Good intentions are actually not that good

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

We’ve all heard this maxim I’m sure. In reality, the road to boredom, damaged relationships, disappointment, laziness…[insert your own vice]…are all paved with good intentions.

A wonderful friend and I were lamenting the lack of action after the voicing of good intentions from people we both know. And it really highlighted to me the importance of following through; it highlighted that good intentions without any subsequent action, will get you nowhere ‘good’.

Imagine saying to your kids at 6pm “Don’t be cross there’s no tea tonight, I had every intention of cooking it!” Or to your boss “No, you’re right, that work’s not done. I intended to do it though!” Or your spouse on their birthday “Yes, I can see you’re upset I didn’t buy you a present or arrange a night out but I really intended to do something special for you.”

Doesn’t cut it, does it? Good intentions don’t mean squat if they are not backed up by action.

I have been guilty many times of over-promising things to others, of intending to do many, many things for people. My time, my abilities and other resources, were all offered with good intentions but unfortunately, that’s where it would end. And I’m not going to be too hard on myself, or on you – we promise things, or our commitment to something, because we genuinely have a desire to help or participate or invest in that person. What we lack is the wisdom to know what we can feasibly follow through with.

As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve learnt to say no, not just for my own sanity and to avoid taking on too much in life, but also to avoid hurting others and letting them down. And what it also means is when we do say yes to something, the other party knows we are good for it. That our yes means a firm commitment that they can take to the bank.

Our intentions are only ‘good’ if they elicit a purposeful action from us.

I will never get my book finished if I only ever ‘intend’ to write.

I will never have a great marriage if I only ever ‘intend’ to put effort in.

I will never have meaningful friendships if I only ever ‘intend’ to invest time with others.

What have you been ‘intending’ to do? Why not make a decision right now to convert those good intentions into actions?

14 thoughts on “Good intentions are actually not that good

  1. I learned a long time ago never to make promises in case I couldn’t keep them. Now it’s’ I will if I possibly can’ on things I’m happy / willing to do and apologies to the rest because of the calls on my time.The exception to that rule is family. Now what was it I was going to do? Oh yes, I was intending to offer you a coffee and I’ll commit to that as I’m having one myself.
    xxx Cwtch xxx


    • Once again you have written something beautifully, reader friendly and no waffle. I was disappointed when I came to the end. You have so much wisdom (from being such a WWJD woman) and are able to pass that on in a loving way. Thank you.


    • David, you literally made me laugh out loud 🙂 I fully intend to enjoy that coffee!

      And yes, family has their own set of rules. Maybe it’s age that makes us realise we need to learn to not over promise, do you think?


  2. Adding to your wise words. When navigating relationships, we so often judge ourselves by our intentions, but judge others by their actions. It’s important to recognise that discrepancy in our human nature to make peace in some relationships.


  3. I totally agree with your posts. I think I’m guilty of giving too much good intentions. As a result, I am feeling uneasy and underachieve. Not only that, I think the receiver will be disappointed with the intentions that I once gave. Learn to say no is really a way to help yourself and save others for disappointment. I learnt it the hard way.


  4. Good intentions should not be treated as fait accompli, but perhaps we who are on the receiving end should take them with more grace, and as something of value in their own right?

    If the intention was genuine, but the follow-up simply didn’t connect, surely we can be grateful for that which we DID receive, and not reject it because we didn’t get the whole package?

    That’s where I am in one aspect of life – a wrong was done, and I received written ‘good intentions’ which promised amends.

    It didn’t happen, and I doubt it will, as the individual has simply forgotten, I think.

    It’s my choice – hold resentment, and damage the relationship further, or hold the intention that was offered and consider it as paying the debt?

    I think I shall do the latter.


    • I’m not sure I agree or maybe it depends on the situation. I feel like it’s worse to promise something and then not do it, than to not promise it in the first place. I don’t think that means we need to hold onto resentment and bitterness, we can still move past it but somehow, it negates the intention if it never happens.

      Interesting way of looking at it Andrew…I shall think some more on what you said.


  5. The only thing more disheartening on not following through on good intentions is keeping a running list of plans that don’t get crossed off. It’s encouraging to know this is not a secret battle, but one that can be identified and discussed. Knowing our limits is helpful, but I honestly don’t always know…I do like Andrew’s reflection on being on the receiving end of a good intention that didn’t get followed through on. Hadn’t really thought about that aspect. 🙂


    • Yes, so true. Our good intentions without actions about our own lives gets us nowhere too. And we only have ourselves to blame for the disappointment and lack of forward movement.

      I’m still pondering Andrew’s view 🙂 He is very good at putting a slightly different spin on things!


  6. Your examples of “intending” with your husband, kids, friends…that struck a chord with me. What if I said to my grandsons, “Well, I intended to be an awesome grandmother, but I’m too tired, too busy, too stupid!” Naw, doesn’t cut it with me either. I truly intend to do a lot more with my life, but I realize my limitations…time, energy, prefer to spend fun time instead of work time, prefer to spend time with the family. I talked with a prospective client last weekend. I told him I took only ONE client at a time, that I could start to accomodate him next weekend, and told him a realistic turn-around time for his project. I don’t overextend myself, editing-wise, because I do like to enjoy myself and spend time with family. Because I intend to be an awesome MoMo, and I deliver.


    • Yes, a big part of it is realising our limitations. I guess that’s why, as we grow older, we start saying no more. When we are young, we think we can do everything! I know your family must love the fact that they are your priority 🙂


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