Understanding intention and consequence, a cure for low self-esteem and self-doubt

October, 2020

I was 17 years old when I got my first piano. I had no prior musical experience, other than the odd music lesson in primary school, but I decided to buy a keyboard off of my friend for £10, I mean why not right? For months the keyboard lay dormant in my room. Sure, I played around with it initially, but I didn’t commit to it, and very soon it began to gather dust. It was only a couple of years later in college that I decided to pick it up again, and this time I had a motivation. A girl I had a crush on was very musical and had offhandedly mentioned that she liked guys who could play an instrument. So, I set off on a mission to dedicate time into an instrument I owned but had no particular interest in, with the goal of getting this girl to fall madly in love with me solely for my piano prowess. You can probably guess how that worked out. In this scenario my general thought process looked like this:

 

  • Intention: Learn the piano to win the love of my college crush, sunshine and rainbows ensue, and we all live happily ever after.

  • Consequence: Frustration, ridicule from my mates, plenty of tears and sad song playlists played on repeat.

 

Despite the inevitable failure of my original plan to woo this girl over, I continued to stick with the piano. Over time my perspective shifted on why I wanted to play: It became a nice break from studying, it felt satisfying to play songs which I enjoyed etc. 

             Eventually I wasn’t learning to play the piano in order to impress anyone in particular, instead I was learning to play the piano for myself. 

At 21 years old I now feel I’m sufficiently competent on the piano to comfortably play a few songs and improvise some tunes as well. Eventually those who I was close with began to compliment me on how I played, and the better I got, the more the piano became a part of my Identity. Weirdly, though, this began to fill me with a lot of anxiety. I couldn’t help but think back to the original reasoning behind why I began to learn in the first place, and I started to doubt myself. Was I still learning the piano just to impress other people? Was I a fraud?

            What I didn’t realise was that I had evidently failed to identify the difference between my intention and the consequences. In the case of the piano story, my original intention was to learn the piano so that I could impress the girl I had a crush on, and the consequence of that intention was a ripping into from my mates and a subsequent rejection. With my new shift in perspective however, the new thought process became:

 

  • Intention: Learn to play the piano because I think it’d be cool.

  • Consequence: Impress my mates, boost in self-confidence, win the adoration of millions of girls for my rendition of Nuvole Bianche (okay maybe not that part).

 

Here’s the kicker though: just because the consequences happen to be positive, it doesn’t mean that they have anything to do with the original intention all along. Sound weird? Hear me out.

Consequences are just that, they’re consequences. They are the uncontrollable results of an initial action, and sometimes that’s all there is to it. To that end, rather than dwell on why they happened or interpret some divine meaning from them, sometimes it’s better to accept that they simply couldn’t be controlled. and if they happen to be positive then you just have to ride the wave of happiness, baby! 

            As a person who tends to suffer from very low self-esteem, this thinking has been incredibly liberating to come to wrap my head around.

            It’s completely reasonable that the acquisition of a new skill is going to bring about its fair share of interest from those who are close to you, but if you make it the sole reason for doing something then you either attract like-minded people who only do things for the benefit of others, or you gain no satisfaction from the completion of the goal because it wasn’t done for YOU. There’s no happy ending really.

           The same applies to negative consequences as well. Let’s suppose you decide to reach out to an old friend after a few years of little to no contact (let’s call them Kyle). You saw a movie being shown on TV which you went to see with him in the cinema back in the day, and it made you think of him. The intention here is solely positive, there’s no ulterior motive, its simply to reach out to an old friend. Let’s then suppose that Kyle eventually responds to your text with suspicion. He wonders why you want to get back in touch with him after so many years, and after a few blunt texts, he eventually blanks your messages and once again becomes a stranger again. In this scenario, the consequences were pretty negative, but that doesn’t mean that the intentions themselves were negative. A person with low self-esteem may begin to wonder why Kyle didn’t want to speak to them and begin to jump to conclusions about themselves. Maybe they just wanted to ask Kyle for money, or maybe they think they just unearthed some huge trauma from their past relationship which doesn’t actually even exist. In order to quell these anxieties, the person just needs to identify that the consequences are just consequences, and that they bear no resemblance on their actual intention in this scenario. If anything, it kinda shows that Kyle is a bit of a dick more than anything.

          In short, it doesn’t actually matter what the consequence is because you know what you did was right.

         Understanding intention and consequence can extend far beyond your relationships with people, however, as it’s crucial in identifying who you are as a person. For example, I’ve worked in a nursing home for the past 3 years. I love interacting with both the residents and the staff, and I enjoy helping others who need the assistance. This reflects a lot about who I am as a person, but the consequences of this part of my identity can make me doubt myself. I earn money for working at this job, does that mean I’m a raging psychopath who doesn’t care about anyone, and that I’m just in it for the money? Of course not, the very definition of a job is to work in order to get money! I know rationally that I love the people I work with, so therefore I want to continue to work there. All the consequences of that just happen to be beneficial because I’ve worked there for so long. Likewise there may also be days were I don’t want to be at work for whatever reason, it doesn’t mean that I hate the job, it’s simply yet another unforeseen consequence of the act of working. I hope this is starting to make sense.

            Once a person becomes comfortable with the positivity of their true intentions, then the perception of their self-worth increases exponentially, and a lot of their anxieties and worries begin to melt way. It’s important to have a bit of self-awareness to your actions though. We’ve all posted that picture on social media waiting for a like from that one person, and we convince ourselves that we wanted to upload it just because ‘we look nice’ (trust me I’ve been there). In this case the Intention and the consequence need to be swapped: you should be uploading that picture with the intention of showing your followers that you look nice, and whether said person reacts to the picture or not, it just becomes a positive or negative consequence. 

            It is 100% possible to change your true intentions, but it doesn’t necessarily happen overnight, and that’s okay as long as you understand that and are willing to make the changes for your own benefit.

            This rationale also gives you the self-awareness to identify negative and toxic traits in the people around you. Not only does it stops you being that sap who agrees with everything everyone says without fail because you become comfortable with YOUR own thoughts and opinions, but it can even help you identify where other people need to change their own intentions as well to better reflect themselves, and that’s an incredibly useful skill to acquire.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to change the way a person thinks about you, but you CAN change the way you think about yourself and intentions you value. Once you manage to do that, it’s simply just a matter of riding the wave and accepting things for what they are.

           So, get out there and learn that thing you’ve been wanting to do for years, you never know what might happen.

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