A Quick Guide to Paradoxical Intention

This is a guest post by Amit Sodha of The Power of Choice.

Welcome to the world of Paradoxical Intention, a wonderful technique pioneered by Victor Frankl who wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning (a definite must-read).

For anyone unfamiliar with him or his work, Viktor Frankl was a psychologist who was a Holocaust survivor and was in the concentration camps during World War II.  He ultimately lived to the age of 92. His book is an account of his experiences while imprisoned, and the discoveries he made about human nature when we are put through such extreme and dire conditions.

Toward the end of the book, Dr. Frankl talks about some of his therapy methods, one of which is called Paradoxical Intention. It is an incredibly powerful technique — one of the best I’ve ever come across.

Eh?

When I speak to people to Paradoxical Intention, or P.I. as I call it, they look at me thinking I’m talking about an 80’s TV show with some dude called Magnum who’s drive a really cool red Ferrari (which actually which actually looks like a squashed London bus if you ask me).

Nope, P.I. is a superb technique for overcoming strange neurotic conditions that many of us will acquire over the course of our lifetimes. These conditions often result in physical manifestations.

I’ll give you two quick examples:

1. People who suffer from conditions like shy bladder and can’t pee in public places.

2. People who get nervous being in social settings and sweat profusely — to the point that Niagara Falls would look like a garden feature in comparison.

Both of these conditions can be attributed to mental states.  If you think otherwise, ask yourself, why are these people not suffering from those conditions all the time?

The answer is simple. It’s because they almost hypnotise themselves to suffer from those conditions by the way they think.

P.I. Explained

P.I. is a counterintuitive way of coming to grips with the conditions I’ve mentioned, as well as a whole variety of other conditions. It’s a way of actually facing the condition head-on, and intentionally trying to make it worse so that it will ultimately get better. If you’re confused right now, then intentionally try and be more confused, and you’ll then understand what it is.
 
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So if we take the shy bladder case and apply P.I. to it, here’s what you can do. If you were a shy bladder sufferer, a bit like me, instead of trying to overcome it by telling yourself, “Just try and relax and the pee will come,”  try something like, “Let’s see how long I can hold it in.”

In essence, you’re turning the condition on it’s head by making it worse than it is, thus taking your focus away from the condition. You’re taking your problem and intentionally intensifying it. What that does for most people is allow them to subconsciously tackle the problem head-on and relieve the anxiety around it.

Different Ways P.I. Can Be Applied

Any one who is a fan of the Rocky movies will remember how Rocky would sometimes taunt his opponents, let them hit him, and he’d respond with, “Is that all you got? You hit like my mother!” What did that do? It threw his opponents off and made him more relaxed. When I play sports competitively, and I play against someone much better than me, I do exactly the same. I want them to know that they haven’t phased me. I can still have fun and enjoy myself, but most importantly, I’m relaxed because they don’t intimidate me.

Also, when things are going wrong for me in my life, they usually go wrong in two’s, three’s and four’s. It’s never a single event that comes to test me. So instead of questioning why this is happening to me, I tend to think, “Is that all you’ve got? C’mon, that would’ve had trouble making a 3-year-old cry. Gimme some real venom!”

You can see straight away what the effect would be. It would be a way of looking your enemy in the face and saying, “Ha! Even your worst can do me no harm!” It takes the sting and fear out of the situation.

The Rules Of P.I.

1. If you have some kind of affliction, or you’re going through a tough time, ask yourself how can you make your intention of it even bigger than the test itself? Refer to my examples above.

2. Once you’ve figured out how, put it to the test! See how it affects your situation.

3. Remember, the P.I. must be bigger and worse or more intense that the problem itself to be truly effective.

Do you have questions about P.I.? Get in touch with Amit Sodha. Amit is a life coach, writer, speaker, comedian, magician and founder of The Power of Choice

If you are interested in the power of choice for a more fulfilled and extraordinary life, please download my FREE ebook, How to Live a Meaningful Life.

