3 Reasons to Re-Examine Good Intentions

Often, the outcomes we try to achieve somehow slip from our grasp; if we don’t learn to deal with this fact, life is not going to be much fun for us. When this happens, we usually have to apologize or explain. The absolute worst excuses all start with the phrase “I was only trying to…”

We all Have Multiple Motives for Everything

This morning, I went to buy some eggs because I was hungry – but that’s really only part of the story. I could have eaten something else, but I was feeling bored and lethargic and thought that a short walk would do me some good. I had also heard the sound of a jackhammer from down the street and wanted to see what was going on, and if the woman manning the convenience store wasn’t pretty and friendly, I might never have thought of French toast to begin with.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t hungry, but I could have dealt with that in a number of ways: even this simple decision had several factors influencing it. These can range from the benign to the completely selfish even for the exact same action, but if anyone had asked me this morning, I would have explained that I simply had to do it: I was hungry, nothing more.

Sometimes, We Literally Don’t Know What We Want

While these various motivations may be in alignment as far as the ultimate goal is concerned, they don’t always work well together. Everybody (presumably) wants to be healthy, financially solvent and happy in our relationships. We all have a fairly good idea on what to do to achieve these things. So why are so many of these goals constantly being frustrated?

While there are a number of things to be said about this, one reason is that we don’t really know what our intentions are. Somebody may want to be happily in love with his partner, but he never stopped to figure out what kind of partner he wants to be happy with. When his lover then behaves like herself instead of what he had hoped her to be, he feels betrayed and acts in ways that will hurt her. Instead of consistently moving towards what we want, like we might think a rational person would do, our conflicting desires pull us this way one moment and another the next.

A large part of psychotherapy revolves around one apparently simple question: what will make you happy? This is actually quite difficult to answer, and instead of striving towards the things that will bring them true fulfillment, many people keep grasping towards things that are only tangentially related to their true, undefined goal.

Claiming Good Intentions Is a Way to Manipulate People

We all want other people to do things our way at one time or another. A mother might want to have five minutes of uninterrupted quiet for once, so she tells her child that taking a nap will be “for his own good.” This may very well be the case, it just isn’t the whole story.

We are programmed to respond to the good intentions of others on a very basic level, so when someone claims that doing what happens to be most convenient for them is also best for us, we will tend to believe them. Just as treacherously, once we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re aiming to do “good”, we’ve justified doing pretty much anything you can think of as a means to that end.

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“Good intentions” and “wanting to help” are hollow phrases unless the desires behind them are very carefully examined. This is something to remember when someone starts his explanation of how the building burned down with “I was only trying to…”, but more importantly when looking at your own goals. If you are not really certain what you want to achieve, and why you want it, you will almost certainly be approaching your target one day only to pull back the next, without any apparent logic. If this is a pattern in some aspect of your life, you should ask yourself if your good intentions – towards yourself and others – are really all they’re cracked up to be.