Why Intentions Don’t Matter That Much

English: A ' mask.I love it when people tell me they are going to make positive changes in their lives. It’s amazing when someone comes to an important epiphany and decides to do something radical. The only problem is, in spite of the great intentions and hope for the future it doesn’t usually really mean much.

You know what the old maxim says…

It’s not that intentions are bad, quite the contrary. Having good intentions is foundational when discussing how to change your future, set goals, make progress, or do anything of worth. The problem comes when we begin to think that planning to do something is actually accomplishing anything.

I once had a friend with a huge day-timer. You could not have any conversation of length with this individual without him opening that big black book and explaining how many things he was planning on doing. He was a master planner. The fact that he never did anything but plan, however, soon led me to understand that he was substituting his many plans for actually accomplishing anything.

One of my favorite B movies is V for Vendetta. Who cannot love a guy in a Guy Fawkes mask using only the letter V to start virtually every word. It has that post-apocalyptic feel of a Fahrenheit 451 or Nineteen Eighty-Four, but with more knives and rhyming. In the movie, for the 98% of the population who have not seen it and never will, V goes about paying back those individuals who have used him for human experimentation and who are generally very nasty people who run a despotic world. At one point he shows up at an old acquaintances house who was involved in the Nazi-esque experiments and proceed to accuse her, with many words that start with the letter V, of the grossest crimes. She, in her own defense, explains to him that she really meant to do the right thing. Her intentions were otherwise and she had hoped that things would turn out differently. V responds in iconic fashion (and without any words that start with the letter V), “I have not come for what you hoped to do. I came for what you have done”.

I have not come for what you hoped to do. I came for what you have done. Powerful words.

In counseling we sometimes say it this way, “don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk”. It’s a cliché but like many time-worn maxims it contains an element of truth. If intentions do not translate into action they are worse than useless. They can, in fact, be detrimental.

I am reminded this early morning that I have only one life. I do not want to look back and wish I had done all the things I had intended. As Antonio Banderas prayed in the movie 13th Warrior:

Merciful Father, I have squandered my days with plans of many things.
This was not among them.
But at this moment, I beg only to live the next few minutes well.
For all we ought to have thought, and have not thought;
all we ought to have said, and have not said;
all we ought to have done, and have not done;
I pray thee God for forgiveness.

13 thoughts on “Why Intentions Don’t Matter That Much

  1. When my son was growing up, I used to tell him, “Don’t tell me… show me.” What we do always speaks much louder than what we say.

  2. Yes indeed many of us set lofty goals, have huge aspirations, wake up each morning with fanciful dreams, better to have – at least it’s positive. Some people just need to have someone else justify their ideas and give them a little nudge. My favourite mantra: Veni, vidi, vici, I came, I saw, I conquered. Conquering the small things in life lead to fulfillment.

  3. Very well said! I’ve read that it’s best to try and live without goals, and just follow your happiness to see where it leads you. I don’t entirely agree with that, but it definitely doesn’t help to make goals and do nothing to accomplish them.

    I try to do the two or three things every day that seem most important, and most likely to move my life along somehow, and be happy with that. 🙂

  4. I’m really glad to have stumbled upon this post because just recently I was pondering, “why do so many people set goals, but never come close to actually reaching them.” I think you uncovered at least one of the answers with–The problem comes when we begin to think that planning to do something is actually accomplishing anything. This applies to so many people I know and even to myself at times. It’s a trap that will prevent any future action if we allow it to.

  5. I started getting goosebumps at the quote from V “…I came for what you have done.” and they just got worse (better?) until the end of this entry. I sprung out of bed at 5:30 this morning with every intention of doing good things – making a lunch, getting to work at 7am, working on my final. So far this morning I’ve browsed on facebook, read your blog, and changed my intentions to make a blog of my own. So much for new beginnings… Thank you for posting this.

  6. In my experience those who don’t complete their goals either just don’t care enough, or fear either what happens afterwards, or what happens if it goes wrong.

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