Last week, I wrote about the cardinal rule of mental health: that your only real option to improve any situation is to change your behavior.
It’s a simple principle that bears repeating. But there are some relevant counterarguments that are worth addressing.
Another option to improve your mental health would be to wait and change nothing. You can do this if you wish, and there is a chance that things will get better without extra effort on your part. But more likely than not, you’ll continue repeating the same patterns until things get worse.
(As an aside, choosing to accept things as they are is very different than choosing to do nothing. Acceptance is an active process that is often foundational for change. We often achieve only cursory acceptance: we deny the full weight of the situation; identify problems and yet brush aside consequences; or we fail to explore the parts of our problems that could actually be changed. Change accelerates when we wholeheartedly accept that we have been doing the best we can with the motivation, skills, habits and biases we have, and that we need to try harder, be more motivated, and learn to do better. Acceptance and change are siblings; they don’t need to be rivals.)
Others might question the cardinal rule by stating that someone else might be the problem, and you can ask them to change. Of course you can, but it doesn’t invalidate the cardinal rule. Your influence can only come by changing the way you interact with other people. You decide what you do. They decide how they respond. You don’t get to choose their reaction.
In a healthy relationship, influencing another comes through mutual respect, example, kindness, honesty, open communication, occasional frankness, patience, and forgiveness. Positive interactions are much more likely to help someone discover and act upon their internal motivation than criticism and negativity.
Force isn’t a great option. There are a few exceptions. Parenting young children. Protecting someone from truly dangerous behavior. Individuals and societies have important duties to rarely use force. But the line between wise use of force and abuse will always be debated. And when you get this wrong–and you will–you risk resentment and backlash. Let your default be patience, kindness, and gentle persuasion. Control rarely works.
There’s so much more to be said. But the basics are clear. Choose to do something that makes your life better. Start small, but start.