Good intentions aren’t enough

When I was a young adult, I had a dad who reminded me that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” His scare tactic wasn’t particularly motivating – a little removed from my reality actually. I was young, just starting out, with a bright future. I just wanted to begin the journey and have fun. My 20-year-old mind knew what he was saying, but thought it was an overreaction.

The meaning of the phrase is obvious. While we don’t intend for things to go awry, many times the end result is bizarrely different than what we anticipate. We are surprised that things might possibly go badly. After all, in the beloved words of Jiminy Cricket, “When you wish upon a star, your dream comes true!” Or does it?

New year’s resolutions are being drafted by the millions right now, many of which are being recorded by highly motivated people. But while putting resolutions down on paper increases the rate of success, it is not the initial motive that sees those resolutions through. In fact, we can easily sabotage ourselves when setting goals, despite our genuine desire to make them happen. As the weeks progress we can even ensure they don’t take place. How is this possible? Why would a sane person find ways to fail?

Human beings have a remarkable ability for self-deception. Perhaps the most common way we fool ourselves is in thinking that life is a jumble of disconnected events. That what we do today doesn’t influence tomorrow or the following day. A person planning for financial security will find themselves maxing out credit cards and overspending on vacations. They deceive themselves into thinking that they need the better hotel room or the newer gadget, that they are too tired to cook or too busy to bargain-hunt. But they don’t see how small choices in the present create large outcomes in the future. Then when they refinance their mortgage to pay for consumer debt they wonder how it happened.

Every choice we make sets us on a path, in a specific direction. If you spend more than you make, you are not heading in the direction of financial security. If you date someone who hurts you, the relationship is heading for pain. No one thinks they’re going to get in trouble while they’re heading for trouble. The irony is that we can usually predict when someone else’s actions will lead to a bad result, but we completely miss seeing it in ourselves.

A couple wanting a great relationship is faced with constant choices, no matter their intentions. Putting in extra hours at the office or withholding an apology are small strides on a pathway. At first it is not dangerous or evil, but it simply leads in the wrong direction. Intentional date nights and coffees by the fire are choices on another path. By no means do frequent dates equate romance, but this path’s direction is far better than the other. Simply put, neglect leads one way, attention in another.

I don’t know anyone who has a great marriage, lives within a budget, stays fit, or avoids addictions without making thousands of small good choices along the way. Plans, like maps, don’t get you where you’re going. Resolutions are achieved through consistent steps. These are subtle, numerous and seemingly inconsequential, but over time, if taken in the right direction, can lead to our dreams. Regardless of our good intentions, it is simply the small day-to-day actions we make along the way that determine our destination.

So where will you go in 2013?

Dee-Ann Schwanke serves on multiple community and non-profit boards, and is currently completing her bachelor of commerce degree. She has lived with her family in St. Albert since 1999.

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