There are certain human qualities that transcend good intentions. Some people begin with an intent to improve the world or themselves and end up neurotically trying to force their will upon the world. Then they become bitter and resentful when they don’t get what they want.
Wanting to be rich and successful, wanting to be in shape, wanting to be a good person— these are all natural desires. But we run into huge problems when we let these desires take hold of us. The way to be successful is to feel like you’ve already succeeded. The way to be in shape is to exercise a bit each day and not be indulgent. The way to be a good person is to be gentle and not expect too much from the world.
The key is to balance intentions with actions. It doesn’t matter how much you intend to do a nice thing; if you act like a dick, you’re a dick. So don’t be a dick. It’s easy and simple but people step around ethics, action, intention, etc, as if it’s this extremely complicated web of ideas. It’s really not. You either let the world burden you and become a burden in return, or not.
Zen teaches us to avoid any of these burdens. Don’t concern yourself with petty things. Don’t obsess over anything, small or large. Try to remember what your intentions were and act upon them rather than just letting your intentions make you feel good.
When someone wants something, they do X to get that thing. But then they have to do Y in order to do X in order to get that thing. And then Z comes into the equation. Pretty soon people are doing 2,000 superfluous things just to get to the original thing, and life becomes a miserable heap of chaotic junk. There’s no need for this.
The reason I say to avoid goals is that they often convolute intentions. Allow yourself to act today, right now, to do what needs to be done. Anything else is just bothersome. Stop thinking so hard, stop obsessing over your intentions, and just do things. Do them gently, deliberately, and with care.