It’s very easy when we are overcome by stress or anxiety or falling into other old negative behaviour patterns to demonise that part of us. To look at it with anger, annoyance or disappointment as we realise how it is bringing us down.

But it’s important when we view these parts of ourselves (which may no longer be serving us) not to slip into the overbearing ego or the harsh inner critic and only exacerbate the situation further and add fuel to the fire.

It really is true that we can’t change a behaviour with the same mindset that initiated it or as Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

It’s crucial, therefore, when we observe these limiting or destructive shadow parts that we decide to see them from the most neutral and non-judgemental perspective we can muster.

It’s only when we adopt the wise role of the mindful observer that we can truly observe them, bring them into the light and ultimately heal them and release them.

Key to unlocking this inner compassion is understanding that – believe it or not – every behaviour always starts with a positive intention. Even those really annoying ones! This is a fundamental principle and a truth that can have a dramatic impact on the way you relate to yourself, or others, if you can really get your head around it.

I know it may seem like a radical suggestion at first. How can every behaviour start with a positive intention? What about my nail biting, my social smoking, my excessive worrying or worse? How can these ‘negative’ behaviours really have a ‘positive’ intention behind them? But it really is true. Let’s take a closer look at this…

9/10 times this part of you is simply trying to protect, support or safeguard you in some way but the behaviour has warped or gone slightly awry.

Maybe you smoke, for example, because you think it helps you relax under pressure, provides a welcome break, or acts as a treat or a reward? Or maybe you bite your nails because it offers some kind of emotional release when you are nervous, or you worry constantly because you don’t want anything to go wrong and you want to feel safe and secure and make sure your family are cared for.

Whatever that negative behaviour is – the intention is ultimately a loving one because if we didn’t care about ourselves we wouldn’t worry, get angry or annoyed in the first place. So, in this respect every act is an act of love even if it’s a distorted act of love.

Breaking it down even further, at its most fundamental level, even stress hormones themselves have a positive intention! When your body senses a change or threat to its balance, they kick in to maintain and protect your vital systems, giving you more blood, oxygen and sugar, to make sure you are ready to cope, or fight, or run to survive. It’s only when the threat is imagined or out of balance and your stress system is constantly on the high alert that you experience unwanted side effects.

Beneath the ‘bad’ behaviour there is normally a really ‘good’ intention and when we can clearly see what this is, it makes it much easier to release any old, out-dated, limiting behaviours and find alternative solutions instead.

One of the things I often see with clients is how often people underestimate the power of their thinking—both conscious and subconscious. They often assume that the most significant part of their lives is what they do but every action starts with a thought, and every thought starts with an intention.

So, if you are struggling with something in your life right now why not try this simple technique out for yourself…


  • Identify what your negative behaviour is that are that you would like to change.

E.g. Smoking

  • Ask yourself why you started the habit in the first place.

E.g. Loss and emotional pain – feeling fearful

  • Check whether that reason still stands or whether there are any other good intentions in place (state in the positive)

E.g. To feel calm not anxious – for emotional & physical release

  • Ask what alternative positive behaviour could offer the same support?

E.g. Healthy outdoor exercise, in nature

I love this exercise because usually you find that within a couple questions you can get right to root cause of your behaviour’s intention and will discover it is something inherently positive. Not only can we view ourselves more compassionately, but it makes it easier to offer some alternative, healthier behaviour instead.