I’ve noticed that January is the most productive time for many people: gyms are packed, motivational quotes are tacked to office walls and people are constantly talking about their new diet or their new pledge to becoming a better person.
As someone committed to a life of personal growth, it’s amazing to be surrounded by so many people on a journey toward improvement.
It makes me a little sad to know that just a few weeks later, the gym won’t be as crowded.
Those motivational quotes will be covered up by more pressing things.
The only thing left of some of those diets will be the label on the Diet Coke bottle.
All because good intentions aren’t enough.
See, a good intention is a great idea without consistent action.
A person with good intentions looks at a new year and says, “This year I will do something about my problem.” A person with good intentions might take a first step, like joining a gym, or maybe even take a few steps after that, like working out regularly for the first couple of weeks in January. But inevitably, good intentions don’t last.
By February 1, people with good intentions might already be thinking about their resolutions for next year and crediting themselves for thinking ahead.
I wrote about this in my book, Intentional Living. In fact, I dedicated an entire chapter to the subject. We live in a culture that encourages good intentions, but is less excited about being intentional—and there’s a big difference.
Here are some of the words that describe a life of good intentions: desire, wish, hopefully, someday. Notice anything familiar about them? Do you see a connection? All of those words are about unfulfilled longing. They’re passive.
Now take a look at some words that describe a life of intentionality: action, purpose, definitely, today. What do they have in common? They are all active, in the now, committed. They are the words of people who get things done, people who live intentionally.
I learned about intentionality through my father’s example. When he was younger, he noticed that successful people think differently than unsuccessful people, so he read books to change his thinking. When I was a kid, he turned our house into the place for my friends and me to hang out so he could influence my choice in friends. When he moved into a retirement community, he wanted to be the first resident there so he could greet everyone else.
Even though he’s in his 90s now, my father still accomplishes more than many people much younger than he is, all because he’s always been intentional about his life.
Do you know why most people quit going to the gym so soon after the new year begins? Do you know why so many people give up on their diets, or lose their motivation at work?
The answer is simple: they’re only motivated to improve themselves. And because they’re only in it for themselves, they let themselves off the hook too easily. We grade ourselves on a curve; everyone else is pass/fail.
But what if your actions weren’t motivated by just your own success? What if your diet had more to do with being healthy for your kids? What if your motivation for work was to make the office a better place for everyone else? What if the purpose of the gym was to encourage others as they worked toward their goals?
That’s the key to intentional living: daily actions focused on making a difference, large or small, in someone else’s life.
What about your goals?
Whether it’s to lose weight, work smarter or otherwise improve in some way, how can you shift the focus from yourself to someone else?
I promise you, just that one small change can be the difference between not meeting your goals and succeeding beyond your wildest dreams.
John C. Maxwell (GLS 2016, 2005, 1999, 1996), a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach and speaker, was identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association and the world’s most influential leadership expert by Inc. in 2014. His organizations—The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team and EQUIP, have trained more than six million leaders in every nation. His latest book is Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters. This article originally appeared on JohnMaxwell.com.