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How Do I Change Other People?

nappy changeWhen people contact me with a view to hiring me to become their Life Coach, there’s about a 50% chance I’ll end up working with them.

However, when I get a call from somebody wanting to hire me to coach a friend or family member that conversion falls to under 5%.

In the past I would spend as long talking to such people as I would an inquiry directly from the person who wanted Life Coaching.

These days I won’t let the conversation go on for more than about 5 or 10 minutes before I’ll say something along the lines of,

“Get the person to give me a call and we can take it from there”

I rarely hear back and that was the case even when I’d spend up to an hour on the phone.

Of course they’d assure me that the other party was open to coaching and sometimes even that they’d asked for help, but it didn’t make any difference.

And the reason it made zero difference is because the person contacting me was more invested in the other person changing than the individual themselves.

In other words, change was being inflicted upon somebody.

Your brain hates having such impositions because it triggers the fight or flight response.

Sources of Stress

There are only two sources of stress and  every stressful situation or event that has ever happened to you can be traced back to a lack of choice and/or a lack of autonomy.

Note: If you want to know more about stress and how to deal with it, you can sign up for my newsletter at the bottom and I’ll send you my ebook on the subject.

This well intentioned approach removes both from the friend or family member and is highly likely to create severe resistance, even ironically enough, if the person can see the benefit in working with a Life Coach.

We all know people who we think should change and we all have our reasons for believing that, but it’s only a belief, it’s not reality.

No matter how much we insist to the contrary we really don’t know what’s best for other people, which is why the best Life Coaches don’t ever tell their clients what to do.

I’m sure at this stage you are thinking of examples where you really do know what is best for somebody and I feel sure you have found some.

  • Frank should definitely quit smoking – it will kill him
  • Emma needs to work harder so she can get into Yale and have a happy future
  • Gary needs to stop driving his motorcycle so quickly because he’ll end up in an accident
  • Sara ought to pay more attention to her appearance if she wants to get on in life
  • Bob needs to stop fondling small barnyard animals because he’ll get arrested

None of those sound unreasonable, but they all are.

If you can come up with any incident where the above didn’t happen, then all you are doing is creating a complex equivalence (click the link if you want to know what they are).

  • Maybe Frank enjoys smoking and never gets sick from it, many people don’t. Or perhaps he develops lung cancer goes through 3 years of living hell and comes out of it a stronger, happier and more resilient person and highly grateful for his experience
  • Emma could get into Yale and spend the next 30 years doing a high pressure job she hates
  • Maybe an accident will be a wake up call to Gary, or perhaps he never has the predicted accident just years of fun on his bike?
  • Sara might not want to ‘get on’. She may not want to yield to social stereotyping and feels that she either succeeds on her terms or not at all
  • Ok you may have a point with this one, although I’m sure in some States fondling small barnyard animals isn’t even illegal and who knows, maybe they like it?

You may be cottoning on to the fact that the headline was somewhat of a trick.

That not only can you not change anybody else, but more importantly you shouldn’t even try except maybe in the most extreme life threatening situations, they have asked you to help them or it’s a baby with a full diaper.

You Can Only Ever Change Yourself

And I say somewhat, because there is one important change you can make and that is to yourself.

You can alter the way you view the situation, you can commit to adopting a curious rather than a judgmental mindset and most importantly you can decide that you love the person unconditionally and not based upon some ideal mental construct that you have built.

Ironically enough, when you do the above, not only do you feel happier and more content, but others will often unconsciously notice this change and start to mirror it.


11 comments to How Do I Change Other People?

  • Great points, Tim (and humorous, as always). This is where your work and mine intersect – I can tell you for certain that no one changes for anyone unless they just want to, and really it’s almost never truly for the other person.

  • I think you should call up Bob asap and tell him what to do and not to do. And give him a couple #’s for local attorneys. In some states, what he does with animals could rise to the level of a felony. haha

    I like your point here Tim but when can we tell a friend or family member something is not in their best interest? That robbing the local convenience store will result in 8 years? That not feeding their kids will result in jail time? Not seeing them will result in family problems? Not eating healthier a heart attack? There must be a way to help others without telling them what to do?

    • Yeh of course. Offering information is fine, but you have to trust that people will act on that information if it is useful and relevant.

      Trying to force them to is when we cross the line imho.

  • Ben

    Yes i’ve had so much frustration trying to change people. Or even give them reccomendations of what I know will work and they just ignore it.

    I try not to argue so much anymore because it would just upset them. Especially since alot of my beliefs are different than most.

    I am still working on this really, sometimes I just have the urge to shake them and go “what the hell”. :Z

    As for Bob, I hope he stays away from my chickens.

  • Vole Caresser

    My brother was literally on the verge on disowning me 2 weeks ago. Last night we chatted for 3 hours and I realised for years I’d been allowing my judgemental nature to get in the way of loving him unconditionally.

    Common thoughts in my head were, “Alan should be better at managing his money”, “Alan should stop being so negative”, “Alan should stop smoking”.

    Suffice to say that I think we’ve really turned a corner and we seem to understand each other’s point of view better than we have in years. I’m really optimistic about the future for our relationship.

    It took considerable mental effort for me to suspend my instinctive judgemental reactions, but when I changed outlook (as you wisely suggest in this post), everything else changed.

  • Great article!

    Have to admit, I am guilty of this too.

    Too often, especially in my early days on this path, I would try to impose my own expectations of how “successful life” looks like on people I care about.

    Naturally, this never worked and just made these people upset.

    Took me awhile, but I learned my lesson (to a certain extent) and these days only work with people who come to me directly and do some homework beforehand.


  • Great article Tim, I really like it .
    I think It’s easy to get excited about our own changes, but we are all different and have different experiences and our own paces and what is right for us might not be right for another. Being an inspiration with how you live you own life often has much more of an impact on inspiring others than trying to change them .
    Thank you

    • Agreed! As Gandhi once said and I’m paraphrasing because I can’t remember the quote exactly, but when asked what his legacy would be he said “My life is my legacy” I probably got that wrong, but you get the gist ;-)