I posted a tweet recently that received a big response. The tweet: “Paradox: Once u GET that u can only change self, you’re then most able to influence others to change. Why would u say that is?” Here is a random sampling of the responses:
I very much appreciate the numerous thoughtful responses. They really got me thinking deeply about what my answer would be if I were to write about it longer than a tweet, and here’s what I came up with.
We can’t change others, but we can influence them to want to change themselves. And ironically, we mainly do that by keeping a positive view of them, because then we have a chance of connecting with them. And it’s only through feeling connected to a person that others are willing to, truly give, that person’s opinions weight. As they give our opinions weight, we can gradually and happily (and still having great respect and acceptance toward them) show them that they might be happier (and/or experience more long-term benefit) if they changed to be more like how want them to be. Then they might start gradually considering it and making a change from within themselves, which is what we want. And it’s important we remain open to being changed ourselves, too. Here’s an example.
When my vet told me I needed to start brushing my dogs’ teeth, well one of my dogs wouldn’t have it. So how was I going to change this dog to at least accept having her teeth brushed (with an electric toothbrush no less, which she was afraid of)? I’ve realized that changing a dog is similar to changing a human being. It’s often a gradual process, and the truth is, when “I changed” my dog, I was as proud of the changes I’d made along the way (and the deep respect and understanding the dog and I built for each other) as I was feeling like “I changed this animal” as in “I’m so wonderful and so powerful”.
In fact, I don’t even think of it as, “I changed this animal,” because I really know that it was through my showing great respect and liking for how she already was, combined with showing her (gradually) that she just might gain even more happiness if she allowed me to brush her teeth, that then she chose to gradually move in that direction. What she might get out of having her teeth brushed included things like: maybe she’d enjoy how smooth her teeth felt after; she’d certainly enjoy the great amount of attention she’d receive from me during a teeth brushing; she’d likely love the great taste of the toothpaste. (Granted, human toothpaste doesn’t taste so great that I get excited about using it – it beats baking soda but it’s nothing like chocolate mousse!)
And I was moving in my position too. I had to overcome my own resistance to brushing my dogs’ teeth, because after all, it’s kind of a nasty job. I had to be willing to enter into that time (of brushing their teeth) with joy and ease, and it had to be real joy, not faked, because dogs know, they sense our true energy (so do people actually).
And guess what? My dog changed (as did I). Gradually she became more and more comfortable, and I was able to move closer and closer to her with the vibrating toothbrush, until today, she may like it even more than my other dog. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that I’d moved in my attitude (LOL)! Besides bringing calm and even joy to the tooth brushing exercise, I was a different person in my ability to respect and enjoy someone for whom enjoying having her teeth brushed didn’t come naturally. So each of us changed what it is that makes us happy. As opposed to, each changed just to make the other happy.
Please let me expand. Her change happened in such a way, with my having (and maintaining) such great respect for her, that I don’t take credit for her change. And I wouldn’t necessarily want to, really. It’s kind of like the whole thing with sex – you want them to want it. You want them to want the change, otherwise it’s like you tell them what to do and they’re like, grudgingly, “Okay, I’ll do it because you want it, just to make you happy, all right”. No, no – that’s no good! You want it to be a desire that emanates from within the other. You want it to be an internal motivation. You’re not that happy if they’re doing it for you. You might be happier than if they’re not doing it at all, but you’d be most happy if they did it because they truly changed and so they wanted to. You see, when you control or manipulate someone to change, you’re happy on the surface level, but you know underneath, their change isn’t going to last unless it comes from within.
It is like a man who batters. He gets his wife to do all sorts of things for him, but he’s not really happy, because he knows she’s not doing these things because she loves him. She’s doing them because of coercion from him and fear of him. Some people say, “Oh he’s happy because he gets everything he wants in his home. He enjoys the benefits of being abusive.” Having worked with men who abuse, I can tell you that they are actually very, very unhappy men, even though they have a lot of power and control over the people in their lives.
