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Cultivate an Intention Mindset

A more mindful approach to work calls for a more mindful approach to goals.

In the world of work, you hear a lot about setting goals. Goals are about specific definitions and actions — sometimes our professional and even personal lives seem to be all about reaching goals and crossing items off our lists.

In the world of mindfulness, you hear a lot about setting intentions. Intentions are all about managing attention and energy — and even though these are invaluable resources for our work, they’re not often used as tools in a work context.

But what if incorporating intentions into your planning could help you to be more effective at reaching your work objectives, and to cultivate a more mindful approach to work? Here are 4 easy steps to get started.

STEP 1: Get Clear on Goal Mindset vs Intention Mindset

Start by understanding the difference between an intention mindset and a goal mindset. You might find that one approach is more appropriate for certain situations or objectives.

A great example of this is fitness. You can set a goal to visit the gym three times a week. You can also cultivate an intention to become healthier, which might include the gym but can also extend to other areas such as diet and stress management.

Sometimes you need your scope to be narrow to be able take action; sometimes you need flexibility to be able to progress. Where in your work does it make sense to use goals or intentions?

STEP 2: Understand the Impact of Intentions

An intention mindset often has a different organizational impact from a goal mindset. Here are two key areas where use of intention has a notable effect.

Intentions can help you be more effective in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous business environment. Traditional goal planning can be challenging in today’s VUCA climate, which includes many factors beyond our control. Intentions can provide more flexibility to help you navigate the future of business. Think back to our fitness example. If your goal was to go to the gym a certain number of days per week, when gyms close due to the pandemic, you fail to reach your goal. By having the intention of getting healthier, even if gyms close, you have other avenues open to you to keep progressing — without losing critical time by needing to revisit the planning process.

Intentions can positively influence employee experience. Taking a more intentional approach within your planning culture can also have a substantial impact on employee experience. Perhaps most significantly, working with goals can sometimes set employees up for burnout, while working with intentions can actually help support employee wellbeing. Check out our podcast episode with special guest The Burnout Professor to learn more!

STEP 3: Address Roadblocks to Using Intentions

Even when we see these advantages of working with intentions, it doesn’t always feel easy to get started using them at work. Here are some common roadblocks and how to address them.

ROI on intentions isn’t always direct. ROI around intentions can take a few steps to connect the dots, whereas ROI for goals is usually demonstrated with a direct measurement. Intentions can also link to anecdotal or more subjective measures, which are usually dismissed or undervalued in ROI calculations. It’s important to recognize the value of intention data as well as goal data, and to evaluate ROI more accurately by balancing the two.

Traditional work culture focuses on objectivity and accomplishment over subjectivity and progress. Intentions can touch on topics that make people uncomfortable in the workplace — things like emotions, uncertainty, and ambiguous information. But that doesn’t mean that intentions have less value than goals. In fact, with a more human-centered approach driving the future of work, business in the very near future may even demand more of an intention mindset model. Be aware of where a goal mindset is truly useful for your work, and where clinging to a goal mindset for the sake of convention might be holding you back from the benefits of using intentions.

STEP 4: Just Get Started

You can start incorporating intentions into your business planning any time. Here are some suggestions to get started right away.

Set an intention to cultivate for the day. On your to do list or plan for the day, set an intention to cultivate as well as a goal to achieve. Take note of any progress you make toward the intention and toward the goal, how your approach might differ from one to the other, and how you feel as you work toward each.

Add intention to your existing goals. Practice using intention language in your planning by converting an existing goal into an intention. Ask yourself what you want the future state to look like, then identify where you can use goal mindset or intention mindset to help you get there. Where would objective data and narrow scope support the outcome? Where would subjective data and a broad approach support the outcome? Remember to pay special attention to reframing your conventional thoughts around ROI and workplace expectations.

Ask yourself “What If?” Think through a situation where you might use an intention to work toward a business objective. (For example: “Our intention is to significantly increase sales this year” vs “Our goal is to reach $1M in sales by December 31.”) What would the differences and nuances between each statement mean for your work? Consider the potential use cases for each option, and think how each approach could affect resource allocation, employee experience, and potential outcomes.

When it comes to bringing more of an intention mindset to your work, starting small works fine — just make sure you get started! Remember that each step you take counts toward a building more mindful approach to work.


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