Every Behavior Starts With A Positive Intention
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to take the place of personalized medical advice, information, or therapy. If you feel any of your current behaviors require professional support and guidance, it is highly recommended that you seek personalized medical care. If you are seeking nutrition guidance and support please contact Megan Faletra MS, MPH, RDN directly for personalized care.
I know what you are thinking. Girl have you lost your mind? How can every behavior start with a positive intention? What about my out of control late-night snacking, or my nail biting, or my late-night phone habit? How can these behaviors really have a positive intention behind them?
I remember feeling the exact same way when I first heard this quote. I was in the throes of some pretty unhealthy habits that were wrecking havoc on my body and my mind. I was overexercising, I had a very strict diet, but couldn't control my night-time snacking (because I wasn't eating enough). Top it off with the fact that I was working 12+ hour days, and barely sleeping I was a bit of a hot mess on the inside, and someone who totally had everything together on the outside.
Thinking back I honestly have no idea how I managed it all. The thought of some of my old behaviors and routines makes me exhausted just thinking about them, but they were my normal, and deep down they had a positive intention. They also taught me so much about myself, and honestly, they gave me so much perspective on the way I live my life now. Now that I welcome all of my feelings and have the tools to care for them appropriately, it is amazing to feel so deeply, and tune into the energy and emotions that make us all so truly alive.
But the very first time I read the quote above, I thought it was nuts too. I knew that my behaviors were bad for both my body and my mind, but I felt helpless. Never the less, each one of those behaviors had a positive intention behind it, I just was so tuned out from my own body and intuition that I had no idea what that intention was, and I had no idea how to change my behaviors to positively support it.
Every behavior starts with a positive intention, but not every behavior is a positive one
So if you are struggling with some things in your life that really are not serving you, I am going to walk you through how to use this one quote, or mantra if you will to help support the change you wish to make inside of you.
It starts by identifying what your negative behaviors are that you would like to change, and identifying the why (the TRUE why) that started them in the first place.
Because I always find things to be more helpful and easier to understand when I have an example I am going to walk you through how I personally used this mantra to help me change my overexercising behavior into something that supported my underlying positive intention.
a little background on my overexercising history
I grew up in a very active family, and being active was something that we all really craved and enjoyed. It was part of our normal daily life, and in no way was ever something that was forced, or controlled by my parents. My parents led by example and showed us what a healthy relationship with exercise looked like, they encouraged us to do sports, but didn't force us if we didn't want to, and all around I feel like I had a very healthy upbringing when it came to both food and exercise.
But once I got to college something changed in me. All of my personal insecurities came to the surface and I leaned on exercise to help quite literally exhaust my feelings away. I would force myself to exercise 2-3 hours per day, usually multiple times per day, and wouldn't feel good about myself if I hadn't worked out.
Eventually, I started getting stress fractures, dizzy spells and stopped feeling the emotional high I used to feel from exercise. I knew something needed to change, and that something was exercise, but if I am being totally honest it scared me so much to think about stopping. Not to mention I truly enjoyed being an active person, so how was I ever supposed to find a balance?
How I Learned To identify the positive intention behind my behavior
I am a huge advocate for therapy, and recommend it to my friends, family, and clients. I truly think that regular therapy is such a necessary part of a healthy body and mind, and wish that it was as routine as a dental check-up or doctors appointment. Thankfully therapy is not nearly as stigmatized as it used to be, and I honestly would encourage anyone who has never tried it before to find a therapist who you can work with, the same way you have a PCP you trust.
With that said, I don't think I could have made some of the changes I did without the help and support of therapy. What it taught me was that each and every behavior, including my overexercising had a positive intention deep inside that was being projected in a negative way.
For me that positive intention was that I wanted to feel good about myself. I wanted to feel confident, and I wanted to not feel all of the horrible insecurities, and anxiety I had been suppressing. That intention is a good one, the behavior I used to try (and not succeed) to achieve it was not.
how i slowly started to change my behaviors to support my positive intention
First I began by writing down the behavior I wanted to change, and then started to journal out everything that came into my mind around it. I also started asking myself why I was doing what I was doing to help me get to the route cause.
Why was I overexercising?
Because I wanted to be "thin"
Why did I want to be "thin"?
Because I wanted to feel good about myself and be comfortable in my body. Because I hated feeling anxious.
There we go, that is the real, positive intention, it was just a few questions deep.
I love this exercise because usually I find that within three questions you can get to the true route of your behaviors intention, and what you will find is something inherently positive.
I wanted to feel good about myself, I wanted to feel calm, not anxious. Those are positive intentions, they just got warped and twisted into something else along the way.
Once you figure out the positive intention behind your behavior, it become easier to understand how you can support it.
For me that meant that I was going to start prioritizing other things (non-exercise related) that made me feel good about myself, and reduced anxiety.
I started with simple things like drawing everyday, taking a bath, singing in the shower, cooking fun recipes, going for nature (non-exercise focused) walks, doing gentle yoga (again more meditation than exercise), and making more plans with friends that made me want to be a better version of myself.
With time these other things turned into behaviors and routines that started to crowd out the overexercising. When I felt I had enough other behaviors supporting me I gave up exercise entirely, and allowed myself to have zero pressure around exercise for a good year and a half.
During that year and a half I learned how to use these other behaviors to support that positive intention of feeling good about myself and reducing anxiety, and guess what happened?
I started feeling really really good about myself, and my anxiety became so much more manageable. I learned to love the person that I am, I began to reflect on the kind of person I wanted to be more clearly, and was able to see some of the other behaviors that hadn't been serving me for what they were, and the positive intention they started with.
As humans, we naturally can be really really hard on ourselves, we blame our lack of will power for our negative behaviors, and are quick to pick every single piece of ourselves apart...especially us women.
That is what I love so much about this mantra and exercise for uncovering your positive intentions.
It is about allowing ourselves to see the good that is down at the center of most of what we do. Once we are able to see that, it is so much easier to be kinder to ourselves, to give our body a break, and make pivots in our lives to support the changes we need to make to allow us to live wonderful, happy, healthy lives.
That kind of life is possible, and most likely their are positive intentions deep within each one of you that are just waiting for you to listen to them.
This process may not be easy, but it is so so worth it.