In my early-twenties, I would spend each December crafting a long list of goals for the coming year. At a bare minimum, it involved performing 100 random acts of kindness, reading 52 books, trying 26 new recipes, and learning 3 new skills. It was my resolution, each year, to keep learning and continue growing.
At age 25, I feel ill and failed to bounce back. When the new year began it’s approach, I set the same ambitious goals for myself. Throughout the year, I pushed through fatigue. I completed my workouts, I read the books, I home-cooked our meals, and I burned myself out. My dedication to achieving my goals was so strong that I sacrificed much-need sleep and quietude. And my heath suffered for it.
I failed every goal, miserably, and I failed myself.
It took several years for me to move past denial and accept that crushing fatigue, muscle aches, and tachycardia are not simply part of aging. During those years, I set and failed to achieve goals. The books I read, I don’t recall. I suffered the consequences of exercise absent of adequate ATP for days. I met up with friends, and fell asleep at the dinner table. I was relentless. And I was suffering for it.
Goals vs. Intentions
Goals are result-oriented, whereas intentions are process-oriented. Goals tend to be external achievements, whereas intentions tend to be internal commitments. Goals help us move toward a compelling future, whereas intentions help us move toward a compelling present.
Goals are binary. You either did or did not complete a marathon. You either did or did not read 52 books.
On the other hand, intentions offer us more flexibility. Taking a moment to appreciate nature can be satisfied by any number of actions. Moving your body daily also offers countless options to the intention-setter.
Having a combination of goals and intentions is essential for growth and well-being. By incorporating both into your life, you’ll be able to enjoy the destination and the journey.
The Right Direction, At The Right Pace
In recent years, I’ve moved away from traditional goals and towards intentions. I found that putting pressure on myself to achieve things just beyond my reach did nothing to help my health.
Four years ago, a practitioner told me, “You are moving in the right direction, at the right pace.” I think about that often when it comes to intention. I set my eyes on my desired future and aim to take a few baby steps each day to lead me in the right direction, at a manageable pace.
While it may not be our fault that we became ill, it is out responsibility to manage the ways in which we think, act, and feel. We can live with resentment and envy, or we can take charge of our lives and live with intention. If you make each action purposeful, you can give meaning to a even a challenging, sedentary, or pain-filled experience.
With chronic illness, my intentions have gravitated toward health, well-being, and holding on to hope. For the last few years, my aims have been to eat only whole, nutrient-dense foods, to incorporate some form of movement, even if just walking to bathroom (which was a often a challenge), and to jot down one joyful moment each day (in the some lines a day journal). Each intention served as a supportive guardrail on the slow and steady path towards my dreams.
Celebrating Small Wins
Healthy habits are straightforward, but I want to elaborate on the value of the “joy journal” when it comes to attaining a sense of accomplishment. At dinner each evening, my partner and I would pick our brains for the good. Sometimes it was special or significant moment, but oftentimes it was the small things that made the day feel worthwhile.
In retrospect, most of the journal entries seem trivial: I caught a ground squirrel eating the nasturtiums, I sat with my partner on the patio to watch the rain, strawberries are back in season at the market. Others tell the story of my recovery: I made it up the small incline without resting, a doctor acknowledged that this isn’t all in my head, I slept the best I have in years after my first dose of low-dose naltrexone, my lab results point to mold illness.
The journal served as a daily moment of compulsory gratitude. It was an opportunity to sow seeds of hope in the tiniest of gardens. Eventually, the small green dreams began awakening, stretching their long green limbs and breaking through the darkness.
Goals and resolutions are wonderful. I would argue, particularly for those of us who suffer from chronic illness, that intentions are better. Rather than strive to cross the finish line, focus on tackling the race one stride at a time. Allow yourself to slow down, take a break, change your shoes, course-correct, or pick up where you left off another day. No judgement, no shame. Just keep moving in the right direction, at the right pace for you.