Updated: Feb 27
Let's get practical.
The Stories Begin Early On
A simple event of a significant carer telling us when we were seven years old that we "will never be good enough", is recorded by our brain along with the sad emotions we felt at that time - unloved, misunderstood, belittled, hurt. It's done. Filed away. Four years pass and we have our first love interest and then, on a cold sunny morning, in the playground, in front of the entire school, they break up with us, publicly announcing that "My mum says I deserve better than you. And anyway, you smell". They walk away, as all the school kids laugh and point at you. Your eleven-year-old brain and body is flooded with negative emotions. It's done. Event and emotions filed away together. And now there is a thread created. A thread of "I'm not good enough". Ready for the next event that fits this self-esteem genre. Buckle up, this is going to get intense!
And so it goes on. We have lots and lots of other life experiences that touch this thread and are added to it, branching off into many variations on a theme.
One day, aged twenty-one, we are looking at various job adverts. We have a degree now. Lots of stored information that should say "I'm capable". Hell, we even now have a certificate to prove this. Unfortunately, stored emotions are more powerful than certificates! So with every advert we read, two voices come out and narrate, discuss and argue the pros and cons of going for this job. The conscious, rational, you-voice says "yes, you can do it", whilst the subconscious second voice of recorded messages brings out a string of files attached to various threads, one of which is the genre of 'Low self-esteem', titled, 'You're not good enough'. Equipped with a megaphone, it causes the body to once again, flood with emotions attached to each event. Done. You're suddenly paralysed with these emotions. This can happen without us even being conscious of it! And with this, you make your decision. Do you risk failure by going for it and add yet another negative memory to that thread, embedding it deeper into your psyche or do you apply for the job you know you can get, meaning you hopefully won't have to hear that musical number again, "You're not good enough"? This is your brain protecting you, it's just doing its job. But in actual fact, here, it is hindering you. What to do?
This is stage two. We need to learn to detach the emotions from the event. We need to recognise that those emotions have nothing to do with the current, now situation in front of us. They are connected to events of the past and belong there. They do not belong in the present. Remember, like lego, the event and the emotions are two different things. By recognising this, stepping back and engaging our conscious mind, the one that knows the truth of the present, we can make choices that are more daring, more free, more right for now, more us.
Just filing away that sense of 'yes I can', that self-belief, that inner power, makes a huge difference and provides a positive memory to be filed away and recalled next time. This is about rewiring the brain. This is where mindful breathing and meditation becomes a very powerful, life-changing practice. So let's look at one such tool, that of intention pathways.
The other part of stage two is understanding that we don't have to "own" these recorded emotions at all. Especially when they are negative and hold no place in your present. Enter intention.
What is Intention?
Before we go onto the practical, how-tos, let's first make sure we are on the same page when it comes to intention. I'll be quick.
An intention is thought choice. It is a decision made by your conscious brain. It is you. It can be very powerful. It is driven. It has a purpose, an aim, a plan. It is about fullness thinking. About replacing disempowerment thinking with empowerment thinking. Importantly, it knows the truth.
It is intention we use to psych ourselves up for a race or pluck up the courage to tell someone we love them, or what we need in order to send off that job application. It is intention that gets us out of bed in the morning, takes us for that run and helps us live our lives. It is our driver. It gives us momentum, seeks, enables and makes the most of opportunities. It is about choice and choosing the path we intend or desire to follow. It is linked to our hopes and dreams and too often, long lost beliefs that are part of our high self-esteem. It is with intention we overcome fears, prove the negative thought loops wrong, as we re-write old emotional memories. It is intention that allows us to say things like, "I never thought I had it in me", "I never knew I could achieve that", "I had no idea they loved me too" because we dared to believe a different outcome to the one presented by the thought memory and wave of attached negative emotions from our past.
We have the power because we set the intentions. We decide what they are.
Intention Pathways - How to do it.
Remember, this is about replacing old internal loops and therefore rewiring the brain. Turning a panic response into a calm response, for example. Turning an emotional response of fear, to one of tranquillity or self-belief. This is why you need to bring the practice of intention pathways into your controlled environment, and preferably when in a relaxed, meditative state. For example, after you have completed a few rounds of your 3:3:6 breathing or deeper. Get yourself into your Key Space. Engage your parasympathetic nervous system.
Remember, we are driving change at deep, unconscious levels of the brain and we need our intentions to take root and replace old, hindering inner monologues. Also, because we need a safe place, we require our parasympathetic nervous system to be in the driving seat as we are often going to be dealing with intense emotions. What that eleven-year-old kid endured while being publically humiliated in the school playground, probably scarred them for life. To disempower those emotions, we first need to embrace them, before we can let them go. The way out is through. This practice allows us to understand that the fear and pain attached to that event, won't engulf us in the present moment, won't destroy us and that we are more than any fear or pain. Only then, can we replace the emotions. Our internal, negative thought loops are a prison. To become free, we must change our brain's filing, from attaching negative or painful emotions (against us) to attaching positive enabling emotions (for us).
