54: Goals versus Intentions: What’s Your Why?

by Coach Jill Farmer and Coach Gabriella Dennery MD | Physician Coaching, Podcast, Work Life Balance

“Give me a reason why I’m doing this. Why is this significant for me? Because personally, I’m not a terribly extrinsically driven individual. If I don’t have that intrinsic drive that this matters to me for a reason, then every goal in the world is not going to make a difference.” -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD

 In today’s episode, Coaches Gabriella and Jill break down the difference between goals and intentions and why that matters. Everyone has goals, spoken or unspoken. But you don’t hear as much about intentions. As it turns out, intentions play a very important role in achieving our goals. Setting intentions might just be the answer you’ve been looking for to help you move toward achieving more meaningful goals in your life. 

Excerpt from the show:

“Gabriella, what do we mean when we say goals and what do we mean when we say intentions?” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

“Well, think of it like you’re playing darts and you’re shooting for that target in the middle, so that’s your goal. The goal is the end result but the intention is your aim. It’s your mindset. It’s your thought process, your motivation. Why do you want to hit that target? That’s what we speak about when we speak about intention. Both can be very specific and that’s also important. But in coaching we talk about Smart Goals. They are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound. One of the common coaching goals for clients is, ‘I want to get in shape,’ or at least that’s the general vision. It’s like, ‘Ok, well how do you want to do that?’ As we continue to explore that question, I had a client not too long ago that said, ‘Ok wait. I like walking and I have a window of time at six o’clock in the morning to get up and do some walking before the house gets busy. So let me use that time to walk.’ ‘Ok, great. How long do you want to walk?’ Because we want to get specific now. ‘Well, it’s going to be 20 minutes.’ ‘What days of the week?’ ‘Well, I’m going to do it on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.’ ‘Great.’ So now we have a Smart Goal and it’s time bound, which is important. It gets in the schedule, 20 minutes, three times a week at six o’clock in the morning. Then what happens? It backfires. Why? What if you miss a day? What if you oversleep? What if it rains etc., etc.? Any number of reasons. ‘Oh this is so easy, why can’t I get it done? I don’t understand, it’s not that big a deal. I used to do this 10 years ago.’ Then it can really snowball into this self critique, negative self talk, etc., etc. So goals by themselves, I think, work for some people very effectively. People who are used to having those kinds of markers, they work very well with goals. ‘Three times a week, I’m on it. Got it.’ But for most people it’s just another item on the to do list that keeps getting longer and it never gets done. That can be an incredible source of frustration. So we want to set somebody up for success. With that client I started asking, ‘What was your experience ten years ago? What was it like?’ In the end, really the conversation wasn’t about what you did but it’s about how it felt. ‘How did your day go as you started at six o’clock walking and did you notice a difference between the days when you went walking and the days that you didn’t? What was that experience like? How did that impact the rest of your day? How did you feel at the end of the day when you got home from work etc. etc.?’ So we started going through that exploratory coaching process and just really relating to an experience that she already had. At the same time saying, ‘What was good about it? What was memorable about it?’ Because that’s where the intention comes from. Yes, ten years forward it may be a completely different plan, but at the same time it’s like, ‘Well what’s the intention? What are you going for? What makes it believable to you?’ So we want to get it from goal, ‘I’m setting this goal because it’s a good idea,’ to an intention. So this client said, ‘My intention is to create me-time in the morning because that’s what I really want.’ ‘Oh, so the goal is not about exercise at all. It’s about creating me-time, now we’re talking!’ So once those little lightbulbs, one after the other, went off and we were able to combine the goal with the intention of creating me-time first thing in the morning ‘So I can feel at peace as my day begins’ or ‘I can feel energized before my day begins.’  You know, why are you doing what you’re doing? That’s the intention. It speaks to your why and your goal speaks to how you’re going to do it. So now the walk was one means of many of creating me-time. Then we started having these little moments throughout the day where she could do that. ‘Well, ok, one of my patients just missed (an appointment). Let me go walk around the neighborhood and see some new sites. There’s another opportunity for me-time and combines a little exercise at the same time.’ So we got to play with the idea and really expand the idea by giving it a little more teeth, a little more bite. Making it more believable and more relevant to this particular person as opposed to ‘I’m exercising because that’s what I’m supposed to do.’ So the intention really jazzes everything up. It lends a certain excitement to the goal, more than just a goal by itself. Does that make sense, Jill?” -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD


“One hundred percent, I love that. I think you spoke to something important, right? Which is the people who say, ‘I set goals that I don’t achieve and then I have self-loathing and I beat myself up. It’s very demotivating. I’m either on the wagon or off the wagon of getting it done or achieving what I want to achieve.’ Then there’s the people that actually always do achieve their goals. They’re checking off the list. I have a client that did that. It’s like, ‘Here’s where we want to be in terms of revenue.’ All those goals were getting checked and then this client is saying to me, ‘So why is it that I feel so uninterested and I’m burning out even when I’m reaching all the goals?’ I think goals in and of themselves, the target, is not where the meaning comes from. It’s not where the richness comes from. So if we’re not careful and we just do the extrinsic goals, just the markers, just the check off the list things, just the meeting of the department goals. For this particular physician I’m talking about, over time, we may still achieve them but we’re getting less motivated, we’re getting less meaning out of it. We know that burnout research tells us that physicians who have more connection to why their work matters burn out less, or a way to treat burnout is to be able to connect to why your work matters. So to me the intention is getting connected to why your work matters. There’s been some other research that was done of military academy graduates from a number of years ago, and I’ll just summarize. It said that people that had extrinsic-only goals, what rank I want to be, what weight I want to be, what my marital status is, were actually far less successful. That was measured by whether they achieved those goals versus people that had more intrinsic goals like, ‘I want to be a leader.’ There’s the intention to lead. ‘I want to be somebody who is great at handling obstacles and challenges and stays calm in those times.’ Those more intrinsic intentions that people set and then balance with a way to get there that was measurable and achievable and not just pie in the sky. ‘Oh I have this intention but I’m never going to do it.’ That’s where it seemed like the magic happened.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

Get One-on-One Coaching with Coach Gabriella Dennery MD

Get One-on-One Coaching with Master-Certified Coach Jill Farmer

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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran

Jill Farmer is an experienced physician coach who has been helping doctors live their best lives, increase their success, and move through burnout for well over a decade.

She has delivered keynotes, programs, and training everywhere from Harvard Medical School to the American College of Cardiology.

She has personally coached hundreds of physicians, surgeons, and other busy professionals to help them be at their best—without burning themselves out. Her coaching has supported professionals at places like Mass General Brigham in Boston, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University in Chicago and too many others to list.

Jill wrote the book on time management for busy people. Literally. It’s called “There’s Not Enough Time…and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” which debuted as a bestseller on Amazon. Her work has been featured everywhere from Inc. to Fitness Magazine to The Washington Post.

Nationally recognized as a “brilliant time optimizer and life maximizer,” Jill will cut straight to the heart of your stress to liberate you from its shackles. She has two young adult daughters. She lives with her husband and their poorly behaved dachshund in St. Louis, MO.

Life Coach Gabriella Dennery, MD OMD is passionate about helping busy physicians rediscover the joy of their calling. She draws on her training as a physician, a musician, and an ordained non-denominational minister in addition to health & wellness and life coaching to offer professionals from all walks of life the benefit of her broad experience and deep insights.

You can find Gabriella as one of the co-creators of STAT: Quick Wins To Get Your Life Back.

The daughter of a psychiatrist mother and a neurosurgeon father, both from Haiti, Gabriella and her five siblings were expected to choose from five noble callings: Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering, Law, or Agronomy (caring for the delicate soil of Haiti).

Gabriella, an innately gifted healer and teacher, chose Medicine and graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine, “The Mecca.” Following her residency in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Gabriella moved to New York City to serve as an attending physician and clinical instructor in Harlem and later as medical director and attending physician at SUNY Downstate Bedford-Stuyvesant satellite clinic in Brooklyn.

Her greatest joy as a primary care physician was supporting her patients, shepherding them to Aha moments, and nurturing positive shifts in perspective that measurably improved their health and wellbeing–a strength that makes Gabriella so effective as a coach.

After more than ten years of practicing internal medicine, Gabriella chose to explore the integration of medicine, music, and ministry to promote better health of her fellow physicians by becoming a physician coach. She successfully coaches physicians to prevent and/or navigate through physician burnout, reach career and personal goals, clarify and take actionable steps to achieve their own personal vision, and is well known for helping doctors at all stages of their careers, from students to residents/fellows to practicing physicians. She maintains her work-life balance by playing percussion and violin, composing music, and enjoying a very fun and fulfilling marriage.

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