Comments

  1. Great post Amit.

    I’ve never heard of P.I. before so your article is a great introduction. Thinking about it feels a bit scary but I guess that is the point. Make things worse before they get better. I’m going to give it a try and see how it goes.

    Thanks for this wonderful guide.
    .-= Manal´s last blog ..Start Today: 7 Simple Tips to Organize Your Space =-.

  2. Claire - Gratitude Connection says:

    What a cool idea, sort of the opposite of the head in the sand approach (me, sweating profusely, no you must have me confused with someone other wet armpitted individual…) I am a bit nervous, but completely prepared to give this a go. Wish me luck! Thanks 🙂
    .-= Claire – Gratitude Connection´s last blog ..Today I’m grateful for… =-.

  3. Hey Manal, I know it can be a strange concept to grab at first but I have to say of all the techniques I’ve ever learned this has been one of the most powerful for me. I would love to hear how it pans out for you so drop me a message sometime and let me know.

  4. thats a VERY unique way of dealing with things. Im going to experiment with that. Im having a lapse in confidence after countless knock backs after interviews, but will keep this perspective next time, as the ups and downs are really starting to effect me, and i need a technique which keeps me balanced. Thanks amit, awsum post….and very easy to follow. mwahzzz x

    • Definitely give it a go Kavi. If you’ve tried lots of other methods and they haven’t worked then this is the technique I’d recommend to anyone as it’s usually one they don’t think to try! I’ll help you in any way that I can to get you through your tough times! 🙂 x

  5. Hi Amit,
    Thanks for this clear and easy explanation of PI. I was unaware that it had had a name and I realized I have unintentionally used this technique before. Like you, when something seems to be spiraling downward, I hear myself say, “Is that all you’ve got?’ etc. What we are doing is accepting life’s challenges knowing we have the power to come out on top. It is a great way to ultimately take 100% responsibility for our lives and not be derailed by the vagaries of “outside forces.” I like to remind myself: If it is to be, it is up to ME!

    • Hey Rob, yes indeed! That’s exactly it! I was the same as you, I used to do it anyway and when I learned about it I realised there was so much more I could apply it to and like you said it was about taking that responsibility for my life. Getting on top of it rather than it getting on top of me.

  6. Joshua Noerr says:

    That was a fantastic post. It’s funny, because I have quoted Frankel several times, but never actually read his work. You have just inspired me to do so, thank you.

  7. > making it worse than it is, thus taking your focus away from the condition.
    Beautiful and precise. It sounds like the perfect way to turn “what you resist persists” into action.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..The Design of Sources of Insight =-.

  8. Hey Amit,

    Firstly: OMG that chick with the boxing gloves is DELECTIBLE!! I’ll paradoxically intend her any timezz 🙂

    So funny how you say people think P.I. is that douche from the 80s. I used to be into EFT (emotional freedom technique) and every time i’d speak about it, i’d be like, “have you heard of EFT, it’s the greatist thing evarr” and they’d be like, “dude, electronic fund transfers have been around since the internet started WTF?!” 😀

    Your shy bladder example is ace. I used to get it a bunch then one day decided bleh, i’mma own this like a Clint Eastwood Western and rolled up to the urinal right next to this massive bouncer-lookin guy and stood there, me and him, for literally over two minutes. I pictured a happy place with girls not unlike the boxer chick above and eventually, slish, little yellow soldiers are watersliding into the bowl in front of me. The bouncer guy next to me bursts out laughing, turns to me and says, “well done.” and walks away 🙂 Whole thing was like a stare down but, thank god, without the staring.

