Sunday, February 7, 2010

You Can't Change Other People

The Coaching Chronicles is an inspirational newsletter/blog designed to stir, empower, and motivate you.

“The secret of happiness is knowing that there are some things you can control and some things you cannot.”
– Epictetus

Last week I challenged you to dump the words “try” and “should” from your vocabulary. I urged you to be clear with your commitments, and to really think about what you want to do and what you intend to do. This week, I want to encourage you to commit only to things you can actually change.

We generate so much unhappiness by focusing on things we cannot change. For example, take other people’s behavior. How many times have you caught yourself wishing the people around you would change? Wishing they would stop doing something, or start doing something? Wishing they were somehow different?

Have you ever stopped and wondered, “What is all this wishing getting me, other than a bunch of unhappiness?” I asked myself that question after reading Dr. Gay Hendricks’ book, Conscious Living. Below are a few excerpts from Conscious Living that I found especially powerful (and challenging). Take a look and let me know if Hendricks’ message resonates with you, too.

Hendricks begins by asking his readers to try an experiment. He says, “Think about an important issue prominent in your life right now. Ask yourself, "Is this within my power to change?" If you answer yes, then ask another question: "Do I want to put energy into changing it?" If you can change it and you want to put energy into it, then do it. If the answer is ‘no’ to one or the other of those questions, your task is to let it alone. There is no other choice.”

Hendricks goes on to say, “Pick your projects with utmost care. Human beings are finite and only have enough energy for a few projects at a time. You may not be able to lose fifty pounds, finish your Ph.D., take care of your aging parent, and write a symphony all in the same year.”

Hendricks once had a client who was actually trying to do all of those things, plus help her son get off of drugs. Unfortunately, it was her desire to change her son’s behavior that overloaded her circuits and caused everything to fall apart in her life.

In his career as a counselor and coach, Dr. Hendricks has worked with hundreds of people who were in a close relationship with an addict. Over time, he observed that the more his clients focused on the other person’s addiction, the worse the situation seemed to get.

Addiction is only one example. Hendricks asserts that this also applies to most other forms of behavior and situations, whether you are wanting to change your spouse, your parents, your children, your friends, your boss, or your colleagues.

You Can’t Change Other People’s Behavior
Hendricks writes, “We don’t really have any control over other people. It’s not up to me whether you drink or not. You can’t control whether I take a drug… Only I have control over whether I do it or not. The moment we acknowledge we are powerless over other people, we are free to do two things. We can let go completely, freeing others to learn their own lessons. Or we can consciously choose to mount an influence campaign.

If we choose to influence, then we need to approach it like a business arrangement. We need to have a goal and a plan along with the commitment to carry it through to completion. Most people don’t do it that way, though. They stay in the unconscious zone, wishing the other person would change, but not really making a clear plan to accomplish it. The wheels spin, and nothing ever changes.”

Key Takeaway
You are responsible for your own happiness. Right now, today, you are facing a number of choices and actions. Pick the ones that are within your control. Remember Hendricks’ words: “If you can change it and you want to put energy into it, then do it. If the answer is ‘no’ to one or the other of those questions, your task is to let it alone. There is no other choice.” Learn to let go.

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