written by LOU BLASER

A version of this essay first appeared in Midlife Cues, a weekly newsletter about intentional living in our middle years. Get it in your inbox; you're going to love it.


How could one word possibly change a life?

I once heard Oprah tell Jeff Weiner (former CEO of LinkedIn) that her life changed directions when she realized the power of intentions and started to identify the intention behind all her actions.

Intention is one of those words that gets floated about. We think we know what it is. But do we really?

When Oprah says she identifies the intention behind everything she’s doing, what exactly does she mean? What does setting an intention look like? And how could it be so powerful that it changed her life’s trajectory?

This was a giant rabbit hole, lemme tell you. Good thing I love rabbit holes 😅

The quest to understand intention took me all over the place. From Kant to Chopra; from HBR to Yoga Journal; from the metaphysical to neuroscience.

Bottom line: There’s no one single definition.

Sure, we can go to Merriam-Webster but what we get there is flat and so not what this word imbues.

In the next section below, you’ll find a few of the easier reads but here are some nuggets, the ones I found most helpful in getting me to understand this super-hero of a word.

  • Though all related, intentions aren’t the same as goals, purpose, desires, or resolutions.
  • Goals are focused on future results whereas intentions are focused on present moments. Goals are To Do or To Achieve whereas Intentions are To Be. Another way of saying it: the purpose of intentions isn’t to arrive but to be.
  • Intentions are about the energy that we bring into any activity or pursuit.
  • It’s also been described as a guiding principle for how you want to act and show up in the world today, every day.
  • There are conscious and unconscious intentions. And every thought and action is preceded by an intention, conscious or not.

And here’s one that I found really useful for my non-woo brain:

Goals are the definition of a desired outcome. Intentions are the commitment to the process.

Mull it over some more:

Sometimes, the best way to understand is to experience. Try and re-state a goal as an intention. Can you feel a difference?


My goal is to write a book about intentional living in midlife.

I intend to write a book about intentional living in midlife.

When I say it as an intention, I feel the commitment in my bones, the belief that I can do this, and the urge to direct my energy today toward this project. When I say it as a goal, I feel serious about it, of course, but it feels “further out” if that makes sense.


  • If you only have time to read one article about intentions, I’d recommend this. It’s a comprehensive explanation of the differences between resolutions, goals, plans, and intentions. Especially if you’re like me and you get lost when it’s heavy on the woo-woo,😊 this one’s for you. Plans vs Goals vs Resolutions vs Intentions
  • I like this essay by Omar Itani because it shows one powerful application of intentions — as a theme for the year (or your life even). His version of setting intentions uses a one-word theme approach, which many of us have heard before. But I think Itani clearly explains why and how this works. “At the end of the day, an intention shifts the focus away from accomplishments and the outcome of your goals, and onto your behavior and the way you choose to live.” Intentions vs Goals: Why One-Word Intentions Work Better Than Goals
  • The original interview of Oprah by Jeff Weiner that I referenced earlier is behind a paywall and I cannot link to it directly, unfortunately. But this is a good enough substitute. In this article, Oprah talks about the book (see Book Recs below) that introduced her to the power of intentions, how she began applying it in her personal and business life, and the resulting transformation. The One Book That Changed Oprah Winfrey’s Life and Business


“There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.” — Rumi


The Seat of the Soul
by Gary Zukav

Oprah talks about this book often as the one that changed her life and first taught her about intentions. I tried to read this book years ago, when I had a different life pursuing a totally different experience, and could not get through it TBH. I’ll try it again this time. Here’s a quote from Oprah about the book. “The chapter that stirred me most was the one about intention. [His] words became my living creed.”


Last month, I was asked at least three times if I work with people one-on-one. The answer was/is “No”.

But maybe, there’s something there and the universe is sending me a signal. Who knows?

So my goal is I intend to explore a possibility here for me to turn this into a “yes”.

Here’s to a joyful and easeful week ahead.

Cool Beans,
Lou Blaser


A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Midlife Cues and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on exploring how to navigate, thrive, and turn midlife into the best phase in our life.