Goals vs. Intentions

I originally published this post two years ago (has it been two years already?). Since then, I’ve had a number of folks ask about the difference between goals and intentions.

As I write, I’ve printed my new ornaments to hang on my Tree of Life. It is a permanent fixture in my living room. My intentions hang all year long. I might glance at them from time to time, but they are intentions and then I build goals and steps to complete those intentions.

As I learn and grow, those intentions change.


What is it about intentions? How are they different from goals?

An intention, to me, has always been something that has come from within. Something that is almost intangible but that I would like to see manifest in my life.

Intentions have no set date for “achievement.” But they bring me to the present. They remind me of how I want to live my life. I understand that not everything I intend is meant to happen right now, or even this year. But they are earmarks for my journey.

They are phrases that I utter (or write) for the universe. They are little secrets I whisper to set in motion the conditions needed to fulfill an intention. Except I don’t always keep them secret.

When it’s time for an intention to come to the surface, if I need to talk about it or do something, then others will know.

But an intention is also something that I “send out” with no expectations of when or how. I trust that my journey will create the conditions to fulfill an intention at the right time.

When to fulfill an intention

How do I know it’s time? When my heart, soul and mind tell me.

Because, sometimes, I have an intention and through living life, I realize that the intention needs to change. To be something else. And that’s okay: that’s the beauty of an intention. Intentions are malleable, subject to our own evolution.

One intention I had was to publish a visionary fiction book. In time I realized two things: my mind and heart are not ready to do this. I don’t know the reason exactly, but when I’ve sat down to write – over and over – a book with a spiritual slant, it always ends up being this frustrating project.

And so, I keep it as an intention, but I know it’s not yet time to fulfill that intention.

One Big Intention for 2019

In 2018, I got certified to teach meditation. But, I didn’t know much about running a meditation business. I hired a coach who helped me craft a meditation course and taught me how to release it into the world.

I am days away from launching the course. It was my intention to create a meditation business and coach people. I knew that 2018 would be the year for training and preparation. And patience.

2019 will be about bringing awareness to the power of meditation, and teaching online. But then I have goals attached to that. Goals such as teaching privately and creating a retreat center. Those are intentions, too.

For a lot of my online workings, I’ve played it too small. I’ve gotten in the way of my own growth. It was through setting intentions that I realized I needed to go bigger, trust my intuition, and do things differently.

It’s powerful stuff.

goals vs. intentions


Goals, then, become the actions to fulfill an intention. I wait until it’s “time.”

For example, in 2017 I published a coloring book and a personal development journal.

I knew that I would complete those intentions by achieving specific goals to get them published.

The first goal was to publish the coloring book. I’d created a set date to do so. I then worked backwards for smaller, mini-goals of things I needed to get done in order to see the project to completion.

I’ve created goals associated with my Mindset Delta course. I had to have many to be able to complete this project.

The Tree of Life

This part of the post is an update from 2017:

Years ago, when I was teaching Spanish to elementary kiddos, I taught a lesson about the Tree of Life as it related to Mayan culture.

Though the Tree of Life isn’t necessarily associated with the new year, I decided to have the students write their intentions for the new year on the back of various designs, and I hung them on a bulletin board as ornaments.

I chose to do that because a Tree of Life represents a journey. It’s recognized across cultures and what better time to celebrate the reminder of how special life is, especially in the dormancy of winter?

intentions for tree of life

My Tree of Life in January 2017

Tree of Life Meaning

Across cultures, the Tree of Life is a recognized symbol. It may have different names, but it’s an iconic symbol for life and growth.

The Tree of Life in the Biblical Book of Genesis

The Tree of Life appeared in the Garden of Eden. There’s a lot of disagreement whether this is also the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or if it’s a separate tree. Still, most agree that it symbolizes connectedness and the link between heaven, earth and the underworld.

The Tree of Immortality in Islamic Culture

The Tree of Life is the Tree of Immortality and, according to Islamic customs, was the only tree in the Garden of Eden. It’s also seen as a bridge to heaven.

The Acacia Tree in Egyptian Mythology

In ages past, Isis and Osiris (as a couple) emerged from the Tree of Life, or, the Acacia Tree. This tree represented life and death. It splits into East and West. It has more symbolism and meanings, but, as an interesting side note, the Acacia Tree has the chemical and psychedelic drug, DMT (don’t ask me what that means, haha) in it, which people have used to have “spiritual experiences”.

The Bodhi Tree in Buddhism (and Hinduism)

To Buddhists, this tree is sacred and existed long before Buddha put it on the map, where they say he achieved Enlightenment. Bodhi means “awakening.” Before the Buddha, the Hindus associated the trunk of the tree with Vishnu, who is one of a trinity of gods. Brahma – associated with the roots –  and Shiva – associated with the leaves – are the other two.

The Kapok Tree in Mayan Culture

The Mayans believed that the Tree of Life connected heaven (which was hidden by a mythical mountain), earth and the underworld. It split into the four directions (North, South, East and West, all depicted by a cross) and was the source of life.

