An obvious answer seems to be: Do it for a while, and observe how it makes you feel.
From a rational perspective, this makes perfect sense. But in reality, it’s not that simple. Because the emotions we feel when we’re doing something do not just spring from the act itself, but also from the context. And that context is mostly determined by the intention behind what we’re doing.
So if you follow the simple logic of doing something and seeing how it makes you feel, you can arrive at the incorrect conclusion that doing something “feels bad for you” or “doesn’t work”. Even though it could actually feel great and give you more results, if you just did it for different reasons. Both the results you get and the way something makes you feel actually depend on the place you are coming from when you’re doing it.
Here’s how this applies to applies to different aspects of your life:
Making Healthy Food Choices
Let’s say you want to eat healthier because you don’t like how fat your body looks and you want to change it. If you’ve ever tried that, you know it feels like a constant struggle and depletes all your willpower. You feel like you need the occasional cheat meal (or flat-out binge) to "stay sane" during the diet.
Now on the other hand:
If you love and respect your body, then you will naturally want to feed it foods that nurture it and make it feel good. Coming from this place, making healthy food choices is super easy and happens almost automatically.
People who are trying to eat healthy because they don’t like the way they currently look will now tell you “I could never eat such a strict diet. I don’t have that willpower, it seems horrible.” While for you, it doesn’t feel restrictive at all. On the contrary, you enjoy it because you love feeling healthy, and the thought of eating at McDonalds feels horrible to you most of the time.
In the opposite direction, your motives behind eating unhealthy foods also determine how they make you feel.
Let’s say you are the kind of person who eats healthy most of the time, but some nights you like to indulge in a pot of ice cream or a bag of potato chips.
If you indulge in these because you feel lonely or had a rough day and need it a treat, it will make you feel better at first because of the dopamine spike. But afterwards you will feel a combination of possible negative feelings about it: Perhaps you’ll feel guilty about your food habits. Or you’ll remember how the reason you ate it in the first place was because you felt horrible. The unhappiness returns and you need another escape (television, sex, etc.)
Now imagine this: You are at a party surrounded by people you love, having a nice BBQ together. And you indulge in all that unhealthiness because you like it as part of the atmosphere of the party. And most of all, you like sharing a feeling of pleasure together with friends. Looking at each other and both recognizing how good the taste of the food makes you feel.
The food now still has the same unhealthy effect on your body, but after the dopamine spike, the pleasure doesn’t wear off. Instead there is a feeling of satisfaction. You had a good night, and you allowed yourself to enjoy the pleasures of life. The indulgence was worth it, because it came from a place of loving the food itself, not escaping something else.
Relationships with Other People
A recurring theme among people that come to me for coaching is that they want to stop being such a push-over or a people pleaser.
A lot of modern dating advice for men tells people to stop being “such a nice guy” because it only gets you in the friend zone and that “women only want bad guys”.
This causes many men to falsely believe that they need to become more selfish and arrogant. Which is just plain stupid:
When was the last time you fell in love with someone because of their selfishness and arrogance?
Sure, you may not end up in the friend zone anymore, but that’s because you’re not in any zone any more. You stopped being nice and it made you an unlikeable person 😉
On the opposite end, a lot of women learn to put up a “bitch act” or cold exterior, because they’ve been hurt by dishonest men in the past. They have decided to stop being so nice and gullible. Now they can protect their heart from getting broken again.
The result? They struggle to find a good man and keep attracting drama or mismatches because they don't let men see their true, vulnerable personality anymore.
In both of the sides of this story, people are confusing the actual behavior, with the motives behind it.
When you’re being a nice guy because you desperately want women to love you, or friends to like you, people can feel it. It’s manipulative, dishonest, and no one likes it. At best, they will not be attracted to you. Worst case, you will be the guy in your friend group that everyone goes to to lend money and not pay it back. Or the guy women go out with to complain about their boyfriends to and get a ride home.
When as a woman, you're the kind of person who'd do anything for a guy because you desperately want his love, how can you expect him to respect you? You don’t even respect your own wishes and needs because you’d go as far as doing things you don’t really wanna do just to earn a man’s approval.
The answer here is not to become a douchebag or a bitch, the answer is to change your intention.
Be a nice person not to gain approval from others, get into their pants or “earn their love”. Become a nice person because you have love for other people and want to treat them like you’d want to be treated.
I can assure you that when you are nice to someone just because you believe it’s a more pleasant way for everyone to act, that behavior will not get you in the friend zone. Nor will it prompt a guy to abuse you and break your heart. It will simply make them like you more. (Which is ironic, because if you would do it to achieve that, it would no longer work.)
This is also why people who constantly work harder to kiss the boss’s ass and get his approval will feel undervalued and jealous when someone else gets a promotion. While people who work harder simply because they care and want to learn the skills of the “next job” get recognized. Same behavior, different motives.
