+Scott Watson

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Always Search for the Positive Intent - Don't Panic

How to take the first step to change unproductive habits

Have you ever wondered why some people demonstrate patterns of behaviour or habits that make absolutely no sense to us as observers? Behaviours and habits such as being stubborn, panicking, being terrified of flying or even smoking tobacco five, ten maybe even twenty times each day for year after year?

What is it that drives these habits that often times, don’t really support us in leading a healthy, fulfilling life but we continue to do them anyway? Before we get in to understanding why finding the ‘positive intent’ is so valuable to us as human beings, take a moment to consider this much-publicised example that took place on an internal American Airlines flight in February 2004.

With all 180 passengers on board, the air traffic controller cleared the pilot for take-off. But this flight was about to become interesting, if not terrifying for many, if not all of the passengers. Surprise soon turned to fear when over the communication system, the pilot said (quote from CNN News), ‘I’d like every Christian to put their hands in the air for just a moment’. Panic! Remember that the passengers were locked in the plane and couldn’t get off, and since the events of September 11 2001, unauthorised access to the flight deck was virtually impossible due to reinforced doors. Long story short, the plane landed safely, without incident after a 90-minute flight.

So, what caused panic in the passengers? Some passengers said they thought they were being hijacked by extremists and identified as the first to be killed by their hijackers because of their religious faith. Others had fears of a repeat of September 11th and tried to phone their loved ones. After all, an American Airlines internal flight was involved in the events of that fateful day. But, the pilot, who was suspended from duty pending an enquiry, says he didn’t mean to frighten anyone. A statement issued by his employer states that he ‘intended’ to compliment the Christian passengers for having a strong faith. That, in basic terms, is ‘positive intent’.

One key point that could be so worthwhile to consider, as it can really improve the quality of your life is ‘positive intent’. Without the psychobabble, please take on this belief for the next couple of hours and start to notice your thinking patterns becoming more flexible and maybe, even more open to new habitual possibilities. Here it is, it’s really simple and also really powerful if we apply it in our daily lives.


Well, does this belief make sense to you? If so, wonderful, you can now start to make even better choices in your thinking, relationships and ultimately, behaviour from this moment forward. If it doesn’t yet strike a chord with you,try another real-life example from just a few weeks ago about what is commonly labelled a ‘panic attack’.

Picture the scene, 7.00am on a freezing, dark, wet Saturday morning. I had just arrived at the radio station for a ‘live’ telephone interview with a well-known breakfast show host based in London. The studio technician who was charged with taking care of me, let’s call him Rob, was very polite, helpful and somehow we managed to have a bit of a giggle, even at this early hour!

The interview was scheduled for 7.50am precisely. I like to arrive early to give people plenty of time to arrange whatever they need to plan so we can relax before I do my piece. Anyway, Rob had to telephone the London studio technician to set up a digital phone connection that apparently enhances sound quality ten-fold. He was finding it quite a challenge to get through as the line was constantly engaged. At 7.25am he was still unable to get through. And he didn’t appear happy about it.

As I sat there, in the tiny, cold studio watching him become more and more frustrated I noticed that every twenty or so seconds he would glance at the clock on the studio wall. Being the nosey bloke that I am, I wondered how Rob was processing this event internally. I said little and let him focus on his task. As time continued to pass by, 7.50am precisely was getting pretty close. It’s now 7.40am and we are just ten minutes away from the interview time slot, but still had little success (or lots of failure) in getting through to his colleague in London to put the right phone line in place.

And then, it happened! Rob’s breathing became shallow, faster and his eyes moved around so rapidly it was like he had walked straight on to a right hook from Muhammed Ali. His face quickly changed from a pale white to beetroot red and he couldn’t stand still for even a second. Although we had only known each other for less than an hour, virtually every rapidly spoken sentence included at least one swear word. And with the room temperature still pretty cold, Rob, still swearing, angrily took off his jacket, then his jumper, threw them to the floor and started to sweat profusely. Yuk! Looking at the clock yet again and still without a connection with just minutes to go, this situation was about to get much worse.

In between repeatedly punching in the London number on the phone, staring at the clock, sweating and swearing (now that’s multi-skilling), Rob apologised to me for ‘****ing up’. He shouted, ‘I don’t know what’s ****ing wrong with this phone line’. At this point it seemed appropriate for me to join in and get a bit crazy. After all, there’s no point in being shy at a time like this is there? So, without warning I jumped up out of my seat, started to shout about how ‘punctuality is vital to me in order to operate properly’ (whatever that means) and repeatedly pointed to the clock in between swearing, using the same shocking words as he did and flitting around the room. Standing less than three feet away from Rob and staring at him with a very angry look on my usually friendly face I shouted to him, ‘You’ve got me bloody panicking now mate, you should be a therapist…I can’t believe it YOU’VE GIVEN ME YOUR BLOODY PANIC ATTACK….I ONLY CAME TO HAVE A CHAT WITH THIS WOMAN IN LONDON AND NOW THIS (pointing at myself in a panic state) IS HAPPENING TO ME…OOOHHHH….WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?….THANK YOU VERY BLOODY MUCH’

This brief but dramatic tirade stopped Rob dead in his tracks. In less than ten seconds, he was deeply confused, very surprised, maybe even shocked. But there was no panic. He forgot about the clock, the constantly engaged telephone line and everything else he had been focusing on. Well, I suppose he had to. If you had a guy you’d never met before going crazy in front of you (in a very confined space and blocking your exit from the room) what would you be thinking?

