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Rule 6: Change Yourself--Don't Wait for the World to Change

This rule is discussed on an audio that focuses on the cognitive fallacy of expecting others to change so that your life will be better. It discusses the idea that happy people focus on changing themselves rather than blaming others. It encourages the listener to do the same.

Although the transcript for this audio is listed below, the key to change is repetition. Therefore, the purpose of the audio is to be able to conveniently listen to this message repeatedly until you are able to incorporate it consistently into your life.

Transcript of Audio: Change Yourself--Don't Wait for the World to Change

Change Yourself--Don't Wait for the World to Change Frequently, I have clients who complain that if only others would change then they would be happy. “I wouldn't have any problems if only my husband would stop drinking” or “I would be happy if my wife would quit nagging me” or “If only my boss could recognize the importance of what I do” or “This world would be so much better if people weren't so rude” or “My day was ruined because of the horrendous traffic getting to work.”

Too often, people blame others for their personal unhappiness. Yet, most of us have the power to be happy if we only look inwards instead of outwards. There is a great deal of research on the difference between happy people and unhappy people. Generally it shows that we are in charge of our happiness. It is not the external random events that make us happy or unhappy. It is how we approach those events. It is how we approach life.

For every person who has a bad event, a serious illness or injury, who is focused on the “unfairness” of life and sinks into despair, there is another with the same kind of bad event who remains happy and focuses on what they can enjoy in life.

Certainly, some of the approach we take with life may be affected by personality style, genetics, or our upbringing. But a great deal of that is changeable as cognitive-behavioral research has illustrated over the last 60 years. But the first step to changing our lives is to recognize that WE need to change. The world and other people aren't going to change for us.

The world is what it is. Life is what it is. And it isn't that much different for most of us. Most of us have strengths and weaknesses. Most of us have advantages and disadvantages. Most of us have tragedies and traumas. Most of us have successes and failures. We all have a balance sheet of the good and bad in our lives. And happy people's balance sheet for those random events isn't any different than the balance sheet for unhappy people. However, it it true that their balance sheet for good events that they created themselves may be skewed in the positive direction.

The difference between those who are happy and those who are not, is that those who are happy focus on their approach to the world, not on their expectations of the world. They focus on what they can do, not on what others can do for them. They focus on changing themselves, not blaming others.

If you examine your daily life and what is under your control, you are likely to see many examples of how you are able to influence your life in a more positive way.

For instance, if I find myself reacting to some outward stress such as a criticism from someone else, I remind myself: “I'm not going to let this person take my energy from me.” To me, this means I am in control of what happens to me emotionally. I don't have to give that control to someone else.

And neither do you! Your emotions are yours and can only be manipulated by someone else if you let them. Do you want to go through life allowing others to make you angry? Or, to make you frightened? Well, you don't have to. You are in charge and in control of yourself. What someone else does to you or says to you doesn't have to effect you unless you allow it to.

The interesting thing I find when I use this approach is that I am more able to examine criticisms without taking them personally. When I can dismiss a criticism when it is unwarranted, I can also listen to one when it may be helpful. When I don't allow others to manipulate my emotions, I can become more open to changing myself.

When we feel manipulated or controlled by others, we often become more resistant to change. We become more self-protective. We don't like the feeling of being controlled by someone else. We may even engage in behavior that is not in our best interests just to prove that we are in control. However, when we do that, we really are still being controlled by someone else because our decisions are based on a reaction to the other person.

The more that we can choose what is in our best interests no matter what someone else might think or say, the more we are in control of our lives.

Don't let others determine how you feel. Even someone deliberately trying to make you feel bad doesn't have that kind of control over you. You choose how you feel. You choose how you react. That is the beauty of focusing on changing yourself and not others. No one can take away your choice regarding your feelings and your approach to life.

Play the hand that life has dealt you. You can't choose different cards. But you can choose how you play the ones you have been dealt. Choose wisely.

