July was declared Social Wellness Month designed by mental health professionals to underscore the importance of strengthening relationships and to empower people to prioritize their own mental health. There is little more important than the relationships we have in our lives. Health is important, of course, but I’ve spoken with many people near the end of their lives who voice their desire to die because none of their friends are still living and their family members rarely visit rarely or not at all. Success is also important, but with no one of consequence to share it with, success can feel empty and devoid of meaning. Freedom is important, but if we’ve used our freedom for our own selfish gain without considering how it affects others, then what value does it really offer?
A wise man in my life, Barnes Boffey, once said, “If you want more love in your life, then be more loving.” I think the same holds true for most anything in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you want more support, be more supportive. If you want more encouragement, be more encouraging. If you want more friends, be a great friend to others. Don’t just bemoan the fact that no one comes around to see you anymore.
When I teach Choice Theory® psychology to different groups, I advocate for relinquishing the desire to control others, which usually prompts the question, “If I stop controlling, how will I get them to..?” Finish the sentence with anything you want others to do—for example, clean their room, learn what I’m teaching, go to their treatment groups, etc. Control becomes our best attempt to get others in our life to comply with the agenda we have for them. Yet, people inherently resist control, even in those instances when you are controlling so they can have positive results.
My response is always the same, “You can’t force them.” You cannot make people do things they don’t want to do. You may be able to crank up the consequences far enough that the person will choose what you want rather than face those consequences, but that is the lowest level of compliance. It will only last as long as you are there to enforce the consequences. You can’t constantly guard someone to ensure compliance, so as soon as your vigilance wanes, they will return to the behaviors they prefer—often with greater persistence, just to prove they can. In essence, with coercion and control, you are solidifying the very behavior you are trying to eradicate.
Because Choice Theory reveals that motivation is always an inside job, the better question to ask is, “How do I help my child see the benefits of cleaning their room?” “How do I teach this material in a way that’s compelling for the learner?” “How do I create a therapy group that clients want to attend?” And by extension, “How do I become a person who adds value to people’s lives so they will want to be around me?” As long as you seek the answers outside yourself, you put yourself at the mercy of others, but when you discover what you can do to improve the situation, you are in the driver’s seat.
If you find yourself without the social support you’d like to have, start by giving up the desire to control others and judging their choices and behavior. Instead, learn and practice the nonjudgment, compassion and forgiveness of Mental Freedom’s Unconditional Trust Challenge.
People enjoy being around those who support, encourage, trust and respect them. Let the important people in your life know how important they are to you and what you appreciate about them. Be kind. Do nice things for others—not because they’ll do nice things for you but because you genuinely want to.
The Unconditional Trust Challenge is easy to comprehend yet challenging to practice. You’ll know you’ll need it when you find yourself unhappy about something another person does. When that happens, and it inevitably will, remind yourself that everyone gets their life to live and the responsibility to do with it what they think is best. You get to live yours and make decisions for your life, and you recognize that everyone else gets the same. It’s not your job to tell others how to live their life. When you are asked to provide an opinion, of course, you may share it, but only with permission, and even then, be careful about owning it as your opinion rather than an indictment on how the person is choosing to live their life.
The Unconditional Trust Challenge lets you know that there is one thing you can trust everyone in the world to do: At any given moment, everyone is doing the best they know to get what they want. They aren’t doing it to you, they are doing it for them. Once you understand that, you can stop judging them. Why would you judge someone for doing the best they can? You may want to judge what they want, but remember, what they want is part of their life and their decision.
Once you take the challenge to trust everyone to do their best to get what they want, you will have clarity about what the person wants and their best behavior to get it. This will help you feel compassion for the person. You may feel compassion for the fact that they want what they want or that they don’t have any better behaviors to get it.
Once you have compassion, you can forgive the person, if necessary, for any personal hurt or pain you felt as a result because you realize they weren’t doing it to you, rather they were doing it for them. It wasn’t personal. Now you can take responsibility for deciding what this means for your relationship. Will you reduce the time you spend together, increase your commitment to the relationship, maintain the status quo or completely sever the relationship? This choice is yours.
When you stop judging and controlling others and start adding compassion and understanding to their lives, you’ll be surprised at how many people want to spend more time with you. You won’t have to complain anymore about how no one talks with you or comes to see you, but realize that this may take some time. If you’ve been controlling in the past, the people you’ve been controlling will likely need some time to see that your change is genuine and not just manipulation. Be patient and kind to yourself in the process. Be invitational. Create a relationship with others they will want to engage in.