How Can I Make Them (or Myself) Change?

The type of call I’m least fond of on my show is “How do I change my sister-mother-cousin-uncle-father-friend-husband-wife-kid?”  People don’t change because YOU want them to.  They may not even change if THEY want to.

People need three things in order to change (and you’ll notice that your name is NOT among them):

1. Willingness 
2. Desire 
3. Courage

Let’s break them down…

Willingness 

A change that somebody else requests only gets made about 0.0001 percent of the time.  It usually takes a crisis or a really bad situation before someone willingly accepts that they need to change. They spend their energy rationalizing, justifying, making excuses, and explaining why they don’t have to.  In order to change, they have to be willing to make mistakes, look and feel stupid, be scared, and admit to others that they need to change.

Desire 

Desire is different from willingness. It’s the logical need to initiate the change. Desire is saying, “I really need to make this change because if I don’t, I’ll lose my marriage/health/life or limb.” The kinds of payoffs that inspire change are things the person values a lot.  Without their heart really being in it, they are never going to change.

Courage 

Courage is the most important of all the factors, and it’s the area where most people fail.  They may have the intellectual notion that they should do something better with their lives to be happier or more successful, but that’s not enough. True change requires guts.

When I first started on radio 30-plus years ago, I was so concerned with how smart I was going to sound that I had trouble tapping into what callers were saying and getting inside their heads. However, one day I just said to myself, “Look, it doesn’t matter how you sound. You’re supposed to be there to help people, and if you come across as stupid for one call or several calls, so be it.” It was at that point that I really started to be able to hear what callers were saying.  I could open up with them because I had gotten myself out of the way.

If you allow yourself to get in the way, keep obsessing over how you sound or look, or continuously worry about who is going to approve, you can’t do what you are meant to be doing.  I like to think that we are all meant to do something on this earth. However, so many of you don’t do what you may desire to try because you can’t stand the interim period of looking stupid to someone else.  But sometimes you have to look like an idiot today in order to be better tomorrow.

When you’re faced with a conflict or the possibility of looking stupid, you lose your good intentions and the gumption to sustain a change. This is why you have to be able to speak the truth and accept that you’re not perfect.  One thing I think everyone should do is get up in the morning and say the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Knowing what you can and cannot change is probably the most important piece of information you can get into your head at the beginning of the day. If you say it out loud, it will have a lot less power over you.

Finally, you can’t beat yourself up when you try and things don’t go perfectly. There’s a difference between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism.  Healthy perfectionism means that you use your drive to learn and challenge yourself. It is unhealthy to beat yourself up when you make mistakes – that’s something ALL humans do. Otherwise, your life will be a total retreat.

Have you ever shot pool, played golf, or done any other type of sport where you have to control a part of your body to move something else? No matter how much training you’ve had, when you’re stressed, nervous, scared or challenged, you tend to revert back to old familiar habits. This happens to me when I play tennis. When I’m feeling stressed or pressured, I tend to bring my elbow in and do a chop shot. The way I recover is by saying in my brain, “It doesn’t matter if you miss the ball. What matters is that you continue to do the right swing, and eventually, you’ll be hitting all the balls correctly.”  This may seem like a silly example, but the same mindset applies to all aspects of your life.