Let's get practical.
Intentions follow two pathways. The first is the pathway of release/away from you. The second is the pathway of embrace/towards you. When we come with an intention, we either intend to let go of something, or to embrace something. The emotion or thought we want to release is what we visualise going away from us. The emotion or thought we want to embrace is what we visualise coming towards us. One goes away and the other comes towards. One we let go of and the other we embrace. Or another way to say it is one goes out, the other comes in. Much like your breath!
Intention pathways use our practice of conscious, mindful breathing to help visualise and physically show the pathways using from and towards movements. As we breathe out, we release. As we breathe in, we embrace.
To show this, we use our hands and arms. Firstly, we will look at the release/away from you motion.
Always start any intention pathway practice as mentioned above, with engaging your parasympathetic nervous system by doing some mindful breathing. You want to get yourself into a ready and receptive state, one that is calm and prepared to deal with intense emotions. Use my 3:3:6 breathing technique or some basic 4:4:4:4 box breathing. When you have done this, continue on.
Starting with your hands placed one on top of the other and rest them on your chest, concentrate on bringing to mind what it is you want to release. Let it form under your hands. As you do this, allow yourself to connect with the feelings it generates, those negative emotions, the pain, the darkness, whatever comes up, feel it. It's OK, it will not consume or engulf you, remember, you are more than any fear or pain. This may become an emotional practice. That's good, let it be exactly that. The deeper you can connect, the more you can let go of.
Now for the releasing. Breathe in slowly and hold your breath for a few counts. As you hold, visualise what it is you want to release, filling your hands, (for me, this often manifests itself as some form of a dark cloud in my hands), and then as you exhale, slowly push your hands away from you, fully extending your arms, palms faced away from you. Visualise the emotion, thought loop, energy, darkness, going away from you and out of your hands. Breath in again, bringing your hands back to your chest and repeat.
Do this three, four or five times as you see fit. The idea is you feel everything is released. Each time, it is important that you are mindful of your physiology, how your whole body feels and of your mind, your thoughts, emotions, feelings. How are you reacting to this releasing? Is it emotional, are you wanting to cry or feeling a sense of relief, or maybe you're feeling joy and lightness? Or maybe it feels difficult to let go. Observe yourself as you do this.
Once complete, rest, with your hands on your chest and spend a couple of moments observing yourself. How does it feel different after you've done this releasing? If it is emotional, let it come and let it come out.
Now it is time to do your embracing/towards you motion. Start with your hands outstretched, palms facing you. Visualise your positive, embracing intention outside of you, (I like to visualise this as a waterfall of energy/light in front of me, into which I can place my hands to fill them up with the positive energy/light - the colour of this water is totally up to your imagination), and as you take your in-breath, pull your intention towards you with your hands, palms facing you, bringing it to your chest. Press both hands to your chest and visualise everything going inside you as you breathe it in and hold your breath for a few counts. Accept it. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Feel it. Believe it, even if you don't.
There you have it, your intention pathways. I will post a guided intention pathways meditation as a Keycast for you to use should you wish to.
The battle is real
Remember the 'happy planet' remark at the start of Part 1? That happiness is a choice and is that simple? Well, it is and it isn't. There is a reason the whole planet isn't one big Mary Poppins movie.
We all struggle and battle with feelings of self-doubt due to negative inner monologues. Suddenly telling ourselves we are in fact capable, might just feel a little fake, unreal or unbelievable. However, the reason you are doing this is that you are trying to re-write your inner monologue from a negative, against yourself voice, to a positive, for yourself voice. So when you first start doing this, it is common to experience internal resistance to the new, positive mantra of being capable. This is why it is important that you accept it, feel it and believe it. Even if at first you don't.
Once again, do this embracing/towards you intention pathway three, four or five times like you did with the releasing. Then, with your hands on your chest, sit with yourself and notice how you feel, in your body and in your mind. Check-in with your feelings and emotions. Should you feel like you want to do the embracing one more time, then feel free to do another round of three.
Another important point is about repetition. Things will not change because you did this once on a Tuesday morning in February. If that is the only time you give to this, do not expect anything to change. You need to make this a regular practice. Remember, we are rewiring the brain. The key to doing this is repetition. Come back to this at least weekly, especially if you are honestly battling with and needing to let go of or embrace something significant. I would go so far as to challenge you to do it daily for 5 days and see how that helps. Then come back to it the following week.
A final point on repetition is that at some point, you won't need to do much of the releasing, but you'll actually feel like you've moved on. This is where you then devote most of your intention pathway time to the embracing. Take in all the positive you have time for! You will know when this shift happens, you will feel it. Go with it. Enjoy you. Your dedication is paying off and your brain is being rewired into a happier place. You'll notice this in your general thoughts, your attitude, your positivity to life, to people and in your body health and importantly, your self-love and self-esteem. You will probably also smile a lot more!
