In my sports coaching business and in my latest book, Racing Wisely, I work with athletes on setting intention and goals so they can perform at their personal best. Having a clear intention and clear goals is important not just for endurance events, but for sports in general and for yoga practice, as well.
Intention and goals are different. Intention includes your motivation for the practice: the attitude you want to cultivate, the feeling you want to feed throughout. It’s private and internal, and it will help you maintain the right spirit as you go on. It may even be beyond verbal, more of a feeling or an image or an ephemeral quality. If you can put words on your intention, they might be “I feel grounded,” or “I am joyous,” or “I exhibit courage.”
Goals, on the other hand, are quantifiable. You should be able to articulate them clearly—for example, “I’ll run the marathon in under four hours,” “I’ll hold my serve,” “I’ll stay in Bakasana (Crane Pose) 10 breaths,” “I’ll sit in meditation for 20 minutes.” These goals are public; someone watching would be able to assess objectively whether or not they are met.
Having both a clear intention and clear goals is critical for your success in sports and in yoga practice. Without intention, it’s easy to crumble when the going gets rough. Intention serves to inspire and focus you mentally and spiritually. Goals, on the other hand, help you apply the right physical effort to the task at hand. Without goals, you’re missing out on the opportunity to apply positive stress, and without positive stress, there’s no growth.
The next time you lace up or unroll your mat, take a moment to check in with both your intention and your goals. Why are you undertaking this activity? How do you want to be as you move through it? That is your intention. Where and when do you want to be? Those are your goals. As you move through your activity, and especially when you are faced with a decision (Should you do another interval? Another round of sun salutations? Another breath exercise? Another ten minutes of sitting?), check in with your intention and your goals. They will steer you toward wise choices.