Now, at this very moment, the best choice available to Rob at the deepest unconscious level was to pay attention to me. Still standing, I held my head in my hands, took a deep breath, rolled my head as if to release tension and took a step backwards (still blocking the exit).

Now, with both of us in a state of calm, I smiled at Rob and said, ‘now then mister, please tell me about what just happened to you when you had that panic thingy a few minutes ago’. In a quiet voice he replied, ‘this always happens…all my life I’ve had panic attacks, I’ve even had two years of therapy but that didn’t help at all’ He continued, ‘It ruined my last birthday when I was trying to organise a coach trip to the races for my mates, at job interviews, I just crumble and now, It’s happening all over again and I couldn’t stop it.’

In a calming voice I asked Rob if he wanted to get rid of this automatic response before we left the studio and learn to become consciously aware of ‘how’ these panic thingy’s are created and be able to deal with the situation we were in far more effectively and confidently. His response was a definite ‘YES’.

I joked that it wasn’t really him I wanted to help, I just wanted to get on the radio because I’m an interesting guy, Rob laughed loudly. I said, ‘Oh, and by the way mate, you’ve spent two years talking about your panic attacks and how bad you feel, but did you ever invest time in finding how you’d fill the panic time when you get rid of it?' Big confusion on Rob’s face. I continued ‘after all, if you’re stopping panicking, you’ve got to start doing something else with the time haven’t you?’

Anyway Rob tell me, what’s the positive intent that your ‘panic thingamiwhotsit’ is trying to communicate to you? He responded, ‘There’s nothing positive about this happening to me, it just happens’.

Well, if it wasn’t ‘HELPING YOU’ in some way, your brain wouldn’t keep making you do it to yourself…would it now’? Confused even more, Rob’s eyes rolled about for a few moments and then, the penny dropped.

Rob replied, ‘I just want to get things right for people, I don’t want to let anybody down or mess up, there’s a lot of people relying on me’.

Brilliant, a breakthrough that took him just a couple of minutes. We did a couple of really quick emotional intelligence and NLP patterns to remove the negative, panic feelings and replace them with absolute confidence and certainty that he could do his best for me, take control of his thinking and, even if the phone line was still busy the next time we attempted to get through, he would respond far more positively and in complete control of himself.

The changes in Rob’s breathing, body language and thinking was instant. ‘Now, me being the helpful chap that I am Rob, will you do me a favour as I’ve done you a favour’? ‘Yeh, no problem’. ‘Thank you Rob, what I’d like you to do is remember that ‘thingywhotsit’ experience you had a few minutes ago and start to re-live it in your own mind and body right now as if it was happening again right now’.

His response? A very polite, light – hearted, ‘get stuffed I’m sticking with what I’ve got now’. My response? ‘Yeh but we’re now a full FIVE MINUTES LATE for MY interview and I had all this really good stuff to talk about, insult a few therapists, consultants, coaches and be generally quite an interesting guy.’

Both laughing loudly, an unexpected knock at the studio door and a colleague of Rob’s wanting to pass on a message from the London studio technician. ‘There’s a problem with their telephone systems, they’re sorry for the delay and they’ll call your studio as soon as they can…but don’t panic’. Rob thanked his colleague for the information then turned to me and said confidently, and rather cheekily, ‘Me…Panic’?…not a chance’.

The interview took place and it was a really enjoyable experience for me. Rob listened in and when I was being politely, and rightly challenged by the broadcaster on ‘this stuff you do is so unbelievable, I don’t believe it’.
My response? ‘Well, perhaps you’ve never had such a powerful learning experience that has worked for you or maybe your consultant, doctor, therapist or coach is so shockingly poor at their job that they just keep taking your money each week so don’t want you to overcome your own challenges too quickly’.

So, there is a real-life example for you, now think about the examples below and make some sense of what is happening and how you can support yourself or a colleagues to make some positive changes that, first of all, they want to do and secondly, the support you give them is without ego or judgement but with lots of love, and maybe even some acknowledgment of their efforts thrown in to the bargain too.


1. People generally don’t smoke cigarettes to inhale poisonous carcinogens, reduce their lung capability, actively shorten their life span and emotionally hurt their family. They generally live the habit to maybe relax, relieve stress, unwind with friends and much more. There lays the ‘positive intent’.

2. People aren’t generally scared of flying, as our culture would have you believe. They are generally terrified of crashing, being out of control, feeling unsafe and much more. There lays the ‘positive intent’.

3. Alcoholics don’t generally stay drunk because they want to feel physically sick, out of control and sad. But they often do this behaviour as to them; it changes their perception of their reality and provides an escape, at least for a few hours. And then, the more they repeat their drinking behaviour, the more they ‘escape’.

So, there you have it. Always search for the positive intent. I do hope this article has started to paint a picture that can open up your mind to developing some new, more empowering approaches to searching for the underlying root of some of the habits we have. Maybe you could find it rewarding to make a note of a habit you have that you really want to change and then take a few moments to relax and allow your mind to generate three or four positive alternatives that would support you better in living a happy, fulfilling career and life?

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