“Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy you.” - Wayne Dyer
Sometimes people call or come to see me about someone in their life who has a serious habit or addiction. It might be their child or spouse, another family member, a friend or co-worker. Hearing them talk, I can tell how much they want to help this person change. Yet what they’re doing just doesn’t seem to be working.
As I listen more closely, or watch them interact with the person they’re concerned about, it becomes obvious what’s happening. Underneath their desire to help, they’re actually trying to fix or control the person they care about. As a result, the other person isn’t feeling loved or accepted as they are. They’re feeling pressured to change. Their resistance is growing. Both parties are feeling frustrated. And nothing much is being accomplished.
If any of this rings true for you, I’d like to share some insights into how you can be more effective in helping someone who’s important to you.
It’s Not YOUR Choice
Let me use an example of parents and kids to show what happens. When an adult comes to me with their child, often the parent believes that they are the one ‘in charge.’ Their language and attitude sound something like this: “I know what’s best. This is what my child should be doing. And I’m upset or frustrated that they’re not doing it.”
Here’s what I need to gently keep telling them until they get it. “You actually have no control over your child. You think you do. You may even use your authority or power to get them to do what you want. But whatever they do is their choice. They might lie about it to get you off their back. They might conform to please you (though underneath they resent it). But the truth is, you have no power over them. They are going to do whatever they are going to do.”
When we try to control someone else – especially a person who's hurting inside and exhibiting addictive behaviors – we are actually contributing to their feeling worse about themselves. Our judgment or criticism adds to their negative thoughts and feelings, and makes them want to escape those even more. And the way they do that is through their destructive habit.
So here’s the paradox. Out of love or concern for your child (or someone else in your life), you want to stop them from doing their behavior because it’s having negative consequences. Yet your worrying, criticism and control are adding to their pain and bad feelings. So your fear about what will happen to them is actually provoking them to do their habit more! Strange, isn’t it?
Now please don’t misinterpret this. I am NOT saying that it is wrong to care about or be concerned for someone else. What I am saying is that there are better ways to help.
What Makes You Light Up?
Here are a few more coaching tips, if you want to help someone you care about.
First, picture a different goal or outcome in your mind. Rather than stopping them doing something that they want, see yourself as helping them discover something they want to do even more. (Remember, we ALL want to feel better and more alive.)
Second, a good way to stimulate their desire is to be straight and honest with them. “Unless we can find a new life for you that is much more enjoyable than the pleasure and comfort you get from what you’re doing now, you’re just going to keep going back to it. So I what I’d like to do – if you’re willing – is to help you imagine a brand new future, one that would be so inspiring, and light you up so much, that you’d be willing to go beyond your comfort zone to get it.” (That’s my language. Find what’s true and inspiring for you.)
Third, another way to stimulate that vision is to help them reflect on the past, and remember their hopes and dreams. You could approach it this way: “If you were to look back in your life, was there a time when you started to feel more negative or resigned? Just before that, what were your dreams? Was there something you loved, that you gave up on? Tell me what you really wanted back then.”
If you see their interest growing, ask: “Do you remember what it felt like when you thought that anything was possible? Like when you were going to start your own business... be an artist... or change the world?” (Use examples that fit for them.) “Are those dreams you still have?” (They might not be, since we all change. But at least it starts them thinking into the world of possibility.) “Do you still want that, or is there something else you would you like to do?”
It’s an amazing feeling to have a vision and go after it. Yes, it’s painful if we don’t succeed. But the real pain comes from giving up on our dreams, never finding them again, or not giving ourselves permission to live them.
Tony Robbins says, “Communication is the response you get.” So if the other person clearly isn’t connecting with what you’re saying, try a different approach. “If these words don’t mean much to you, what questions – if I were to ask them – would trip a switch inside you, light your eyes, excite your being and thrill your soul? You know what I’m talking about. You probably already have the question inside of you, but some part of you doesn’t want to say it. I just want to help you open that door. What would you really like to do?”
Suppose the person opened up at this point and said, “Well, I’ve always wanted to own a yoga studio. Help people with illness. Make sure everyone has enough food to eat. Or help people earn more money to help their families.” Whatever they say, honor their response. Even if it looks impossible, encourage them. You asked – now they’re telling you their truth. So ask them to tell you more.
