tool available to us, but need not be the “carrot and stick” mechanism they often are today (So much so that some people doubt whether they would achieve as much without the goal to push them forward — “the carrot”. That belief is simply our ego saying that we cannot trust our guts and intention to drive us naturally without stress to positive places. This allows the ego to: keep driving our lives, keep delaying our gratification, avoid the present moment, and avoid the joy and fulfillment we seek.)

      We *can* follow our guts without using the goal metrics and be perfectly fulfilled, joyful, and successful.

  3. Alicia Kozikowski

    Wonderful article! Thankfully, just in time for my having set a own goal that I let get out of control. My goal, complete a Valentine’s day marketing campaign, turned into me only thinking only about the external results- likes, reposts, pins, etc. Your post turned me back to the internal aspects of the goal- to create images I am proud of, become more familiar with marketing, and have fun with the process. Now acheiving my goal feels organic, obtainable, and satisfying. Regardless of the external results, you’ve reminded me learning from the goal is what it’s all about- which I know I will. Can’t wait for your next piece!

    1. That is AWESOME to hear, Alicia! Hooray for not letting our ego’s run the show!

      As I mentioned in the post, you can always later improve and change your methods based on the results you get, but now it’s not about pressuring yourself to produce outcomes that may be beyond your current methods and understanding. You’re able to evaluate your effort as what is in your control, not the outcome. : )

      1. Alicia Kozikowski

        So true about the ego! Great example you gave Emily regarding loosing weight versus changing your habits. Thanks again!

  4. This explanation is perfect! I feel like I need to pull out at least 10 quotes and post them at home…in my office… on my phone. 🙂

    1. That is so great to hear, Kimberly! Hopefully it leads to more peaceful, present action. : )

  5. Emily

    I love this idea, but I’m having a hard time getting my mind fully around it. Could you provide an example of a personal goal of yours written in this manner. Thanks!

    1. For sure! Okay here are a few Good and Bad goals:

      1. Personal Habit.

      Bad: Lose 5 pounds by next month.

      (This is bad because your metabolism, schedule, available foods, travel, or health may preclude you from this goal = outside your control.)

      Good: Eat a salad for lunch 3 times per week this month.

      (This is pretty good because you can measure your progress based on your decision to eat a salad = in your control. Based on the results of this accomplished goal, you can see if the principle of eating a healthier lunch brings about a loss in weight over the course of the four weeks. If it does, you are using a good principle and should continue. If it doesn’t produce a result you’d like, perhaps you switch your meal at lunch or make other healthier swaps at other meals.)

      2. Career/business.

      Bad: Get 500 Facebook followers by next month.

      (This is bad because it is assuming that you are able to personally control how many people like your page, how many people see your page (Facebook determines that), and if you aren’t willing to pay money to advertise with Facebook, it could be quite challenging to get the outcome you want based on your efforts alone.)

      Good: Post on Facebook twice a day and evolve content based on how many people see/like my updates every day for a month. Test paying for Facebook advertising with $20.

      (This is good because it is measuring your efforts, not the outcomes that are determined by: other people who may or may not like your page and Facebook’s ever-changing formula for how many people like your page. You are also saying here that you are going to keep evolving and try new methods along the way, which is great! You might stumble upon a better principle that produces better outcomes this way (maybe you find that asking questions and polls is more effective than links to articles). It also shows you are able to try Facebook advertising, but you are not hinging your own “success” with this goal on how many people end up seeing it or pressing “like.”

      Does that make a bit more sense, Emily?

      1. Emily

        Yes! That makes so much sense now, I love it. I can’t wait to try with a few personal goals of my own. Thank you so much!

Leave a Reply