Unless They Want to Change
This is an important rule in life. Remember it.
I know I haven’t written a blog post in a while and that is due in large part to focusing on further developing our podcast. However, my wonderful daughter woke up early this morning (loudly) and after cajoling her back to sleep, I decided it would be a great time to work on an article (thanks Sophia). Today’s article is about a very simple rule that will bring you a lot more freedom in your life. The rule goes as follows: people do not change, unless they want to change.
Remember Newton’s Laws of Motion? (I don’t, in fact, I had to Google it before continuing any further). In 1687, Isaac Newton (then not yet referred to as “Sir” until he was knighted in 1705, thanks Google) proposed his three laws of motion in his ground breaking work the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. His theories on motion, which eventually became laws (the highest order of the Scientific Method), revolutionized the way we see the world today. Well, some of us anyways (I won’t drop any specific names but they see the world as non-spherical).
Now, obviously, I haven’t read his book but from what I gather it can be summarized as didactically exploring the three different Laws of Motion. The three laws are as follows: #1 “without resistance: objects in motion, stay in motion”; #2 “the greater the force, the greater the acceleration”; and #3 “for every action, there is a reaction”. I am no physics teacher (so definitely don’t quote me on the 2nd law) but for the purposes of this article we are going to extrapolate the theories of momentum and motion into human behaviour. That is that people who act a certain way are not going to change unless they either A) have to or B) want to. No amount of wishful thinking or mindforcework is going to make a person change. You can encourage change, you can even be the model of said changes but in the end: the individual is the ultimate decider, the force and the accelerator, of change in their life.
I have heard it said that a majority of the world’s mental frustration and angst is based upon trying to control things that are simply out of their control. When I work with children (and clients of all ages for that matter), I always tell them that the only person they can control is themselves. Not nature. Not animals (especially not cats). And not others. So stop trying. If there is a behavior that you do not like about someone, you have choices to make. You can either tell them about it and hope they decide to change their behavior or you stop worrying about it altogether. Notice how both of these choices are under your control.
If you have a friend who is chronologically challenged (they are late for everything, and I’m not talking 15 minutes here, I mean an hour) and/or has extremely poor communication skills (perhaps they were raised by Carthusian monks on a lifelong monastic silence) and it drives you bonkers. Stop. Reflect. Is any of this behavior yours to control? No. It isn’t. So stop trying. These people will not change unless they have to or want to. Now, that is not to say that you say nothing or do nothing with this sheepish individual. Again, go back to your self-agency. You can make choices for yourself. Ask yourself: what do I want? If you want your friend to improve on quality x,y, or z, then tell them. But do not text them. We shirk from conflict enough as it is these days and texting, being the new form of human communication that it is (even angry letters sent from Popes and contemporaries of the Middle Ages typically took time to put a level of thought into their diatribes), is simply not an effective method of having a constructive discussion. If you want people to change, you need to tell them and then they can decided whether or not they want to.
The other version of change is when people have to. But really, nobody has to do anything if they don’t want something of it. Take for example the case of the “hopeless alcoholic” (I borrow this character from Bill W’s Alcoholic Anonymous) who can’t stop drinking. Indeed, the compulsive drinking of this reprobate seems to suggest that they are afflicted with something not dissimilar from a disease. It is killing them yet they cannot stop. They are addicted. They are powerless to the drink. Yet we hear of so many people with similar tales of addiction that are able to successfully become sober and remain that way the rest of their lives. But how? Because they want to. They want to be clean. For their families, their friends, themselves. They are proud of their success and their choices (and damn proud they should be). Even if an individual is arrested and told that they can’t, say, have a drink. They still could do it. But if they look at themselves and realize: I am not proud of the fact that I physically assaulted a newspaper box and soiled myself at a bus stop, I need to get myself together here. That is not them having to do anything, that is them wanting to do something. They want to change themselves. These are lasting changes. Not when the wife says do this or I’ll leave. Not when the police say do this or you’re going to prison. Only when the individual says, I need to do this for [insert reason, clause, ultimatum here].
I could write a lot more on this. I have decided that I will and put them into a book to be lost in the oversaturated market that is self-help books. But that is enough for right now. If you like this, then comment on it and ask for more. Share it with your friends. Print it. Frame it. Or burn it. Whatever you do, realize it is your choice. Realize that no one has control over you. That you are the most important voice and decider in your life. That is not to say you should be a selfish individual but rather that you do things because you want to. Not because you feel like you have to. If someone really cares about you, they will want you to do what you want to do. They will not pressure you, they will encourage you. So make good choices and remember that you can’t control anyone, so stop trying to force it. People do not change, unless they want to.