Thursday, January 22, 2009

Other People Don't Change

If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say, "he/she just needs to change x or y behavior" and (insert result here) all of life's problems would be solved, I would be a very rich woman. How many times have we secretly wished (or even verbalized) that someone change his behavior to better suit our needs? Probably too many.

Alfred Einstein's definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." This time it will be different…I know it! So many people are, by Einstein's definition, obviously insane because they continue reacting to a person or an event the exact same way, but expect that, magically, the outcome will be different the 1,000th time. I know I am guilty (or insane). Why do we spend so much time trying to get other people to change their behavior when it makes more sense to simply change our own? Why do we continually justify requesting someone else to do all of the hard work?

Other people don't change. We might as well accept that fact before we succumb to insanity's relentless clutches once and for all. Instead of continuing to wreck your mind with justifications of why someone else needs to do something differently, why not focus solely on what you can do differently in your own life. No more wishing for the impossible. No more expecting change by osmosis. No more excuses. You are 100 percent in control of your own actions and reactions. If something in your life isn’t working, change it. I’m not saying that change is easy, but who ever said life was easy?

I had a college friend that I used to see occasionally but only after I initiated a meeting. I did all of the calling and all of the inviting whenever we got together. After awhile I was very angry at this friend because I felt like I was doing all the work. I kept calling and inviting her out to dinner and getting angry each time because she never reciprocated the invitation. I was at a loss. Instead of confronting her with this observation and accusing her of being a terrible friend, I simply stopped calling her. I changed my reaction. I figured if my friendship was important to her, she would realize the lapse in communication and, hopefully, try to contact me. I never heard from her again.

Other people don’t change. I’m not a pessimist - I’m just being realistic. We are born with inherent personality traits that are part of our genetic makeup and not something we necessarily have a lot of control over. For example, I am a perfectionist. I come from a long line of perfectionists. Try as I might I can’t get away from the fact that I like things to be done in a certain way. If I try to act like I don’t care if it’s done a different way I am not being true to myself. I do care. And, I will be more content if I know it’s done to my satisfaction. I will spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing and tweaking and inspecting every little facet of every little thing I create. Our idiosyncrasies and quirky traits are what make us unique.

But, to expect me to change from being a perfectionist to being something non-perfectionists find more appealing or easier to manage is ludicrous and virtually impossible. I am what I am. Expecting your husband to change from being an introverted wallflower to an extroverted entertainer is impossible. Expecting your wife to change from being a Type-A workaholic to a cookie-baking wife is impractical. Expecting your child to change from a quiet bookworm to a theatrical stage performer is simply unfair. It is what it is.

If you are certain that your life would be so much simpler if someone else changed his/her behavior to suit you, you are headed down the wrong path. Take a look in the mirror. The change that needs to take place needs to happen from within. It’s a pretty liberating experience. Try it sometime and you will realize that you have had the potential to be content and satisfied all along.

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