    I really like the whole idea behind this. I’m not sure if i’m reading it correctly but it sounds like something i do all the time with things that seem scary or that i have hangups about where i’ll intentionally go over the top to show myself that it’s not a big deal. Like being scared of talking to girls – i’ll go up to a girl and lick her face and tell her i want to take her to the beach and breakdance little love poems into the sand and cuddle her while we sing kumbaya” and boom, no longer scared… but that’d be actually stepping up and doing it but sometimes, with things scarier than girls, is just way too much of a push. So doing it mentally is a really cool thing to try. Prolly easier than getting it together to lick mascara off some 6 foot model anyways 🙂

    so funny cos the way you broke down those steps, for some reason, instantly made me think of cloudbusting. you know, where you make clouds disappear with the sheer power of your mind. (serious, google it) This seems outrageously simple and hurr durr but can feel from your example above and from future experience (hurr durr) that it’d work.

    supremo respect Amit

    and super respect to Barrie on this site – design is oozingly magic. and content is gloriously un-boring. let’s keep in touch.

    +stumbled

    keep it unreals mate
    alex – unleashreality

  9. Hey Buddy! It’s been a while and LOL yes she is just truly lucious!!

    LOL @ licking a girl in the face!! hmmmmm I’ve never tried that approach before but both in imagining or for real…I may have to give that a go…again on both counts!

    Oh…my laptop battery is about to die so I’m going to finish replying to this comment later!
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..7 Ways To Develop Nerves Of Steel During A Penalty Shoot Out… =-.

  10. Hey Alex,

    Where was i? Ah yes, It’s something I used to overcome the fear of talking to girls too and it works like a treat. Of course if I over thinking anything I pretty much tend to screw it up. Only when I’m clear, whichever method I use so long as I’m clear and I don’t over think it then I’m generally home free! LOL @ cloudbusting…ok that’s the first time I’ve heard of that too!

    Alex, why haven’t you written a book yet? You write like a star!

    I love your tagline, keep in unreal dude!
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..7 Ways To Develop Nerves Of Steel During A Penalty Shootout… =-.

  11. Never heard of P.I but I’ have tried the exact same techniques before when i had to deal with a really mean boss. Instead of always going to work feeling nervous and depressed because of how rude he was, I took his bad attitude as a challenge and in the end it never bothered me again.

  12. “Phased me” should be “fazed me” – please pardon my anal streak.

    I love this page. Fabulous!

    FYI one of the greatest examples of PI is the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza decides to do the opposite of what he’d generally do.

    As a facilitator, I have great success with PI in a narrative therapy context. The more people who know about it the better.

    • Hey Kimberley,

      That’s okay, I can get pretty anal at times to and I’m always better at spotting others mistakes than my own! 😀

      Glad you share my enthusiasm of PI and always great to hear how effective it is from you perspective for therapy.

      ~Amit

  13. PINAR KUMRAL says:

    Hi, Very good post, as my psychiatrist offered me for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

  14. My mother used this technique a lot when I was growing up, though she had no therapeutic training. When something seemed overwhelming to me she would ask, “O.K., what is the very worst thing that can happen if you go ahead and do that?” I would answer, and she would ask, “is that REALLY the worst thing that could happen?” I would think harder and come up with a worse scenario. Then she would say, “O.K., how likely is that to happen, really.” And “Even if that does happen, will you die?” The answer of course was always, “no, I won’t die; I’ll just feel bad for a little while.”

    It usually worked.

    What can I say? Momma usually does know best after all. If only I had realized sooner what a brilliant psychologist, life coach, philosopher, and wizard my high-school dropout mother really was. Alas, we grow old so soon, and grow wise so late.

    • Hey David, thank you so much for sharing. That actually reminds me of a story my friend once told about his mum and how she responded to him. One day, he said to his mum, he wanted his hair to be green. So his mum said, sure son, go get your hair dyed.’ Any time she resisted, he would want it more, when she acquiesced, he no longer wanted to do it. A simple example of P.I. in perfect action.

      Thanks again,

      ~Amit

  15. I thought this was a good introduction to this neglected approach. I’ve written about my experience of Paradoxical Intention on my website.