Be grateful. Once you have completed your mindful breathing time, be thankful for your new mantra and take it with you. Throughout the rest of the day, you'll find yourself repeating this positive mantra, over and over. This is exactly what is meant to happen. One thing to point out is that you may only need to do one intention pathway - either releasing or embracing. It will not always feel necessary to do both, so if that's the case, then don't. However, I personally always find it useful to ask myself, if I'm releasing something negative, what can I embrace that is positive. And likewise, if I feel I need to embrace a certain positive mantra, e.g. "I can", then why is that - what negative thing is blocking this positive belief in myself? What do I need to let go of? Then I follow the pathways as outlined above. Releasing the negative first and then embracing the positive.
Your five days
Back to your pathways and it's now day two. Repeat both the releasing and embracing exercise with the same intentions. Notice how you feel on this second day. Also, notice how your mantra becomes stronger during the rest of day two. Then, repeat this again, for day three and four and five. On each day, notice your internal reactions and how you feel during each day. How differently are you feeling on each day? Is it getting harder or easier? Are you feeling lighter or heavier? Are you feeling more positive?
Hopefully, after five days you will notice a big difference in your internal loops for this specific intention you've chosen to look at in this one week. You should notice yourself repeating the positive, embracing words with a frequency that will surprise you but much more than this, you should notice a big change in how you feel, both when you repeat the words and in general, within yourself as you go about your day. This is because you have started to re-write the brain's library response system. The subconscious mind is learning new ways to understand what you believe. So when faced with a situation that poses a question, 'Are you capable', your new response, your internal voice can now access a 'Hell yeah. Bring it on!'. Or words to that effect. The idea is that you have quietened those negative, emotional loops and provided a new, positive alternative package of memories and emotions. But more than that, you have started to actually change your internal belief system. You are beginning to believe in yourself in a new way. This should be putting that smile on your face.
You may find you want to return to this particular intention later down the line. Hopefully, you will also find that you want to start with a new one because you have felt the positive effects. This regular practice will enable you to truly move into a new space of positive, ever-present thinking, into fullness thinking and empowerment thinking. As you go about your daily life and find yourself faced with a challenging situation, you can pull out your new inner strength and inner belief, your new 'can do' attitude. It's a powerful place to live out of and it is yours for the taking.
Below is a list of a few releasing and embracing intentions that you may identify with. This is by no means exhaustive, I just want to start you off with examples that will help you find your own.
Intention pathways enable you to deal with the negative thought loop, without having to locate its root. Dealing with the root and it's attached emotions, is a different thing altogether. Here, we are dealing with internal belief systems, your self-esteem, your ability to empower yourself. Remember from above, the fact that your emotions and feelings can be detached from your actions, is in part, what you are doing with this exercise. As with many forms of inner healing and self-esteem work, there are many layers and many avenues we must traverse. Here, we are looking at one. It is a great tool that you can do alongside other therapies, like CBT or Psychotherapy for example. It is also a great tool for life coaching or mentoring. I would always encourage you trying intention pathways with someone who can help guide you, especially if you find them hard to do initially by yourself. Your pain or fears may be too strong for you to do it by yourself at first. If this is the case, seek out support from someone who understands how to walk you through it, like a therapist or such practitioner.
When teaching intention pathways, a few people have asked me, "How do I know what intention to use?" or "How do I work out the opposite intention to the one I have?". To answer the first one, I only use intention pathways when I know that I need to let go of something, (like a negative thought loop), or embrace something, (like self-affirmation). For example, maybe I need to forgive someone or let go of some negative energy towards someone. We all know when we need to just let go of something. Other times, I feel blocked, or stuck or lonely, for example, so I use my breathing technique, like the 3:3:6, engage my parasympathetic nervous system and get into a Key Space or meditative headspace until I can feel or sense the block or the loneliness and try to connect with it, listen to where it's coming from.
Sometimes we can hear which memory or theme of memories they are attached to. Often, from there, we can then easily begin to answer the second question. Maybe I feel blocked because someone once said something that made me feel incapable or made me doubt myself. So the opposite embracing pathways to that could be "I am capable" or "I am strong", respectively. You'll know your embracing pathway because it will resonate with you, it will feel right. You will feel it's right. Remember, sometimes you need to embrace the positive message even if you doubt it or don't believe it to be true. The emotions attached to the negative thought loops are powerful, so you need to take your power back and believe. Often this comes from digging in your heals with blind faith! With repetition and perseverance, the inner belief will follow, as will your inner strength.
Finally, as with my teachings on Key Spaces, I would recommend you use a journal. Write down your intention pathways and your internal responses for each day. You may choose to come back to that particular pair of intention pathways months later and you can compare notes. It also enables you to revisit ones you did in the past and remind yourself of all the good work and progress you've made, using it as a gratitude tool.
My challenge to you - Try it for five days and see if it works for you. You never know, it could change your life! But be warned, you may become a happier person.
The Breathe Key Keycasts are now available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Podcasts, Soundcloud and the Pocket Casts app. Just search for The Breathe Key. They are also currently free to download.