Many people lack clarity about their values, intentions, and goals. We often lump them together and delineate them in varying ways. As we live out the chaos of our lives, it is inevitable that our values, intentions, and goals become enmeshed. However, they are essential reference points for staying true to ourselves and bringing clarity to confusing situations in daily life. Here’s how I differentiate between them.
Values reflect your understanding of what really matters to you. They are shaped by familial and cultural conditioning, personal experience, and the wisdom of your understanding.
Values can be situational, temporal, hierarchical, and subjective; thus, many of your values are somewhat fluid in daily life. However, as you develop inner maturity, you adopt certain values that do not fluctuate — these are your core values. From these core values you create intentions. You may have many core values from which you create a few essential intentions that you are mindful of moment-to-moment in the midst of chaos in daily life.
Intentions form the basis for determining how you meet each moment and they keep you true to who you are as you move toward your goals. Unlike goals which are future-based, intentions always relate to the present moment.
In daily life, your intentions reflect the essence of who you are and reflect what you believe matters most in life. They shape your words and actions. As you develop inner maturity, you realize that being true to who you are is more important than achieving goals and that many of your goals can only be achieved through staying true to your intentions.
In my view, there are two essential intentions for living skillfully — meeting life with an attitude of loving-kindness and not causing harm with our words or actions. Values such as generosity, patience, persistence and forgiveness all support these basic intentions.
Goals are aspirations for the future that you seek to achieve; if they were not in the future, they would be achievements already. You may be accomplishing a certain goal already, e.g. being a good parent, but the effort is not over, so it remains a goal.
What’s the Key Difference between Values and Intentions?
An important distinction between values and intentions is that you can have values that lack commitment whereas intentions are active in the moment and focused on being a certain way right now. Intentions are where the “rubber meets the road,” where your values are reconciled with your goals, and where you give witness to what is essential to you as you dance with life.
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