Photo by Ginny Sampson
Who hasn't wished that their boss, spouse or in-laws would change? We'd love to possess a magic change potion we could give the offender to help them see the error of their ways.
We delude ourselves into believing that our desire is not for our benefit. Oh no, it's not about us. The reason we want the boss to be a better listener, or our spouse to be more careful with money, is for their benefit.
Leo Tolstoy once said, "Everybody thinks of changing humanity, but nobody thinks of changing himself."
It's more interesting, and easier, to talk about the other people's problems, than to work on your own. Sadly, you'll often find others eager to join in the "why other people should change" discussion.
Imagine that you work for a boss who is, shall we say, less than perfect. How easy is it to strike up a conversation with a coworker about what the boss needs to do differently? In many work environments, venting about management is a full-time sport.
Picture two scenarios: You're working late with a few coworkers on a big project that your less than perfect boss assigned you at the last minute. In the first scenario someone starts to complain about the boss and her last minute, poorly planned projects, saying "I'm sick of her dumping all her work on us. She knew this project had to be done weeks ago."
In the second scenario someone says, "I'm working on trying to reframe my response to these projects. I'm determined to start seeing them as opportunities to shine."
Which comment is going to elicit more responses from the team? In most cases, people will be more than eager to pile onto the negative comment. But the more internally focused reframe will give them pause. Uncomfortable pause.
The same thing happens in personal situations. Got some gossip about those pesky neighbors? We'll gossip until the Chardonnay runs dry. Want to vent about your judgmental in-laws? It's not hard to find others who share your pain.
But if you begin to suggest that perhaps you need to work on changing the way you think about these situations, you'll be the pious boring one nobody wants to have a drink with.
Discussions about why others should change have a wickedly illicit and oddly energizing effect on people. Talking about why you need to change your own thought patterns is less interesting. But, boring as it may be, changing yourself is always more effective than trying to change others, because as we all know (insert heavy sigh of resignation) the only one you can change is yourself.
Spiritual leader Marianne Williamson, author of the "Gift of Change," says, "We don't change our world or change our lives by changing external circumstances. We make fundamental changes by opening our minds, by opening our hearts and looking at our own character defects and being willing to address them."
Trying to change others is like banging your head against a brick wall -- it hurts and your head wears out before the wall even shows signs of a crack. Changing yourself isn't any more fun, but at least you've got a fair shot at breaking through the concrete.
Next time you find yourself wishing for a magic change potion, flip it. Instead of asking, "How can I get the other person to change?" swallow a little bit of the potion yourself, and ask, "How can I change my response?"
Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of "The Triangle of Truth," which the Washington Post named as a "Top Five Book for Leaders." More info: www.LisaEarleMcLeod.com