We’re all at the mercy of the intent / behavior gap. This gap means that our underlying motives and our outward actions don’t always go hand in hand. We can thank Mother Nature; she has – to a large degree – wired our brains for inattention and inertia.
Understanding the intent / behavior gap is critical if we’re to improve our behaviors. When we ignore the gap, we’re far too likely to bark up the wrong tree, chasing strategies that solve the wrong problem. (Specifically, if we incorrectly chalk up bad behavior to misplaced intentions, we will focus our energies on correcting those intentions.)
Instead, the intent / behavior gap leads us to focus our efforts on strategies to activate the good intentions that most of us already have. And if you’ve read the book, you’ve see how effective and exciting these strategies can be.
But there’s a bigger opportunity here. All too often, we ignore the intent / behavior gap when thinking about people with whom we disagree. All too often, we observe people engaged in bad behaviors, and assume that these behaviors are rooted in bad intentions.
It’s simply not true. Each of us knows that that our bad behaviors quite often peacefully exist with our good intentions. When we forget to take our medication, is it because we rebelling against our doctor’s orders? When we procrastinate on getting the oil changed in our cars, is it because we we think that engines don’t need proper maintenance?
Of course not. And the same holds true for everyone around us.
Now more than ever, we need a better way when we run into someone behaving in a way with which we disagree. We need to break a sweat trying to understand how a reasonable and well-meaning person could wind up engaging in that bad behavior.
It’s not the easiest of exercises, but once we begin we will see others – even our opponents – in a different, more understanding light. And we will begin to experience the transformative power of empathy.