They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions – I don’t believe it. I think it is paved with unclear or egotistical intentions.

Most of the time, we don’t consciously consider our intention before we embark on an action or behaviour – we just act. Yet behind that action or behaviour there is always an emotional driver – a form of intention.

Think about it for a moment. You decide to give someone a call: is it because you care about them and want them to feel cared for and thought about, or is it because they haven’t called you and you want them to feel guilty about it? You do someone a favour: is it because you are glad to help out, or are you keeping a tally of what each of you ‘owes’ the other, or you want to be seen as a kind or good person?

I don’t point this out to make you feel bad about your intentions! We all sometimes have that ‘hidden agenda’ behind our actions, behaviours and words. More importantly, our intention affects both how we approach things and what results we get.

When I do things to make myself feel important or good or kind, I have an expectation of some recognition, and that affects how I do it. I will tend to make it clear that I’m putting myself out and I am very disappointed if others don’t give me the recognition I feel I deserve.

When I do things to make others feel awkward or put down, my tone in the interaction is different, and I will tend to create defensiveness or ‘attacks’ in return – it’s how we create quarrels!

None of this makes us feel good. We end up disappointed or irritated. It’s really not worth it because we don’t get the result we want, and even if we do – the other person does feel bad about what they’ve done – it only makes us feel justified for a moment. It doesn’t clear anything.

Of course, we all want to be recognised for the good things we do. The paradox is that the recognition comes more often and more genuinely when we don’t ask for it or expect it. Equally, we do need to clear the air when there is an ‘edge’ between us and someone else because otherwise it will affect our relationship. And when our intention is to clear the air so as to keep the relationship sound, the interaction plays out very differently.

I’m not suggesting that we should be perfect and only ever act from a clear and positive intention – we’re only human after all! It’s just worth stopping for a breathspace before you launch in, to ask yourself what you’re doing this for – and if it’s to make the other feel bad, or to make yourself look good, maybe you would be better to leave it for now – for your own sake. In an hour or two, or day or two, you may be able to find a positive intention for the action or behaviour, one that is to enhance things, and then you will both benefit.

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