The Kabbalah Tree of Life

In Kabbalah, the Tree of Life is etched from the sacred geometrical form, the Flower of Life. According to Kabbalah wisdom, the tree symbolizes how all things came from infinite nothingness to a universe of infinite things. Each column and pillar represent ideas about equilibrium, wisdom, loving-kindness, and more.

Still, many other cultures share similar stories of the Tree of Life. In fact, this is all rather astounding to see the interconnectedness of cultural identities and symbolism here.

Why Create a Tree of Life Representation for the New Year?

When I first did this with my students, I chose the beginning of a calendar year to represent “rebirth” and a new time for recharging and getting in touch with oneself.

Since then, I’ve always wanted to create my own Tree of Life to represent a New Year with re-affirmations of my intentions and as a symbol of light in a rather dark time of year (with the shorter days and the full-on season of winter ahead).

So…I did. And on New Year’s Day, I created a little symbolic ceremony with the Tree of Life.

One of my ornaments.

Create Your Own Tree of Life

You Will Need:
  • a collection of small branches, no more than 5-6 ft tall (alternatively, you can re-use a Christmas tree, or decorate some sort of tree-plant)
  • two cans of white spray paint
  • light-colored iridescent glitter (optional)
  • twine
  • thread (optional)
  • hole punch
  • scissors
  • white lights
  • print outs of Tree of Life ornaments, cut out with ONE intention for the year written on the back
before painting tree of life

Gather your branches

white tree of life

Spray with white spray paint

spraying tree of life

Don’t forget the glitter (if you like that sort of thing)

twine for tree of life

Get your twine and bind the branches.


Why I Chose the Color “White”

The color white is representative of all the colors of light. It’s a color of purity, of peace, and light itself. It’s also a color that represents illumination (enLIGHTenment), new beginnings and possibilities, protection, healing and spirituality.

How to Make the Tree:
  1. Select your branches and line them up over a tarp or cardboard so the spray won’t get on everything.
  2. Shake the spray paint for 1 minute and then go to town! Spray as much or as little as you’d like. Don’t worry about perfectly coating every little spot unless you want to. I went for a rustic, wintry look.
  3. While the paint is still wet, sprinkle it with the glitter.
  4. When the paint is dry to the touch, flip the branches over and spray the other side, following up with the glitter.
  5. Let dry overnight.
  6. Gather your branches together, and tie them off with some twine and cut to size as necessary.
  7. Get another piece of twine and a tack and secure the tree to a wall, near an outlet.
  8. Get your white lights and string them on the tree.
  9. Then, get your ornament print outs. You can color them or not. For this project, I did not color them; I wanted to stay with light colors in keeping with the white light theme.
  10. Write your intentions for this year, with each ornament holding one intention. You can also write for the future: 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 25 years from now. This is a good exercise for you to help determine the direction you’re going in, and if you’d like to change something.
  11. Hole punch the top of each paper ornament and use more twine or thread to secure your ornaments to the tree. (Clicking on the ornament images will take you to a PDF where you can print them out.)

Your Free Gift! A PDF of the ornaments…just click

tree of life, swirls of life, leaves of life, yin and yang of life, heart of life, celtic love, flower of life, dove, peace, wheel, circle, eye


All done and with ornaments.

For the Ornaments:

I printed out two copies of the ornaments and cut them out. I hole-punched the top of them and strung twine through them.

On the back of each, I wrote out one intention I had for 2017. I reserved four others to write intentions for ONE YEAR from now, FIVE years from now, TEN years from now, and TWENTY-FIVE years from now.

It’s a good exercise to help you see your “why” and what you want to be doing in 25 years. Amazingly, it allows you to see how the decisions you make today can all add up to where you want to be in 25 years!

What Each Ornament Symbolizes:
  • The “eye”: looks within and peers ahead 1, 5, 10, and 25 years from now
  • The Tree of Life: represents just that!
  • The Swirly Tree of Life: also represents the Tree of Life, but also a reminder to be flexible
  • The “leaves”: a reminder to commune with nature
  • The “wheel”: a reminder to be moving forward
  • The “dove”: a reminder to bring peace wherever I go
  • The “yin/yang” swirls: a reminder to find balance, but also to not be too hard on myself by allowing for flexibility
  • The “Celtic heart”: a reminder to spread love, hope, and a positive message
  • The “Seed of Life”: not only is it the symbol I use for this blog, but it’s a reminder to be open, to growth, to being everything I can be

You Can Create a Tree of Life Anytime!

I chose the New Year to do this project. But, honestly, this doesn’t have to be done on Jan. 1. You can choose to do this project at any other time.

Perhaps you want to do a project like this sometime in January.

Perhaps you want to do it on the 12th day of Christmas, or the Day of the Three Kings on 6 January.

Or maybe you want to wait until Diwali, the Festival of Light in India.

Or perhaps you’d like to wait until your birthday. Or another significant-to-you day.

Whatever the case may be, intentions can be made at any time. Not just on January 1.

Have fun! And do come back and let me know in the comments how it went.

intuitive and spiritual

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