What Makes People Change?

It is very frustrating when you are in a relationship and your partner does something that hurts you — the husband drinks too much; the wife is cold and distant; the son insists on living irresponsibly.

What do we do in light of these situations? Normally we do what does not work: we try to change the other person. We argue, fight, criticise, complain, and try to make ourselves the victim to see if the person feels the least bit sorry…

Basically we try everything we can, just to make the person change.

The problem is that this makes the other person even more obstinate, because all our attempts are received as an attempt to try and control them. It is as though we are saying, “You have to change because I want you to be this way and not that way.” It sounds selfish, even if we sincerely want the best for that person.
The truth is that we can’t change anyone. People only change when they want to change. Yes, they can be influenced to change, but they only change because they decide to change.

So the question is:
What brings a person to decide to change?


1) The right amount of pain to say, “Enough!” Pain is mankind’s greatest motivator.

That’s why we shouldn’t save our family from the consequences of their behaviour.

Of course, it’s embarrassing to see your son spend the night in jail, but if he was caught for drink-driving or without a license, perhaps that’s the embarrassment he needs to go through to change.

The key word is “consequence”. People have to face the consequences of their actions, even if they are painful, so that they can wake up and change.

2) When they discover something better than what they currently practise. We are not saying that an addict, for example, doesn’t know any better than his addiction. What they don’t know is a better way to deal with what leads them to be addicted. One way to promote understanding is for them to know the story of someone who had the same problem and overcame. This type of information will interest them because every human being identifies with a person who went through the same ordeal.

That is why success stories are so captivating and inspiring. In order to help people change, our job should be to facilitate their access to information, which shows them the positive alternative to the current habits they practise today.

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