We spend a lot of time focusing on other people’s faults. “I wish she wasn’t so negative,” “I wish he wouldn’t eat meat,” “I wish my boss would get off my back.” Sometimes we try to force these people to change. We’ll inundate them with positive affirmations, or animal cruelty brochures, or employee productivity data, when the truth is that no matter how hard you try, you cannot change other people.
Instead, I encourage you to follow Gandhi’s advice in my all-time favorite quote:
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
In other words, the best we can do is serve as an example, a beacon of light, to clear the path for others. If you want your best friend to be more positive, allow your positivity to permeate your friendship. If you want to encourage others to eat a vegan diet, do so yourself, and then when people ask why you have such clear skin, you can explain. If you want your boss to give you a break, infuse a sense of calm into your work by taking three minute breathing breaks throughout the day.
As Gabrielle Bernstein often says, instead of focusing on other people’s issues, we need to start by cleaning up our side of the street.
Nothing around you is going to change until you take steps to change yourself.
As many of you know, two years ago I moved to Boston to start a yoga research fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Part of the reason I took this job is so that I can be the change I want to see in the world. I want to see people following their hearts, even when it feels scary. I want people to have the courage to leave behind a soul-sucking job to create a life they love.
To make this vision a reality, I could shove self-help information down people’s throats until I’m blue in the face – but it won’t make a difference. People won’t change until they’re truly ready. Instead, the best I can do is serve as an example, to do it myself, so that I inspire others to do the same. By showing that I was able to quit a corporate job, manifest my dream job, and not end up homeless, I will hopefully serve as a shining example of what’s possible.
The same is true of my journey to get off antidepressants. I can push my book on people until my arms fall off, but it won’t make a difference unless the person is ready to put in the hard work, courage and determination that are necessary to take their self-care into their own hands. Instead, I can enjoy the sense of surprise on people’s faces when I tell them that I took antidepressants for six years. When they say, “But you seem so well-adjusted. You’ve accomplished so much! How did you do it?” I can explain and serve as an example of what’s possible.
I could sing the praises of yoga and meditation until my voice is hoarse – or I can commit to a disciplined practice so that when people ask me, “How did you stay so grounded and centered during this transition” I can answer, “I meditated every day. I did yoga as often as I could. I ate nutritious food. I got lots of sleep. I set healthy boundaries with my employers. I made time for myself.”
Instead of forcing “my way” on others, I can show people “a way” and then they can choose for themselves.
Over the holiday season many of us spend time with family. Sometimes these interactions are great. Other times the people we love the most are also the people we can tolerate the least. When you find yourself wishing that your sister would do this or your father would do that, take a step back and think of a few ways you could serve as an example of more positive behavior.
Everyone is on their own journey, changing at their own pace. Give people the space they need to learn their own lessons.
Be the change.
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
Image courtesy of CEBImagery.