Do you love someone? Do you wish they took care better care of themselves and their relationships? I do. So I wrote this article to think about it. I will eventually consult professionals on this but here’s my semi-theoretical approach to being a good influence on your loved ones even if you don’t know how to help them.
1. Take care of yourself first
It’s the if you’re on a plane during an emergency analogy. If you are on a plane with loved ones and the oxygen masks come down they always recommend that you put on the mask on yourself first. The idea is that you can’t help anyone if you yourself become unconscious.
If you’re a mother with a young child. And you put the mask on the young child first but pass out then the young child will be able to breathe but might not be able to do anything for itself once you pass out.
Hypothetically maybe you crash into the ocean and the plane starts to fill with water. A young child who can barely swim can’t save himself and you. But you, an adult, can save themselves and the child.
2. Lead by example
I find that my words are rarely able to influence people in a way that would drastically change their behavior. Sometimes it works. Instead of telling people that they should be healthy or that they should incorporate physical activity into their lives. Show them.
When I used to live with my parents I would wake up every morning and go for a run. By the time that I ended running I would return home and see my family having their morning coffee. I did not succeed in getting them to be more active (at least I didn’t see any change). But, another healthy thing I did in front of them is eating more healthy. I would bring home legumes and cook them but I also replaced juices and soda for carbonated water.
Eventually my parents started also buying more carbonated water to drink and occasionally now that I visit they also incorporate legumes into their diet.
3. Don’t tell people what to do
So a lot of counselling theory will tell you that change needs to come from the person themselves. It’s better motivationally speaking if a person themselves decides or discovers that they need to change their way of life. It’s better if a person thinks ” I think I should go for a run because it’s good for me” than if a friend demands “You should go for a run because it’s good for you”. A person will feel more motivation to do something if it’s their own idea.
Maybe the best thing we can tell people is ask them: “What do YOU think, you should do?”
4. Extrinsic and Internal Motivation
It’s important to have important long-term goals. If you have intrinsic motivation to achieve something it’s much easier to organize yourself around that goal and the more you succeed at something because it’s easier the higher your self-esteem.
To illustrate that point I remember giving a speech to highschool students about effective studying. I remember myself being a highschool student and instead of sticking to the powerpoint slides that I was given I talked from experience instead.
I talked about how they probably don’t really feel how important their grades are. How it’s not tangible for them and I talked how grades became important for me once I had a tangible use for good grades. They became tangible because I had a long-term goal now. In service of that goal, various aspects of life became important or unimportant.
I also talked about extrinsic motivation. About how extrinsic motivation might be a good grutch to use if you don’t have the right internal motivation for doing something. An example I used is would you find time for your homework if there was a gun to your head? Would you find time for your homework if you got paid 10 000 dollars for it. Would you do your homework if you had a bet with a friend about doing homework or losing money?
All in all, maybe we should help our friends and family find something they absolutely care about within their own internal value system. Instead of telling people that they need a long term goal.. maybe we could ask questions that would guide people to finding their own goals?
5. Know the basics of operational and classic conditioning
Operational conditioning means that we learn to behave accordingly to the feedback we receive.
Positive reinforcing – You are nice to people and people as a response are nice to you. Which means you keep being nice.
Negative reinforcing – If your child is crying in the store because she wants candy and you then give him candy to shut him up. He will cry more in the future to get more candy.
Positive punishment – If a friend comes to you and asks for advice but you dismiss them by saying that’s a stupid question. They will in the future ask be less likely to ask advice.
Negative punishment – If your partner throws a tantrum and you take away a response to it, such as ignore them instead, they will be less likely to throw a tantrum in the future.
Once you understand the basics of operational conditioning figure out how you can best use them in your relationships.
Wrapping it up
What do you think? What ideas have you seen work and not work? What do you want to try out? You can inspire change through love and fear but you need to be aware about the long term effects of such choices.