How To Change People

by on May 11, 2011 | posted in Marketing

Changing people is hard, but it’s possible. If you try and change a person by telling them to stop smoking cigarettes or to start doing pushups somewhat intermittently, you will have no impact. However, there are points where change can happen, change can be large, and change can make difference for the better in another person.

If you think about how “motivation” works, we can get occasional pulses to workout or work harder when we hear about how Steve Jobs built an empire by watching a video or Thor has washboard abs by watching a movie. These pulses almost certainly cause jolts of short term change, because they reflect temporary exposure to excellence in an area of personal weakness. However, they are rarely, if ever, sustainable, because that exposure is temporary, and the short term motivation boosts are rarely long enough to draw enough observable results to evoke a change from short-term impact to long-term habit.

What makes real change occur is not a temporary exposure to Thor’s abs or Steve Job’s empire – it is continued, sustained observation of people with characteristics of extreme excellence in an area of personal weakness.

From Temporary Change to Sustainable Habits

If you’ve ever lived with a roommate who constantly worked out while you lulled on the couch, I can say with certainty that you eventually got up and worked out with them due to that exposure. If you’re an intern in the same office as Seth Godin, I am positive that you won’t be living a life of mediocrity – because your exposure to that kind of person, if dichotomized against a mediocre life, would mean that you would be pulled to change – because you would be constantly exposed to those constant motivation pulses you had otherwise felt when you watched “The Social Network” or observed some guy with huge muscles. This kind of person probably isn’t able to get that sustained exposure to Seth, because he would never hire that person in the first place – but these sustained, dichotomized exposures do happen. They happen between friends from high school that took different paths – they happen between happenstance roommates – they happen between people of titanic success that mentor new interns or entry level employees to a company, who might have otherwise lulled in a career of mediocrity.

These changes don’t occur because the person with an area of great success constantly prodded them – yes, that might have slightly encouraged it – but the real reason behind it is the constant exposure to the superior personality characteristic. If we’re close to someone that’s only slightly better or even noticeably better, but not amazing, it’s hard to make change. Because we don’t see the gaps in ourselves, and frequently, we’re not competent enough to be cognizant of our own weaknesses. Also, we have egos, and few people can face constant, immense superiority without a need to match up to it – or otherwise, being inspired to believe that they too can achieve it. Part of this reason is because of the inspiration greatness imbues – the other part is that the personal closeness is an area they can greatly improve on means that the walls of fear they had about ever achieving it come crashing down – because it’s so close.

This is why being a mentor is so huge. This is why friends who are positive influences are so huge. This is why you don’t see polar opposites hanging out with each other. This is why overweight families beget more overweight children. If you need motivation, if you have an area where you need immense improvement, find that person you can get constant, sustained motivation from. Maybe it means hiring a personal trainer, or working for free for someone you respect. That’s what it takes to create real change – if you hang out with your same fat friends, you will still be fat. If you hang out with the same loser friends who accomplish nothing, you will almost certainly be a loser yourself.

This works the other way, too. Real change can happen if you’re especially good at one thing, and that exposure to someone else can improve another life. And that other life can almost motivate you in some way too, perhaps through excellence in another area – even if it’s in subtleties as small as making better contact with one’s family. If you have a friend who abuses drugs, use your far-superior lifestyle and achievement to make them rethink the obsession that almost certainly drags them down. Be in immaculate shape, constantly, in front of an obese friend. If you’re a CEO, go to lunch with interns and smile and check in on them to help spread the knowledge that got you to that point. That’s how you change people.

You don’t change people by prodding them with a stick and layering down verbal abuse, because that’s never enough to create long-term impact. Any other attempts are largely futile, especially when pushed upon people who have spent the majority of their lives doing the opposite of the preferred action. At 25 or later, it takes persistent, continuous pulls to make someone drop a cigarette or be a frequent at a gym.

No matter how hard you try – that won’t change. There is no human 2.0.

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