The more you help them open up whatever they’ve been hiding – perhaps because they didn’t think it was possible either – the more you’ll be helping them take the first steps to releasing their habits or addictions, and living the life they truly want.
Be the Change You Want to See
Another powerful way to make a difference with someone else is by looking at your self.
I believe that we are like mirrors for each other. When someone is doing something that bothers us, it reflects something in us that we are uncomfortable with. Our reaction is usually to fix, change or control the other person. But this is actually a way of avoiding what’s going on in us.
When I work with parents who are concerned about their kids’ addictions, I encourage them to look at what’s going on in own their lives. To consider, with full confidentiality and anonymity, what unproductive habits, compulsive behaviors or addictions of their own that they could be responsible for transforming. And then I teach them new habits that they can use for themselves.
Some people are quite shocked to find that their habit has to do with trying to dominate, bully or control others (especially their kids) – in order to gain a false sense of control in their own life. But this is very common. Many of us use fixing others as a way of avoiding being responsible for our own choices and actions. However, this is where our true power lies.
Ghandi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Well I like to adapt that by saying it this way: “Be the change you want to see in someone else.”
By reclaiming your hopes and dreams, and transforming your unwanted habits and ‘powerless’ thinking, you will become an authentic example for others. Ironically, you will also be making the biggest difference possible for the people you care about – when you shift from fixing them to growing and expanding yourself.
Trappers take a small cage into the jungle, and inside the cage they place a bunch of bananas. When a monkey comes along and spots the bananas, it will reach through one of the narrow openings in the cage and grab one. However, because the banana is bigger than the hole he’s put his hand through, the monkey can’t get the banana out. No matter how hard he tries, he simply cannot pull his hand out while holding on to the banana.
When the trappers return, the monkey is caught in a dilemma. If he would just let go of the banana, he could pull out his hand, run away and be free. However, because he wants the banana so much, he won’t let go – and is easily caught.
Our mind is a lot like that monkey – and our problems are like those bananas. We think about them and we think about them. We think about how to stop them. We think about what’s wrong with us that we can’t stop them. We think about what got us into them. We think about what others did to get us into them. And we think about trying to stop thinking about them... Yet all the while, we’re still holding on to the ‘banana.’ No matter how hard we try, the result is that we keep holding onto our problems. However, the only way we’ll ultimately be able to let the problems go is by letting go of that thinking – and focusing on being free - redirecting our thoughts on the future we want to live into.
Just finished watching one of my favorite movies of all time. Watched it in memory of Matt. When Mary Lou called me to tell me of Matt's death, as I hung up the phone I could not get this image of the last scene of this movie out of my head. So I wanted to watch the movie over again to really feel it. Here is the last scene.
Oscar is given a gold ring on behalf of all the Jewish people he saved. The gold was donated from the tooth of one of those Jew's he saved. The ring has an inscription which reads "HE WHO SAVES ONE LIFE SAVE THE ENTIRE WORLD".
Schindler responds to this gift with the following words spoken as he cries. "I could have gotten more out. I could have got more. If I just…I could have got more. "
He is comforted by one of the people he saved who says, "There are 1100 people that are alive because of you."
To which Schindler replies: “If I had made more money. I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I had just…I didn’t do enough. This car. Why did I keep the car? 10 people right there. 10 people. 10 more people. This pin. 2 people. This is gold. 2 more people. He would have given me 2 for it. At least one. One more. One more person. A person is dead for this (ring) . I could have gotten one more person and I didn’t (breaks down crying collapses) and I didn’t."
Now I see, choose to believe, that God gave me this image upon hearing of Matt's death. I felt the exact same way back then. The difference for me is that I quickly realized that blaming myself for what I did not do would not honor Matt, nor would it honor my love for Matt. But what I can do is honor my love for Matt by making more of a difference on this planet while I am here. Not out of guilt though. NOT driven by guilt! But out of my love for my friend.
The first words Schindler spoke I now see were my immediate thoughts. If I had more money. I threw away so much money. If I just had more money. I will never forget this one particular session Matt and I had when he was doing well. He told me he wanted to do the work I do in schools to prevent and help kids with addictions. I told him we would do it but because I did not have the money to cover his transportation costs to the gigs, let alone hire him to do anything with me just yet, we would have to wait.
