The desire to change other people is natural but it will only lead to frustration. You will enjoy the most success and contentment in life when you focus not on changing people but changing yourself.

If only my children were more helpful and cooperative…
If only I had a smaller behind and a prettier face…
If only they understood me better…
If only everyone in this house was more considerate…
If only my parents wouldn’t do that…
If only everyone else changed, my life would be so much easier and happier!

The Only Person I Can Change Is Myself

We humans just don’t like changing. We want everything else to change instead. This has led to wonderful inventions to make life easier and more comfortable like fans, washing machines, and smartphones. But we don’t stop there.

Not only do we want our environment to change, but we also want the people in it to change: our family, our boss, our next-door neighbour. If these people would just be different, our lives would be easier and more comfortable. If only we could just turn on ‘consideration’, ‘helpfulness’, and ‘kindness’ like the air conditioner!

The reality is, we cannot make anybody else change. We can threaten, bribe, manipulate, cajole and reason, but changing people is ultimately futile. We may succeed in modifying a person’s behaviour for a while by these methods. But unless the underlying belief that caused the behaviour has also changed, we’ll see the same thing happening again – probably sooner rather than later.

It has taken many years, but I’ve finally learnt that when I am dissatisfied with anything, the first person I should try to change is me. Often, if I change the way I think about something, that will be enough. My happiness and peace should not depend on other people or my circumstances.

Taking Back Your Joy

When we let our peace be determined by everyone and everything else, we set ourselves up for perpetual discontentment and disappointment. We postpone happiness until this thing is acquired, that 5kg is lost, this holiday is taken, or that person changes.

When we give other people the job of making us happy, we miss out on the joy available right now. We also miss out on the power to change things.

If it was someone else’s fault, sure, I could feel hard-done-by for a little while. But that gives the other person the power to make me miserable and powerless.

It was hard to come to grips with the fact that if I was not happy, it was my fault and my responsibility to do something about it – because that would mean I had failed and was not perfect! Ultimately, however, taking back that power has been invigorating and has led to me having greater compassion towards the mistakes of others.

Learning to Take Responsibility

In practice, what that meant was taking responsibility for my feelings, thoughts, and actions that contributed to the situation. For example, I wanted more help around the house to keep things clean. When I was in my depressed phase, I would whine to myself about it and wish the kids would offer to help. I would see things that needed doing and do them, but then I would get angry at them (or worse). I was convinced that it was their fault that I was miserable. They weren’t listening to me, and they didn’t care, and if only they would change…

Then I started to think, “What can I do differently?” I realised that I had trained them to be messy and unhelpful because I always picked up after them and did all the cleaning myself. Moreover, yelling at them wasn’t really giving them much detail about what I truly wanted; it just gave them a really good excuse to be angry at me.

Changing people never works. The kids didn’t change, and neither did the mess. But how I saw the mess and how I saw the kids changed. How I asked for what I needed also changed. I was also able to develop a strategy so that what they were doing didn’t affect me so badly. No longer did I need to get angry because I knew exactly what I would do when they inevitably dropped the ball. I had a response and consequences pre-planned and ready to go. So instead of being angry, I could be sad for them.

And pretty soon, they did actually change in response to my change – and the best bit was that it was more lasting. I have learnt that kids (and spouses) respond a lot better to words of correction when you are giving them a hug and stroking their hair at the same time. And you just can’t do that when you’re angry at them! But it does come naturally when you are sad for them.

Some Helpful ‘Truth Coaches’

  • Changing people doesn’t work: the only person I can change is myself.
  • Suffering is inevitable; misery is optional.
  • I will not allow anyone’s bad mood or actions to steal my peace.
  • Stress is not in the situation; it’s in the mind. Peace is the reassurance of adequate resources.
  • I can never truly meet my needs at the expense of other peoples’ needs, and I can never truly meet other peoples’ needs at the cost of my own needs.
  • People treat me how I allow them to.
  • People care for me, but sometimes they don’t know what I need and sometimes they are overwhelmed by their own stuff.

Originally published at Mum Daily. Image by Fred Kearney at Unsplash.

About the Author: Annette Spurr

Annette Spurr runs her own business at Blue Box Media and is also the Managing Editor at Mum Daily. As a wife and mother, Annette has discovered the power of gratitude journalling.

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