Now let's look at the impact your intensions have on your sex life: As soon as you start to view sex as something “other people give you” or you get “self-gratification” from, you get rejected more, and the sex you do have is not very fulfilling.
But when you view sex as a simple physical expression of what you and the other person currently feel towards each other, it becomes a natural consequence of your interactions and feels amazing.
Once again, this doesn’t have anything to do with the physical act of the sex being different, but with the feeling behind it. Even a rape fantasy can be about exploring a beautiful mutual connection in a new way. But acting out a rape fantasy for self-gratification would border on real rape and probably weaken (or permanently severe) the bond between you and your partner.
On the other opposite of the spectrum, tantric sex can be a beautiful loving thing to explore when you are both interested in experiencing it. But I suspect it’s also possible to have tantric sex to satisfy your ego’s need to feel like a spiritually advanced person. Which would be a very boring experience for the other person, and a very frustrating one for yourself.
The Effect of Intention on Your Hobbies
Imagine you want to learn to play the guitar. It’s pretty easy to master the basics of this skill, but the first 6 months can be kind of tough on you. Lots of people who buy a guitar give up on their practice easily and just conclude that “it’s not for them”. Even though there’s only a short period you need to go through to get decent at it.
If you want to play guitar because you want people to be impressed by you, it will feel like a struggle and you will most likely stop playing it at some point. Why?
Because frankly, in the beginning you will suck. So people will not be impressed. Then, when you get good at it, they will still not be impressed. Because the world is filled with guys who are sorta good at playing guitar, and everyone on YouTube is better than you. So even if you succeed at becoming a good guitarist, you will not succeed at fulfilling your intention of becoming a more popular kid.
However, if you start playing guitar because you love music, love playing it, and love the feeling of becoming better every week (which you will), not only does the practice start to feel almost effortless: You will do it every day because it’s something you look forward to. And you’ll feel confident about playing songs in public. Because you no longer judge your performance based on your skill, but do it for no other reason than the fact that you love doing it.
I’m using the guitar as an example here because I used to teach it and have seen this first hand, but you can apply this most other hobbies.
Take sports for example:
If you work out because you think the ladies (or the gents) will find you more attractive because of it, it will only feed your feelings of inadequacy. This may lead to a form of body dysmorphia most people in the gym suffer from, where you look in the mirror and all you see are the things that need improvement. This is why a lot of guys in the gym want to get bigger and bigger, even if it makes them dysfunctional and grotesque.
It’s also why a lot of women keep getting bigger breast implants. They started "improving" their body to become more loved, but it didn’t work because what they needed was self-love.
Now on the other hand, if you are already happy with your body, you will work out because you enjoy having a body that feels healthy, strong, functional and conditioned. Suddenly most of the gym memes about “hard work and determination” seem ridiculous to you. As going to the gym is simply something normal that you enjoy doing and it doesn’t feel hard or disciplined at all. Now you are no longer a “bro”, but you are a normal person who just happens to be in the gym.
The influence your inention has on how things make you feel even applies to past-time activities that don’t really count as “hobbies”:
When you go out to party as a means of escaping the pressures and worries of life, it will leave you tired and worn out the next day. And you will need to rest even more. You curse the hangover and watch TV all day. Which in some cases can start a vicious cycle and turn you into a junkie (been there, done that).
But there is another reason to go out partying:
As a celebration of life and the bonds with the people around you. Interestingly, even though you will sleep just as little (and possibly drink just as much), you will feel very satisfied the day after. You’re still physically tired. But also rejuvenated in a sense. Because you feel blessed for having such an awesome life with such awesome people in it. These are the nights lots of people “live for”. And they can even bring you good emotions for years after, when you recount the stories of how amazing they were (also been there, done that).
The television you watch during your hangover (from partying or work) is subject to the same thing:
If you do it to escape your tiredness, it is a very unfulfilling habit and one that you’ll probably regret on your death bed. But watching a specific movie or serie that you’ve been looking forward a long time, can feel really great. Because you do it out of love for what you’re seeing, not as an escape from what you don’t want to see.
As you can see, the underlying theme to which is intentions work in terms of making you feel good (or getting results) and which don’t is very obvious:
When something you do makes you feel bad or you struggle to get the results that others get, it because you are moving away from reality (fear). Like trying to escape a body you don’t like, a feeling of loneliness / stress, or feeling undeserving of other people’s love and doing something you think will fix it.
When it makes you feel good or feels effortless to do, its because you want to move towards this part of reality. You love and appreciate it, and want to magnify that experience even more. Examples here would be:
• Loving your healthy body and making it even healthier
• Celebrating a good feeling with more good feelings
• Treating other people better because you like them
• Doing a certain activity because you enjoy doing it
• Working because you want to give value to other people
When something feels much harder for you to do than seems to be the case for other people, it’s usually because you are doing it from a fear-based intention. Investigating the place you’re coming from and figuring what the opposite would be can help you make this much less of a struggle for you.
