Goals, Affirmations, and Intentions


The differences among goals, affirmations and intentions can be confusing. Here are some definitions and suggestions for integrating these into your life.

What is a Goal?

A goal is a desired outcome. It is a clear thing you define so you know when it is done or not done, often via a SMART framework:






For example, a goal could be to do an activity, like to go for a walk, meditate, or cook, for 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. 

Why is this SMART?
Specific: it’s a specific activity, like walk, meditate, or cook. It’s not “be healthier,” which is vague.

Measurable: You can count the number of minutes you do the activity. You can do this by counting the start and stop times on an analog watch, using a timer on your phone, or a smart fitness tracker (for the walking example) or meditation app that automatically measures things for you. In our earlier example, “be healthier” is not measurable because there is no metric associated with it.

Actionable: What action do you need to do to make progress toward that goal? One example might be to get up earlier or to skip watching the evening news, or maybe listen to a podcast while you go for a walk. Goals are about doing. 

Relevant: If your goal is to go for a walk more often, you might start with getting a pair of comfortable walking shoes. 

Time-Bound: “Be healthier for the rest of your life” might seem daunting, but goals can be accomplished with the specifics. For example: “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights, I will go for a walk and call a friend while walking” can feel more doable.  

I find that goals are often used in the context of business because they align to “hard metrics” like inputs and outputs: amount of time spent on an activity and results achieved. 

How you can practice this

Print out a monthly calendar and put it on your wall. If you want to do something more often, mark a big X on the calendar when you do that action for the day. It will be obvious – and motivating – how many X’s there are on the calendar, and how many X’s there are in a row. 


What is an Affirmation?

I define an affirmation as a short, positive statement of intention to help you connect inspiration, motivation and action. This is inspired by the Sanksrit term  

Sankalpa (Sanskrit: संकल्प), which is defined as “an intention formed by the heart and mind -- a solemn vow, determination, or will. A sankalpa is a tool meant to harness the will, and to focus and harmonize mind and body.” 

Some people make fun of affirmations because they might seem fluffy or wishful thinking. And if you think of an affirmation as a wish, like “I wish I were healthier,” that’s not actually an affirmation, it’s just a wish. 

Why engage in an affirmation practice? Let’s see what someone wiser than I had to say: 

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”

-Mahatma Gandhi


At a biological level, neurons that fire together, wire together. What you practice, you get better at, whether it’s playing violin or being self-critical. When you practice positive thinking, it’s harder to get stuck in a self-critical rut. 

Some examples:

I am achieving total well-being

I am evolving into a greater and greater expression of myself 

I am the love and light that I truly am

I am loving and loved

How you can practice affirmations

I really like DeeDee’s Yoga Nidra recordings here: http://goodnesssake.org/media/audio/audio.shtml

She incorporates Sankalpa or Affirmation practice into hour-long yoga nidra recordings that are free and you can do this at home. Try doing an hour of yoga nidra in the evening, or before you go to sleep, and be amazed by how quickly you can relax! 

Don’t have a whole hour? Try picking an affirmation that resonates with you (and here’s a list of 200 to pick from).What do you want to cultivate?


What is an Intention?

An intention is a way of being. Unlike a goal, you may never be done with it. It’s hard to imagine an end point to being kind to yourself. 

An intention is something to be:

  • To be kind to myself and others

  • To be accepting of things I can’t change

  • To be generous 

How you can practice setting intention

First thing in the morning, either right after you get out of bed, if you meditate or pray, or walk your dog, pick an intention for the day. Sometimes I like to connect intentions with goals so it has more “juice” to it. For example, “My intention today is to remember to breathe at work, so I can be more kind to my body.”

As you can see, from thinking, to doing, to being, it’s easier to connect your desired outcomes with your way of life by practicing intentions, affirmations, and goals. 

What’s your goal, affirmation, or intention today? Share it on Twitter with me at: @BizCasualYoga

Katharine Bierce