Blog Short #151: How to Change Someone
Photo by shironosov, Courtesy of iStock Photo
Who in your life do you want to change? Most of us have someone. Either it’s someone you love who, if only would use their talents, discipline themselves more, read that book, or take your fabulous advice, would be so much happier and successful. Or maybe you’re tied to someone who drags you down because they won’t give up their destructive behaviors or recognize the harm they’re causing.
How do you change someone? The answer is, you can’t. No one can change someone else. But, you can offer help, support, and inspiration that lead to change.
Today, we’ll go through how you can approach this.
1. Start with acceptance.
The first thing is to accept where that person is right now, which isn’t always easy. Here’s a way to look at it that will help you:
We know that we’re all equal in terms of our humanity and right to be, but where we differentiate is in our levels of maturity. Everyone is in their own stage of development and evolution, and recognizing this helps you appreciate and accept where someone is.
If you consider your current developmental track, you’ll recognize that some people are more evolved than you, and some are less evolved. Some people seem to be devolving and going backward. Others appear to be stationary and stuck.
A wise person accepts those differences without judgment. That doesn’t mean you ignore them or pretend not to see them, but you understand the reality of what is.
By doing that, you’ll give up your anxious push to coerce or manipulate them to make the changes you think should be made.
2. Define your intent/need.
Next, define why you’re concerned about this person.
- How does it impact you?
- Why do you want them to change?
If it’s someone you care about or love, you likely want to help them succeed, feel better, make progress, reach their potential, or whatever it may be. But you also want to feel less anxious, depressed, or worried about this person’s future and the mess they’re making right now.
That’s all normal. You can’t care about someone without having those feelings. The question is, what behaviors are you engaging in to minimize your anxiety?
Are you taking over someone’s responsibilities for them, criticizing and cajoling them, comparing them to others who are more developed or successful?
How are you handling those feelings?
If you’re doing anything I just mentioned, you’re not helping. You’re making it worse.
Get clear on what your motives are, what your feelings are, and how your behavior is impacting the situation. Once you’re clear on that, you can begin to help.
3. Become an ally.
If someone wants help or is open to receiving it, become their ally. You can’t help someone if you’re working against them. You need to collaborate.
Instead of diving in with advice, ask questions. Allow the person to talk and listen carefully. People who feel stuck generally like to be heard. They want to talk. They may want to outline their excuses, blame circumstances, voice self-recriminations, and list all the reasons why they “can’t.”
Counteracting any of these thoughts won’t help. But when you ask good questions, you help them see more clearly where they’re at and where they’re in denial.
Ask them to expand on what they say or ask how they’ve come to their conclusions or how they wish for things to be. Help them think and examine their thoughts and attitudes that keep them stuck without telling them where they’re wrong. Be curious rather than directive. Suspend judgment.
For example, if they say, “I can’t handle another thing,” you could ask, “What might another thing be, and what about that feels overwhelming?”
Your job is to help them begin to analyze their thoughts and dig a little. When that happens, they start taking some control of where they are, and that’s the first step to making some change. By posing curious questions, you’re subtly challenging their distorted beliefs. But you’re doing that as an ally and collaborator.
Lead by example. Relate experiences you’ve had that are similar and that you’ve struggled to overcome, with a focus on how you did that. Don’t do it in a monologue fashion, but when asked or when you think it could be helpful. The person you’re trying to help may think you’ve always had it together and haven’t ever been stuck the way they are. If you have experiences and stories that could help dispel those beliefs, it could be a source of inspiration and hope.
Be careful with this one. You only want to share what and how much you think is relevant to the person’s situation and struggle – no more.
You can also inspire someone by modeling the behavior that would be helpful. This is especially effective in relationships where you have lots of contact.
Research has shown that we take on the habits and characteristics of the people we spend the most time with. We’re imitators due to “mirror neurons” in the brain. (You can read about how these work here.) Simply being around someone with effective habits and attitudes can inspire us to make changes.
5. Set boundaries.
You can be the ally who listens, helps with the thinking process, and empathizes with feelings of being overwhelmed, but you must allow the person to do the work because if they don’t, it won’t help and won’t stick. They’ll feel more incompetent even when you’ve provided some immediate relief. They’ll slide right back down to where they were, only now with more self-recrimination because they’ve disappointed you or whoever was helping.
Your goal is to help increase the desire and need to change. It has to come from within, not from the outside. You might be able to point out some directions they can take, but the drive has to come from them.
They need to know their “why” and what they want and feel some urgency to make that happen. You can help support that process but not do it for them.
In some cases, you can help by spending more time with them and inviting them to work alongside you or participate in activities with you. For example, if your friend wants to lose weight but can’t seem to get off the couch or stop eating mounds of junk food, invite them to walk with you several times a week. This kind of support can be pivotal in helping someone make a change because it’s done without judgment or expectation, and it provides a jump-start.
What if their habits are too destructive?
In situations where the person you wish to change is involved in habits or behaviors that are dangerous, such as extensive substance abuse, emotional abuse, illegal activities, or self-harm, you need to set boundaries.
You might need to move away from this person, end a relationship, or, in the case of someone on the brink of violence toward self or others, get immediate help. You can’t help someone whose problems are of this magnitude alone.
A Thought to Remember
Keep in mind in all of your efforts that your role is to help someone want to help themselves by becoming inspired, talking through issues, and answering new questions to get clear on a direction to take. Feeling less isolated is also invaluable.
The other thought is that helping someone change requires patience and an understanding that regardless of what you offer, the ball’s always in their court. They have to do the work. True change can only come that way.
That’s all for today.
Have a great week, as always!
All my best,