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.