An older friend of mine had a father who fought as a bomber pilot in WWII. This was a terrible job that also came with a very high fatality rate.
But he loved the job, his son told me. And the reason he did was because his life was way better than it was on the farm he came from. The food was better, he had a nice bed, and the fatalities didn’t bother him too much. He was young and didn’t really think about the odds.
In this story lies the root cause that explains most of the emotional unhappiness you experience in your life. And that cause is:
- If you don’t assume that people are going to treat you fairly and kindly, you’re not upset when they don’t
- When you don’t expect your employees to personally love you, you sleep fine when you find evidence that you haven’t won the popularity contest
- When you assume that suffering is part of the human experience, you don’t become completely unhinged when you encounter painful experiences
This is a concept called ‘boundaries.’ Here are some basic boundary truths that will (actually) change your life. It has changed mine.
You can’t control anyone’s behavior but your own
So why do you try?
Now, you can impose consequences, and you can give out rewards. You can set an environment that allows people to win if they want to. You can punish or offboard them if they don’t want to. But you can’t control them. So much of your pain comes from the mistaken idea that you can control them if you try hard enough. This is completely wasted effort, and only an illusion.
You can’t rescue anyone
How much emotional agony do you spend trying to rescue someone in your life? Remember this saying:
You can’t make a grown up do something THEY really don’t want to do
If you want it for them, it will make no difference. If they want it though, you can probably be a huge help to them. Let them choose. Live and let live.
Why not respect their right to make their own (sometimes stupid) choices, and decide how you’ll act depending on what they do?
Just don’t take on the emotional burden of their choices. They have the right to do what they want to do.
Stop believing lies
You believe something. Then you think based on that belief. Finally, you act based on your thoughts.
So you don’t start by changing your actions. You start by believing true things, and your actions will change automatically.
You need to stop believing the lies that are keeping you constantly stressed out.
I know your team member/son/spouse/friend is making bad choices. It’s not your problem. It’s theirs. They’’ll bear the consequences of their choices. And the sooner they feel the consequences, the quicker they’ll want to change for themselves. Then you can help.
Your rescuing impulse actually harms people
I don’t know how many times in a week I think to myself, ‘Well, that’s not my problem.’ Because it isn’t.
Here are some lies you may believe:
- I HAVE to (whatever). No. You choose to. You can choose almost anything if you’re prepared to accept the consequences
- She made me mad! No. You allowed yourself to believe the lie that you can control that person and you set yourself up for unnecessary pain with your unrealistic expectations. Plus, why let a difficult person control you (make you feel mad) when they’re not even in the room anymore. I want difficult people to have zero control over my emotions
- I’m as happy as the least happy person in my family. You are responsible to be a happy person to others. That you can control. But you can’t control how they treat you back, because remember:
You can’t make a grown up do something they don’t want to do!
Especially if you have an ‘S’ personality, this may sound monstrous to you. But I believe that you don’t help a drowning person by jumping in the river with them. Someone needs to stand on the shore ready with a rope; if the person is willing to grab hold of it of course!
The secret of getting ahead is getting started!
Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.” He is also co-founder and senior instructor at professionalleadershipinstitute.com https://professionalleadershipinstitute.com/
Find more about “The Power of People Skills” here: https://www.amazon.com/Power-People-Skills-Dramatically-Performance/dp/1632651068