For example, yesterday morning I was contemplating my own death. Which is something I’ve been doing lately before I start the day (I must sound like a really fun guy now). And I thought: "What if I was 100% sure I was going to die in 6 months? What would I spend those last 6 months on?"
I was pleased to find out that most of my basic habits would still be things I care about and enjoy doing, even if I knew that I was dying soon. But it also allowed for me to make an important shift in intention:
I’ve been looking for a part-time job lately and so far it really felt like a struggle. There’s always something about every job or boss that I strongly dislike so far. And when I do find something I can tolerate (I dismiss any store that primarily sells products that are made in slavery or sweat shops, for example), I usually end up in a situation where I can frame myself as the victim of some form of disrespectful behavior. Which is a sneaky trick I can play on myself that allows me to cop out.
Looking back, the reason why I struggled so much is that my intention was wrong: I wanted a job to move away from the feeling of not being a fully functional member of society, and not being 100% self-responsible (which I now realize is impossible, because when you have a job, your boss is responsible for your income, and when you start your own company, the clients are - humans are meant to work together). So every time I took action towards finding one, it felt like a struggle because my motive was fear-based.
Now, imagining that I was going to die in 6 months, getting a job felt like an obvious, easy and normal task to do. A simple requirement in my life until I earn enough from this blog to not need one anymore.
Why this change? Because I love life so much. I love eating fruits and other expensive, healthy, organic foods. I love traveling. I love spending time in the sun, on the beach, or in the forest, and doing random things with my friends.
If I would only have exactly six months, I’d spend the first 3 stocking up on cash. Because more money, would increase my capicity to enjoy the things I love in this world.
I’ve felt a very strong repulsion towards getting “a normal job on the side” all my life. And with some exceptions, every time I had one, I felt miserable. Interestingly, now that I’m simply looking for one coming from a place of love, I don’t feel any resistance towards it anymore. And if I feel it, I can interrupt and change that feeling.
Last week I had a similar shift with regards to wanting to change the world or the society we live in: In the past this often felt like a very frustrating feeling for me. I wanted to change the world because I hated a lot about it. On the other hand, simply accepting the world as it is, but trying to improve it for everyone, because I want everyone to feel happy, does not feel like a struggle anymore.
It’s also a much less daunting task. How could one individual change society and everything that’s fucked about it? You can’t. Because you’re just a small speck compared to 7 billion other people.
But improving the world is easy. It’s a much smaller task: As long as I treat the people I meet nicely and write blog posts about things that can help them, I automatically accomplish it. If I can make the people around feel loved, joke around with them, or decrease their stress levels, I am already making this world a better place. If I consume clothes and food that cause as little suffering or destruction in this world as possible, I am already making this world a better place. This may not stop all the horrible things on this planet from happening, but it does have an impact. Why torture myself with the idea that I need to become some kind of super hero that solves everything? What's the likelihood of ever achieving that, especially given my relatively naive world view as a 26-year-old?
Maybe this way I'm only changing 0,00000001% of the world, but it’s still more than I change by sitting around complaining about how fucked I think everything is. Or making failed attempts at trying to change. Or trying to escape the system altogether and leaving it for what it is.
Once again it's the intention behind the change I'm trying to make that decides how it makes me feel, and how I accomplish anything. Paradoxically, if I were to try to change the world coming from a pleace of fear (as I did in the past), it would inject a sense of bitterness in my interactions and actually cause my friends and loved ones more stress. Which would make this world less fun for other people 🙂
When you look at all the things you are doing right now in your life, how van you apply this lesson yourself?
Maybe there are certain habits you are trying to quit, but deep down you kinda like them. What if you don’t quit them entirely, but only indulge in them whenever you are coming from a place of love and appreciation?
Examples here would be:
• Only drinking when you already feel good
• Only watching things on Netflix that you have been looking forward to watching, never “browsing” for new things
• Fighting people in a boxing ring because you love the physical act of the fight, not getting into fights on the streets to vent your anger and frustration
Also, what are some good habits you’ve been struggling with, that you can make easier for yourself by changing the reason you’re doing them?
• Cleaning your room (not as a chore, but because you like a clean environment)
• Meditating (not as an escape from reality, but to teach yourself to experience it more fully)
• Working on a better lover, friend, or son/daughter/non-binary product of their loins
If you currently don't like the way something you do, makes you feel. Look into your heart of hearts, and ask what your true intention behind it is.
Whenever something feels unreasonably hard for you, there’s a big chance you are doing it coming from a place of fear, not love.
(One final note: Erections are the obvious example here. These feel even harder when they’re coming from love 😉 )
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