One of the most frustrating experiences you can have is when you try to get someone you care about to change their lifestyle and the direction of their life.
My first bitter taste of this was as a school teacher in my early twenties when I unsuccessfully tried to convince a student they were traveling the destructive path of using drugs. No matter what means I tried, nothing made a difference.
Perhaps you’ve been there (or are there now), too, in trying to get a loved one to:
- change their eating habits
- quit smoking
- stop abusing alcohol and other drugs
- surrender their life to God
- start exercising regularly
Or you may have experienced this frustration during our most recent Presidential election when you tried to convince someone that either Trump or Clinton represented the coming of the Apocalypse. No matter what evidence you used to persuade them, it didn’t change their mind.
So, if threats of lung cancer and emphysema, diabetes, knees, hips, and ankles wearing out, death from an overdose, the Apocalypse, and hell fire and damnation won’t produce lasting change in people, what will?
Dr. David Mee-Lee, one of the foremost voices in addiction treatment today, and who I’ve had the opportunity to meet and learn from, says, “You cannot push, pressure, persuade, prescribe and pester someone into real and lasting change. Only as you inspire and attract people to think and act differently will you initiate a process of change.”
Notice he emphasizes two things: one is “lasting change.” You might be able to scare and/or guilt someone into making a change, but that kind of change rarely lasts. It’s not that fear and guilt don’t have a role in change, but those emotions must come from within the person. For example, the man who has a heart attack as a result of his unhealthy lifestyle might be motivated by fear to make changes. But beating people over the head with a “guilt stick” or using scare tactics won’t produce the lasting change you are hoping for in them.
The second thing Dr. Mee-Lee emphasizes is your behavior – not the behavior of the one you are trying to get to change.
“My behavior?” you say. “I’m eating healthy, I exercise regularly, I don’t smoke or use drugs, and I live my life for God.”
If that is true, then the question to ask is, “Is the way you go about living your life one that inspires others and that others find attractive, or do you appear to be miserable, joyless, cynical, and pessimistic?” If you are the latter, why would anyone want to join you in living the way you do?
Think about that, and let it sink in.
What all this means is, we should be most focused on changing ourselves, not on changing others.
Ultimately, the only thing we have the power to change is ourselves, and trust me, that is a FULL TIME and never ending job.