And getting a dog to enjoy having her teeth brushed (with an electric toothbrush no less) is a really good example too, because before the dog has learned to enjoy it, sometimes the dog will tolerate it. And I’m thinking to myself, “Yeah, okay, she’ll sit here for a brief moment. But I can tell she’s ready to leap right up and get away from me as soon as she can.” Versus when she came to really like it – today it seems that she’ll keep opening her mouth for that toothpaste as long as I am willing to keep at it. Sometimes she even seems disappointed when I finish.
Back to the paradox: “Once u GET that u can only change self, you’re then most able to influence others to change.” When you think you can control another, you’re already emanating a forceful and judging energy, which leads the one you want to change to emanate a resistant energy. Stated another way, attempting to control a person goes hand-in-hand with judging that person. When you have high regard for a person, the last thing you want to do is take away choices from that person, or control that person. So when you want to control and think that you can, it shows that there is judgment underneath. When judging someone you’ll be more likely to use coercive (whether overt or covert) methods to try to change the person. Both of these – your judging spirit toward them and your pushing them, attempting to force or manipulate them to change, leads them to feel insulted, put down, and like they’re a little bit less of a living being to you, and so, invites them to resist you. And that’s very healthy resistance by the way. Because they are resisting being judged, being thought of “less than,” or being objectified as a “bad/destructive/etc.” person.
To expand on this idea of forcing people versus helping them to learn to truly want to do it, there is a saying, “Slaves dig ditches. They don’t program computers.” When you’re forcing (or manipulating) someone to do something it has to be a really rough, crude labor sort of job, that they can’t possibly sabotage or mess up, because they’ll be messing it up all over the place (whether consciously or unconsciously) because they’re not happy with what they’re doing (it isn’t out of a motivation that emanates from within). So you can’t have slaves do anything that they could really mess up – or that requires creativity or higher thinking – because you’ll pay too much for it. So when there’s force or manipulation involved to get another person to do something, you end up, not only unhappy with what the person gives you (or only surface level happy) in the moment, but also, you’re going to pay for it later, in some way. Because you’re going to hurt your relationship; they’ll feel that much less inspired to please you.
With the dog/teeth-brushing example, the dog may make me pay by continuing to try to get away from me. Yes, she might stay there as long as I tell her to, or as long as I keep my hand on her. But just as soon as I take my hand off of her, shooo – she’s gone, out of there! You know, that can make a person feel pretty bad. She’s not here because she wants to be. She’s here because I told her to be. Then on top of that she may start staying away from me. When she sees me start to do whatever it is I do that leads up to brushing her teeth, maybe she goes into the other room. Dogs and people will start doing things to avoid you that you may not even notice. You know, they’ll just kind of disappear, and not be around you as much.
There are neurons in our brains called “mirror neurons” – they will automatically mirror what is happening in the brains of those around us. So when we’re focused on getting another to change, that other will turn and put all their focus on getting us to change! Those mirror neurons may be behind why we tend to get what we give.
I’m sure most of us have experienced being surprised before at the fact that, almost as soon as we start taking responsibility for our role in the situation, the other person does, too. (That may be those mirror neurons at work.) That’s why to change another, and to get another to want that change, we’ve gotta turn and look at ourselves and figure out how we can change too, and how we can want to change – at least become open to changing.
Also, when you realize the value of focusing on self in order to best influence another, you are more likely to spend time learning methods that invite change (e.g., good communication) rather than trying to manipulate it. And methods that invite change (rather than try to force it) are aimed at getting one’s own head right first before we have a conversation with the other. Then when we’re having the conversation with them, we’re going to be focusing as much on our own behavior as on theirs.
Stated another way, every energy has an equal and opposite energy. When you’re not trying to make them change, when instead, you’re coming at them with a soft, gentle, loving energy, and with caring about their right to choose what’s in their best interest, you’re best able to influence true change.
