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Intentions, Not Goals, Create Lasting Change

By the time February rolls around, many of our New Year’s commitments have faded, but not because of the reasons we believe. We failed at changing our behaviors because mistakenly, we focused on a singular goal. Setting goals and working steadfastly to meet them, we are taught, guarantees success. But as is revealed this time of year, the formula doesn’t always test as valid.

According to Statistic Brain Research Institute, the number one resolution for 2017 was to lose weight. In the traditional model for success, one might set a goal to lose (insert magic number) of pounds and then begin the process of suppressing comfortable and learned behaviors to meet it. Out go the donuts and beer, in come 6am runs and kale salads. While some people will meet their goals, most will fall short—92% says Forbes. Inevitably, this leads to internal criticisms about quitting, lacking determination and never being good enough—the usual self-defeating classics.

The goal achievers are not immune, however. Once their goals are achieved, the behaviors they have suppressed begin to creep back in. Pretty soon, the lost weight has been regained and with it, the soundtrack of internal criticism returns. Stanford University notes that only 5% of people who lose weight rapidly manage to keep it off. Scientifically then, this goal-oriented method almost ensures failure.

There is a better way to achieve lasting success.

Instead of setting a goal to lose the “magic number” of pounds, you may be better served setting a high-level intention to live a healthier lifestyle, one that includes a number of ways to get there. Equally important to determine is the “why” behind the intention—the personal motive. In this case, you may want to avoid a genetically predisposed condition or perhaps, to join your spouse in a 5K race or to enjoy more of life with your family. If you can fully commit to your intention, then realistic, sustainable goals will naturally emerge.

The formula for success applies to far more than personal issues. In the workplace, we are trained, incentivized, recognized and rewarded for our ability to accomplish goals. Although team members may hit their targets through modifying certain behaviors, similar to crash dieting, this demonstrates short-term transactional thinking—with unsustainable results.

If leaders desire transformational and sustainable change, instead of limiting their teams to short-term goals, they must operate at a strategic level. This requires long-term thinking and the ability to clearly define and communicate the “why” behind the intention. 

The “why” is where the deeper, inner work takes place. And the “why” is also where many people personally get stuck since they have only been trained to define what, where, when and how questions—tactical goals.

Determining the what, where, when and how tactics is easier in the workplace, too. But as in our personal lives, tactical goals are purely transactional and the related success, only temporary. If leaders don’t understand and communicate the “why,” their teams will:

  • Lack purpose

  • Fail to consistently execute efficiently and effectively

  • Be confined to a state of doing rather than a state of being

Although it may be difficult, dig deep. Ask the “why.” And then, connect it to the what, where, when and how.

Your teams will transform. The improved behaviors will be sustainable. And the success that follows won’t be a temporary and transactional occurrence, but will become a by-product of a better way of thinking and of being.

Jamie Ramsden is a certified executive leadership coach and founder of Adastra Consulting ( A former Chief Executive, Jamie has been coaching C-Suite and Senior executives around the world for over fifteen years.

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