Core Values and Essential Intentions

In buddhist psychology, your path to well-being begins with understanding the values and intentions you want to live by.

I’ve created a worksheet, which I use in my Life Balance workshops and consultations, to help individuals clarify their values and intentions. Below is a link to a PDF of that worksheet, which you can download and use to evaluate your own values and intentions.

You may find it helpful to read this short article before completing the worksheet.


Differentiating Goals, Intentions, and Values

Many people lack clarity about their goals, values, and intentions. We often lump them together and delineate them in varying ways. As we live out the chaos of our lives, it is inevitable that our goals, values, and intentions become enmeshed. However, they are essential reference points for organizing ourselves and bringing clarity to confusing situations in daily life. I differentiate them in the following way:

Goals are aspirations for the future that you seek to achieve; if they were not in the future, they would be achievements already. You may be accomplishing a certain goal already, e.g. being a good parent, but the effort is not over, so it remains a goal.

Intentions form the basis for determining how you meet each moment as you move toward your goals. Intentions always relate to the present moment. In the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, right intention is the second path factor and it arises from right understanding. In this sense, intentions reflect what you believe matters most in life.

The Buddha taught that that the intention of our words and actions are the primary determinant of our karma. In daily life your intentions reflect the essence of who you are. They shape your words and actions. As you develop inner maturity, you realize that being true to who you are is more important than achieving goals and that many of your goals can only be achieved through staying true to your intentions.

The Buddha offered three essential intentions for living skillfully — meeting life with an attitude of loving-kindness, not causing harm, and renouncing speaking or acting in a manner that would cause harm in situations where our greed or aversion is strong. The Buddha also offered many precepts and values for us to live by such as right speech, non-stealing, generosity, patience, and forgiveness, all of which support these basic intentions.

Values reflect your understanding of what really matters to you. They are shaped by familial and cultural conditioning, personal experience, and the wisdom of your understanding. Values can be situational, temporal, hierarchal, and subjective; thus, many of your values are somewhat fluid in daily life. However, as you develop inner maturity, you adopt certain values that do not fluctuate — these are your core values. From these core values you create intentions. You may have many core values from which you create a few essential intentions that you are mindful of moment-to-moment in the midst of chaos in daily life.

An important distinction between values and intentions is that you can have values that lack commitment whereas intentions are active in the moment and focused on being a certain way right now. Intentions are where the “rubber meets the road,” where your values are reconciled with your goals, and where you give witness to what is essential to you as you dance with life.

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