separating behavior from intent to gain rapport

Separating Behavior From Intention

The crudest forms of hypnosis views behaviors we want to stop as “bad.” The suggestions directly challenge the behavior. “Cigarettes are terrible, they are like rat poison…” (Believe it or not, there’s a prominent hypnotherapist who actually advises those suggestions).

As you can imagine, if there’s a motivation inside an individual, that drives them to a particular behavior, a suggestion counter to that behavior goes in direct opposition to that motivation. There may be an internal war with the strongest suggestion winning.

End The War

Milton Erickson often took a different approach, as does NLP. We separate the behavior from the intention behind the behavior. We might want to know what a person gets or is trying to get from smoking. Some folks smoke to relax, some, to get new perspective or clear their heads, some smoke as a rebellion against something. We don’t object to relaxing, or perspective, or even rebellion, in the right context. So perhaps the relaxation is the intention behind the behavior of smoking.

So, in order to help someone stop a behavior without going up against the motivations of the client, it’s best to make a distinction. The distinction between behavior and intention. “OK, so you are trying to get some relaxation through smoking. I think that’s great. Let’s find some ways to get you even better relaxation than you used to get through smoking.” It’s a nice reframe, isn’t it?

Separating Behavior From Intention

Separating behavior from intention: Making a distinction between a behavior and the positive intention driving it and making the client aware of that distinction.

Why separate behavior from intention? To gain rapport with the part that’s driving the behavior you want to change and to create some wiggle room. In other words, you can change the behavior and still get the intention! Also, it helps the client get more rapport with themselves. When the motivation to smoke instead becomes, “the part of you that wants to help you relax,” it can be seen as a valuable resource.



About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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  1. The separation of behavior from intention is tricky, because behavior drives our intention to others…

    1. Thanks for dropping by. What exactly do you mean by “behavior drives our intention to others… “?

  2. What I mean is, our behavior is driven by how a person reacts or communicate with, for example if a person is humiliating you in fron of a large crowd, our intention towards that person is either you react verbally or physically.

    1. Well, intention is a word that can have a lot of different meanings. In my post, intention meant the reason why someone engages in a behavior. In other words, what is it they hope to accomplish? Even more specifically, What feeling are they hoping to achieve (or avoid) with their behavior.

      So I’m not talking about intention in the sense of what it is you mean (intend) to do.

    2. Hi, I thought of giving a bit clarification to you. Hope you take it positively. As you said you intend to react verbally or physically, it's your behaviour you are choosing to express your intention of taking a revenge or to show to other people present there that this person is wrong. If your intention was to remain silent as his behaviour had no power over you or your integrity, you would choose to behave accordingly. Often our own intentions are hidden from us as we focus on superficial feelings. Not all are blessed to be able to analyse ther own intentions. But the universal power always keeps a watch on every one's intention. Hence some people often complain that inspite of my doing so much charity, why do I suffer a lot.

      1. In this context, we're talking about intention in the Ericksonian definition. It's a positive feeling a person hopes to accomplish, though their actions. Revenge wouldn't be a positive intention. In NLP, we might 'chunk that up' by asking what's important about revenge, until we get to a positive feeling.

        I don't see any evidence that a universal power is keeping watch on everyone's intention.

  3. Hi Keith,

    You gave me a good suggestion a while back about success and sabotage and it seems to have worked, still is working, pretty well. Thank you, I completlyu appertciated that. Anyway I’m reading away here and thinking, man this guy is a good writer. I read the add for cds and MP3 downloads. The migrane sufferer. So I’m wondering, what causes writers block and how do you remove it ? That’s a heavy question, maybe too much for this format. But if you could write a couple of lines as a gesture of collective illeviation, it might be interesting.


  4. I’m new to hypnosis and fascinated so far. I used self hypnosis to high dive and it worked. Prior I was phobic. Recently I worked at The Jazz Festival in Vancouver for one week. I had amazing experiences. Colourful, bright, rich, interesting, warm, bizzarre, funny and down right neat. I met some famous people. So now, when I sit down and try to write about it, even think about it, I get hit with this energy wave so strong that I am having a hard time channelling the energy into a story. I’m wondering if Keith could post a suggestion. I want to write a great story, and I can, yet there seems to be this………

    Patrick in Vancouver

  5. Yes, I would be fascinated by anything about cures for writer’s block, as a formerly published but now struggling author…

  6. Those with writing challenges are using the “wrong” mind. The inner mind is the creative part of us. Learn how to turn it loose to do that which it does so very, very well. A good hypnosis training will do wonders for you. As Dr. Richard Bandler said m/l: This book wrote itself. I took my conscious mind and went to Florida on vacation.

    Perhaps you can talk Keith into a personal training. He has done that in the past and is quite good IMO.

  7. Edited comment to above: In NLP we have a core belief. That is: BEHIND EVERY BEHAVIOUR THERE IS A POSITIVE INTENTION. Now this may seem odd in some situations sooo if one adds “FOR SELF” to the end of it, you’ve got it.

    Now you know exactly where Keith is coming from. Find that positive intention and build on it.

  8. The reason why we do the things we do is oftentimes derived from our motivating condition. In general, emotions drive our behavior due to a perceived level of stimulation. Since behavior is typically based upon achieving a desired emotional state, creating a better modality for coping with our stress is a very entertaining option.

    Another consideration is eliminating the source of the emotional state that triggers our troublesome response in the first place. If “peer pressure” was the motivating condition, then a feeling of being accepted would end the juvenile need to belong from an adult’s perspective. The original condition becomes irrelevant because it no longer exists.

  9. Intention is a wonderful aspect of our lives. It is with intent, aka, grounded awareness, that we become most successful in every aspect of our lives.

    As for writers block – I’ve had a fair amount of success with one particular author utilizing Parts Therapy. For this fellow there was a part of him that found reasons to not write, fears surrounding the act of writing. When we were able to uncover those, he was able to get back to his work.

    Wishing you all well.

  10. Great article you have here, Keith. Indeed, we are motivated from the inside thus warranting the ability to aid us in separating our intentions and behaviors. All it needs is a little help — like this kind of technique. Believe me it works; I have done it a couple of times.

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