I also remember a time when he wanted to be intensively coached by me, but I did not have time because I was too busy trying to make money so I could pay my bills. Matt also lived about 3 hours away by transit. I remember back then, because he was family to me, wishing I had enough money that I could have him live with me for a month. Take care of his meals and give him a place to stay. But I figured we had time. I figured when he had one year clean, I would have more money, and then I could have more time to help him and train him to do the work I do. The work I do which saves and gives me my life. The life he wanted for himself. The work I believe would have done the same for him.
So it is out of my love for Matt, that I continue the work I do, but in his name with a greater sense of urgency to create the prosperity we need to hire other young people like Matt to deliver our program, to save others and thereby save themselves.
This I do, in honor of my beloved (and I am crying again), my beloved brother and friend, Matt Kloucek. Your love and life lives on through me and, through so many countless others.
Talk to ya soon bro!
I just now got the most touching facebook message from a friend of my late nephew Matt's saying "You are here to show that pain is irrelevant and that pain is a road you don't have to keep walking down - that love is the cure - this is what I have learned from you." Her message inspired me to share the following section from my book with you:
When I was training to run that first marathon, we were told that it was best to take about six months to rest and prepare between races. So after recovering from the first one, I ran four more marathons over the next 24 months or so. Some runs were faster, some were slower. But most important was the fact that I had succeeded. Each time, I had finished in spite of the intense pain and physical stress. And I felt great about what I had accomplished.
Pushing the Edge Again
Still feeling like I could do “anything,” I decided that my next goal would be to run an ultra-marathon. An “Ultra” is anything longer than the regular 42.2 K distance or the six hours normally given for doing a marathon. And I set my sights on a 50 K or 31 mile run near Niagara Falls that was about two months away.
To train for this one, I decided that I would run three regular marathons first – partly to build up my endurance, and partly to break through my beliefs about what’s possible for the human body. Nobody I knew personally had ever done even two marathons in a month. So I was definitely pushing the edge by attempting so many in such a short time.
I approached the first marathon pretty casually, and completed it in fairly good shape. One week later, I ran another marathon – or at least tried to. Part way through, I was 'zoned out' listening to my iPOD, didn't notice that I had taken a wrong turn, and ended up running the half-marathon course instead. However, I also experienced a slight leg injury during this run, so my mistake might have been a lucky one. And then two weeks later I ran another full marathon. This time I got injured at 10K and ran the last 32K in considerable pain, limping the whole way.
Pain… and Deep Peace
During this last run, I decided to call my writer so I could capture my thoughts about it while I was still running. Out of it we created an article called, "It’s Only Pain,” in which I described what it's like to run through physical pain – and how my commitment to finishing and the power of being with other runners got me through it.
After doing that article, I began asking myself, "What is it about these marathons that I'm so attracted to? Why does running them mean so much to me?" Given that my mission is all about overcoming unwanted habits and addictions, it obviously had something to do with that. So I started to try and figure out the connection.
I reflected back on my first marathon when I was totally injured, bedridden for nearly a week after and in excruciating pain whenever I tried to walk. It would make sense to ask, "If your first experience with a marathon was that painful, why would you ever want to do it again?"
And there was the paradox. Because on the other side of that pain was the deepest sense of peace and emotional freedom I had perhaps ever known.
Having felt that "love of humanity" and the deep gratitude I had for how people helped me, the two had left me deeply moved. During that run, I'd also had an experience of what I can only call "transcending" my body. At one point near the end, I felt like it wasn't "me" running my legs any more. It was as if my spirit was moving a body that shouldn't really have been doing this. Yes, there was pain; but I wasn't especially present to it. It was as though I was outside of the body, and outside of any feelings, fears or negative thoughts. And it left me with a sublime sense of freedom and peace.
What I began to sense was that, somehow, the experience of being willing to be uncomfortable was a key to breaking free of unwanted habits and living a fulfilled life. For me, running marathons had simply become the most intense exercise I could use to train myself to break out of my "addiction to comfort" and my desire to avoid pain at all costs.