But if in contrast, you approach for example, your man, trying to control him, you’re likely also judging him, like thinking he is acting like a lowlife or he owes you for all you do for him. With that kind of thinking toward him as you approach him, of course you’re likely to speak to him in a way that invites him to resist you. You’ve gotta get your own head right first, before you can have any chance of influencing him. And getting your own head right means you’re able to maintain a positive view of the other – you’re truly seeing the other as a complex, fallible, loving, and valuable in the world being just like you.
We can too often forget that people (and animals) tend to take the same stance toward us as we take toward them. If we come at them attempting to control them, they give us that same energy back – they’ll equally attempt to control us, whether by simply resisting us (equal to the pressure we put on them) or by instigating harsher methods – escalating the situation. So we want to approach them with the same respect and energy that we want them to have toward us – the same viewing them as a complex human being, the same amount of openness to changing ourselves as we want them to have about themselves, the same amount of giving them the message “In no way do I want to take your free will choice away from you, or to pressure you.”
Showing them such respect for how they are, we’re saying, “I get it, I respect it, and I think you might enjoy this way too, or even better.” Then if they try our way out, and they find they do enjoy it better or they enjoy the consequences, and importantly, they don’t feel pressured (they maintain their sense of autonomy, their sense of “I have a free will choice here” – which is vital to feeling like a living being versus an object), then they are likely to start desiring to do that behavior on their own, because of the joy they gain from it. But it’s often a slow, gradual process to change what it is that brings us joy. After all, neurons have to be rewired, and that takes time. And it doesn’t matter that it takes time because you want them to take ownership for the change anyway. (There are implications here about the need for patience. You have to be willing to give time and not give up too soon.) You and they both actually want it to have emanated from within them. Just like when my dog moved from a place of fear of having her teeth brushed, to actually enjoying it, I’d helped show her that she might be able to gain a lot of joy from it, but she’s actually the one who changed her own mind about it, and decided that indeed that could be true for her.
In conclusion, we almost never want to be involved in changing another if that involves pressuring them or attempting to control them. (More on the “almost” in a future blog, because there is a time for the protective use of force.) Instead, we want to show them, little by little, how what we are suggesting they do, will actually bring them more joy and benefit, than what they’re currently doing. In other words, it’s in their best interest too, not just ours. And it’s best that their change is out of their free will choice. To the extent they change out of feeling pressured by us, it’ll take away from both their and our present joy and long-term benefit. So in working to change another, we approach them positively, with great respect, and with joy and calmness. And we have an equal openness to changing ourselves and budging from our position too. So by the time they have changed, we have also changed. Maybe my dog who used to be afraid of having her teeth brushed and now enjoys it, won’t ever enjoy it as much as the dog who – from the start – liked it. Or, just maybe, the dog who used to be afraid of it, now actually enjoys it more than the other dog. After all, I think I do – enjoy brushing the formerly scared dog’s teeth more, because of how we worked up to being able to do it. I worked for it, you know (“worked for it” in the positive sense of it benefited me and my mood during and after the “work”) so it means more to me. I now experience feelings of gratitude and joy when engaged in brushing her teeth. We have both, definitely, changed.
I could call this article, “To change another, change yourself,” but the thing is, if we go into changing ourselves with the primary intention to change the other it won’t work. Because if our changing ourselves is solely (or largely) in order to change the other, they’ll feel that; it’ll still feel like an insult or a manipulation to them, so they’ll resist changing. Make sense? Stated another way, our state of consciousness in each moment is just as important (if not more so) as our behaviors and words (what a person can see on the surface).
To check state of consciousness, ask yourself these questions:
If your answer’s “no” to any of these questions, then be very careful to watch for and nip in the bud, the tendency you’ll have to move into judging and pressuring the one whom you want to change. Avoid judging and pressuring as those will mess up your relationship – the #1 important factor in being able to influence.