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Assume Good Intent

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

CONGRATUALTIONS! You have made it to the halfway point. Now for Lesson 5. I learned this lesson from my husband. It was a life changer.

We don’t tend to assume good intent. Not in our kids, salespeople, spouses, other countries, or even our pets. Though legally all are innocent til proven guilty, in daily life it doesn’t feel that way. Badness is the default and trying to prove our goodness to ourselves and others is a full time job. On a macro scale governments perceive imminent threats. Fear is their business, anticipating the unimaginable and taking preemptive action.

When we are young we are naturally kind but experiences in our formative years can obscure our true nature. My early learning environment was anything but supportive. I went to a Jewish day school and I was not a fan. The rabbi’s did not know of God’s law to assume good intent, but they were well versed God’s other laws that I was seemingly breaking with abandon. I was 8. Their focus on what I was doing wrong was relentless and scary. Punishment was a constant threat. My teachers made it known to me that retribution was inescapable, if it wasn’t coming from them, it would be coming from God.

I may have been a bad Jew but I was a good learner, and I learned what they taught me. Not to follow God, as they thought, but to follow them - in being negative, oppressive, vengeful and assuming the worst in people.

This was a doozy of a program to have growing up. Filtering all people and all of life’s events through this lens was anxiety provoking and depressing. I was distrustful of everyone, especially of their kindness. I saw through the masks to their manipulative and devious intentions. Like the rabbi’s, this made me feel superior; I too felt wise in my ‘ability’ to see the downside, spot the sinner and conjure the worst case scenario. My only comfort was in knowing that no one was going to get the better of me. As all programs are self reinforcing, my life, time and again, proved that what I had learned was true.

My misanthropic view of human nature and vigilant skepticism stripped kindness, love and joy from my world. I rationalized that if others knew what I knew they would not be happy either. I thought I was just smarter than the rest, they couldn’t see what I saw, they were naive. I was realistic. Back then if you asked me if I would rather be right or be happy, I would have answered ‘right’, it was safer. Being safe and smart, though a state we all aspire to, does not translate into a life of joy. It dulls joy. Being realistic is not a badge of honor but a euphemism for pessimism. No one should ever be realistic.

It took decades for it to dawn on me that my belief in ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ was making me dis-eased. The worst part was, I did not know another way. And then came my husband…

While my brain was programmed for pessimism and protection his was programmed for optimism and joy. Once, very early on in our relationship I was really stressed. He asked me very thoughtfully, ‘why do you take yourself so seriously?’. It broke my brain - why did I? I thought I had to. I had never considered there was another way. This was the beginning of brain training for me, though I did not know it.

Until I met my husband, assuming good intent was completely alien to me. I didn’t know people did that. I did not know it was an option. You can do that? You don’t need to be protecting yourself all the time? I could see that his outlook allowed for a lot more freedom and joy than my programming and I was ready for a brain change.

Many people say the brain has a negative skew and it does, but the brain is wary because we programmed it that way. This skeptical skew is because as a society we have been taught to value safety over joy. We have set our brains to protection mode and systematically overrode our natural setting of peace, joy and love.

It does not take a rocket scientist to notice that if we had joy we would not need safety!! Contrary to popular belief (i.e. programming) we are not aggressive by nature and we do not have to attack our neighbor to save ourselves. Brain training helps us remember what is true, that we do not suffer from lack of peace, love or joy, we have that in abundance. What we suffer from are learned programs that dictate our behavior, have us seeing an enemy in everyone and potential danger everywhere. The reason I am sharing what I have learned, is that we can’t keep our programs and have peace. We all have to choose one or the other. Now.

Lesson 5: Undoing the Skew

1) Before you assess or react to a situation at hand, interrupt your brain's program by leading with the bold assumption of good intent no matter what comes your way. This means with your kids, boss, husband, the cable guy, your opponent etc... Forget what you think you know and assume good intent.

2) This practice applies to everything not just some things. Everything. You can’t get rid of a program if you leave a loophole open.

3) This is obviously counter-intuitive and may make you pretty uneasy at first. Your brain will surmise that you are losing or sacrificing and will double down. Don't take the bait. Press forward.

4) It is important to note that you will not be able to interpret anyone's action differently until this program is gone - so don’t try. Once the program is undone, you will have perfect clarity on how to see your brother, but not before.

5) If you are uneasy you are are on the right track. Keep going. Do more. Why is this good? Because the brain cannot lead you where we are going. We must lead our brains. It cannot train itself and will not reprogram itself. We do that.

Taking the lead on this one will change your brain and your life in ways you cannot fathom. Keep your eyes open for what is different so you can enjoy the fruits of your brain training labors!

xoxo Jill