Intention and Not Knowing

I wrote this Better and Bolder email this week:

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, notes that women often measure their success by outcomes. She suggests we’d do well to measure our progress toward our goals as well. 

From "At work, women often measure themselves by the endpoint, rather than progress made," Dweck notes. Yet advancing yourself, whether in your career or level of fitness, is all about nailing small goals. A comprehensive California State University review of research on dietary and physical activity goals found that people were more likely to achieve specific ones—such as "walk one mile at lunch three times this week"—than grand, vague kinds like "exercise more often.”

If you haven’t checked in on your progress lately, consider some of the things you want to make happen in your life. Take a look at one of those and consider in what ways you actively working toward that desired end. Sometimes all we see is a tiny improvement, and it’s important to notice it’s an improvement. As long as we’re actively pursuing our goals -- learning, experimenting, noticing, and adjusting -- then we can continue with confidence. 

It’s important to focus on the progress and not get seduced into concentrating on what we think are failures. This year, after realizing I hadn’t been spending a lot of time doing one thing I love, which is reading Young Adult Science Fiction (such as Hunger Games), I set the intention to do it more often. I searched online for great series and started in on some. I’ve been keeping a wishlist on Amazon, too. 

For several weeks this winter, I had some library books waiting for me, and each weekend, I thought I’d dig in but didn’t. I wondered if I were failing at my intention to relax with fun books. Then a friend asked for suggestions, and I kept naming more and more books (Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is quite good, by the way, and right now I’m enjoying Caragh O’Brien’s Birthright series). I realized I really had been reading more this year. Instead of thinking about all the weeks I am not making time to read, I saw that I am making good progress in an area that’s important to me, relaxing and escaping with a good book. Reading these novels makes me feel like a kid again. This is not an area in which I want to set a goal (read a book a month!), so it’s especially important that I continue with activities that keep me moving toward my intention, including keeping those lists and sharing book suggestions with friends.

Whether it’s a goal or a broader intention, check in to see what you’re actively doing to make it happen for you. If you’re not engaged in making something happen for you, it’s time to set some short-term goals, enlist help from friends, announce your intentions to others, and commit to it in writing.  

It occurs to me, again, that there’s a big difference between setting a goal and setting an intention. When it’s a goal, I set up steps to get there. Getting there is important and it’s important to know where “there” is.

When I set an intention, I may not know exactly where I’m going or how I’m going to get there. One year I wanted to travel more. The opportunity to teach Nia in Costa Rica came up, and I was receptive and ready to jump on it. I couldn’t have planned that because I didn’t even know it was possible yet. 

The fun part about setting an intention is that it awakens my curiosity and sense of adventure. There isn’t a right way to do it, and there isn’t a timeline.

I like having running goals. It’s a bit disturbing instead to have a running intention. I have to say that I’m not even positive I’m clear on my intention yet. It’s not necessarily to become a barefoot or minimalist runner. Maybe I will. Maybe I’ll go back to shoes. Maybe I’ll stop running. Maybe I’ll settle in on running 3 miles a few times a week. Enjoy it, no injuries, no big gains but no big consequences either. No races, no timing, just an easy 3 miles. That could happen, and it probably would be good for me. 

The intention now is to explore bare foot running and see what happens. I’m noticing where I yield and where I resist. I’m noticing what I long for. I’m noticing what scares me. Having used Nia as a path to self-discovery, and having used motherhood in the same way, this is just a new path to the same place. That place is me. My intention is to discover me and to let go of whatever keeps me from me.