The Personal Plus of Positive Intent

Intent Final

by Andrea Chilcote

As an observer of human behavior – sometimes student and sometimes teacher – I marvel at the fact that there are so many simple and reliable tools for making relationships of all kinds easier. Even when aware of these tools, we so often fail to employ them in the very circumstances that count.

One example is a simple mental model called “positive intent.” I’ve been working to assume positive intent quite a bit these days, as a way to ease the stresses and frustrations of a busy life. It’s so easy to become irritated by others’ supposed shortcomings or to take personally the minor transgressions seemingly committed on purpose to make life difficult. The principle of positive intent requires us to ask one simple question prior to judging, assuming motive for, or reacting to another person’s behavior.

“What possible, positive reason does he or she have for doing or saying that?”

It doesn’t matter what the answer is. The very moment you have an answer, no matter how preposterous it seems, something shifts. Something very big.

There’s a well-known illustration of the principle in Stephen Covey’s blockbuster title, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In short, as a passenger in a crowded subway, Covey becomes irritated at a father who is not disciplining his unruly children. When he gathers the courage to ask the man to intervene, the father tells him they are all returning from the hospital where their mother (his wife), has just died. Covey experiences an instantaneous paradigm shift. Suddenly his irritation pales in comparison to the man’s grief.

The truth of positive intent is one of the toughest things for our egos to swallow. Yet once we assume there might be a reason for another’s behavior that, while perhaps misguided, to them makes some kind of sense, we are then free. Free of being violated, persecuted or even mildly disrespected, suddenly, our thoughts and feelings are independent of the influence of others’ actions. What a break this gives us, in a world in which we are bombarded by input, some welcome and some not.

We can all assume positive intent in daily interactions with everyone from strangers to casual acquaintances. The benefit is a bit less stress, a tad more peace in our hearts. Can you assume positive intent in the most challenging of your relationships? There lies an opportunity that just might transform those relationships. When we think differently, we act differently. When we act differently, others re-act in new ways. Pat your ego gently on the shoulder and try something new – you might reap a surprising reward.

Defining Your Destination (2014)

Define Your DestinationHow does one “Re-Write the Story of Their Life?” This is the last in a three-part series I wrote in 2012 for The Spirited Woman. In this part I discuss transition.

By Andrea Chilcote

Being “in transition” implies you have left one place (physically, mentally or emotionally) and have not yet arrived in another. And one of the more daunting challenges associated with transition is not knowing where you are going. I don’t know about you, but while I am enjoying the journey, I want to have a destination on the horizon.

The process of defining a destination, an intended outcome sounds simple – though we can make it into a complex science project.

I’ve never cared for mind benders, those frustrating puzzles that make your brain hurt. Yet I’ve spent a good portion of my life puzzling over so-called universal principles that feel just like mind benders. I’m referring to profound revelations uttered by philosophers and gurus that you just know are The Truth, yet are paradoxical and seem hard to live by in practical terms.

One such head scratcher is the concept of detachment. According to this gem of wisdom, we must set a clear and compelling vision, then…let it go. The idea is that with attachment, our fears and obsessions will muddy the pure intent, contriving all manner of disaster and plotting contingencies to prevent such. This focus on the details can be exacerbated when one is in transition, because it feels as though all we control is the minutiae.

Does this “law of detachment” mean we should stop wanting what we say we want? No, no—and therein sits the conundrum. The problem often lies in defining what we want. Often what we say we want is just a means of getting to some higher-level, often unexpressed, goal. What we get attached to is the mechanism — this house, this job, this relationship – and we miss all of the beautiful opportunities that show up along the way.

In your heart of hearts, what do you know you truly want? And, what will having that bring you? The answer to the second question is, in all likelihood, what you truly desire. The rest is just method or means, the detailed how-to that your clever mind has calculated. These instructions we issue to the universe squelch our creative wisdom and limit the innate potential available to all. Most of the time, we’re not in charge of the how-to’s anyway. Have you ever looked back after some miraculous achievement and wondered how it all came together? W.H. Murray’s famous statement says it all: ”The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.”

So look forward. Craft your vision, paint a picture of your heart’s desire. See it, feel it, imagine it come to life. Then let it be. Go about your day, enjoying each precious and fleeting moment. You might be surprised at what happens next.

Read all three parts on The Spirited Woman site.