Why change? Good question.
Life is a constant, ongoing process of change and growth. Unless you’re really, really determined, it’s pretty much impossible not to grow and change as you move through life. But some of that growth and change isn’t a conscious choice. It’s in response to things that occur in our lives, or simply the result of getting chronologically older and gaining more knowledge and experience. Change happens.
Conscious change, though, takes work, and to do that work, most people want a reason. That’s where getting tripped up and tangled in others’ opinions can happen. Changing solely for others doesn’t benefit anyone. For change to be effective and long-lasting, we need a self-focused reason to make it.
Sometimes we recognize something about ourselves that we think we might benefit from changing. We might not know how to start making those changes, but at least we know we want to make them. We’re consciously choosing to do something about a problematic trait or habit. We might need help figuring out how to change it, but it’s our decision, and if we do the work, it’s likely to become a permanent, positive change.
There are times when something about us is a problem and we don’t recognize it. Or we think it’s a problem that doesn’t require change when it actually does. In those cases, someone else might have to point out the issue to us so we become more aware. But even then, it’s still more effective to make the change because we see a reason to. Because we see a benefit to ourselves as well as others.
Early on after my kids and I moved in with my husband, when I was still working through some serious issues and still getting a handle on emotional regulation, sometimes I raised my voice when I was angry with my kids. I didn’t realize how much it upset my husband, or my kids, until my husband took me aside and told me it was really hard for him hearing me like that. My kids also told me they wished I would yell less.
I knew I was still working on effective emotional management. After nearly four decades of not being able to display any negative emotions for fear of what other people would do to me, I was finally in a place where I felt safe enough to stop suppressing the emotions. Unfortunately, that meant sometimes the emotion came out with an intensity that was out of proportion to whatever was going on. I knew this, but I didn’t always realize when the emotional display was out of proportion.
When my husband and kids had that conversation with me, I didn’t say or think, “I need to change for them.” They were the cause of me recognizing the need for change, but they couldn’t be the only reason for the change. I needed to change my behavior, and double down on learning better emotional regulation, for myself above all.
I chose to do the work and improve my emotional regulation because my behavior was hurting people I loved deeply and wanted to avoid hurting. Because the person I wanted to be was someone who took care of and protected those I loved. Because when I raised my voice and felt my temper rising to the boiling point, I saw in myself the people who had abused me, and I hated seeing that in myself. I wanted to build a life in which I could love myself. I wanted to create a space where my children might feel the love and safety I hadn’t had as a child or during my marriage to their father. I wanted to become the person I wanted to be.
When you identify a change you think you should make, take a moment to figure out why you want to make it. Are you doing what someone else has told you to do? Are you trying to change something about yourself that you’re okay with, but someone else isn’t okay with it and you’re trying to make them happy? If it’s a change someone else brought to your attention, do you have a self-focused reason to make it, or are you only doing it for them?
Ultimately, the one person on earth whose opinion of you matters, is you. You’re the one who has to live with who you are. You can’t “make” someone else happy, because you don’t control what anyone else feels or thinks. You can only create whether you are happy with yourself. So don’t just be the change you wish to see; be the primary reason you wish to see it.