Even if you are imprisoned and treated horribly, you have choice in how you approach life. Mahatma Gandhi, generally revered as instrumental in the independence of India, showed how true this is. His methods of non-violent civil disobedience led to numerous arrests and over a total of six years of harsh imprisonments over his lifetime. Yet, each time he came out of prison he was not only more determined but more at peace. His prisoners did not determine his life. He did. He chose his life. And he was in control of it. No one else. No matter what they did to him.

You have this same choice about your life. And it is not likely to involve the kind of circumstances that Gandhi faced. However, you have your hardships. And your tragedies. But you have the same choice. The events of your life don't define you. Other people don't define you. You define you through your choices.

The interesting thing is that frequently when we focus on changing ourselves we do change others and even the world around us. That is because others are very similar to us. They don't want to be controlled either. So when you demand that they change, you are being controlling and they resist. However, when you focus on changing yourself, they may become less self-protective and more responsive.

This may not occur in every situation, but it occurs more frequently than demanding that others change will work. However, changing yourself is not about getting others to change. If you do it for that purpose you are still trying to control others. If others do change in response to your changes, that is a nice side effect.

But the main aspect of changing yourself is the effect it has on you. If I tell myself “I'm not going to let this person take my energy from me” or “Have faith in the world as it is” I feel more at peace. And that is what is more important.

Just think. What would the world be like if we each focused on changing ourselves instead of changing others? Change yourself. Don't wait for the world to change.

The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)--page 1

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
"...happiness doesn't come with fireworks and a parade. Instead, it sneaks in quietly as the night so that you don't realize it has been there for awhile."

The first and most important key to finding happiness may be the most difficult for many people (especially those reading this article): To find happiness you must not seek it! In other words, the more you try to find happiness, the more it will elude you. I think Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) said it best, “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

However, don't be discouraged. You can do many things to create a life where happiness is more likely to find you. Yet, the same caveat applies: If you do everything for the purpose of finding happiness, you may achieve much, but you are not likely to find happiness. Researcher Mauss and colleagues (2012) who found that the higher the value a person places on being happy, the more likely they are to be unhappy, stated, “encouraging a mindset to maximize happiness (as some “self-help” books do) may be counterproductive.”

The reason happiness becomes elusive the more you strive for it is due to creating a fixed desire of achieving happiness. If you have read some of my previous articles, you know that a fixed desire is a demand that something has to occur, or be true, or be achieved in order to be happy. Demands, or “shoulds,” are irrational thinking styles that create conditions for stress and unhappiness. Most of the time these demands take the form of “To be happy, I must be thin and wealthy” or “I must find the love of my dreams” or “I must have a fulfilling job.” In fact, a fixed desire can be almost anything. It could be "I should feel good today" or "My son should get an A on his exam."

However, typically the demands are not completely under the control of the individual and/or they are externally focused which means that the individual may not be able to make these things occur even with a great deal of effort. Therefore, this demand attitude allows happiness to be at the whim of the external world.

In the case of happiness itself, many people make the attainment of happiness a fixed desire: “I must be happy.” However, it is only when we realize that we don't need to be happy that we can find happiness. As William Saroyan (1908-1981) said in My Heart's in the Highlands “The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness.”

The difference between a fixed desire and a desire or a goal is that the latter doesn't connect personal happiness with the outcome. For instance, a person may desire to find a fulfilling job but doesn't demand that it has to occur.

Interestingly, people who have desires rather than demands may be more likely to achieve their goals (Berg, Janoff-Bulman, & Cotter, 2001) possibly because they are more motivated and less discouraged. When the very essence of happiness is dependent upon the achievement of a goal, striving towards that goal can be quite overwhelming and even frightening: “What if I fail?”

The one time I experienced test anxiety was just as I started to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) that would affect my entrance into graduate school to become a psychologist. Just before I picked up my pencil, I said to myself, “This is the most important test you will ever take. If you don't do well, your life will be ruined.” My anxiety shot up as I opened the booklet to read the first question which might as well have been written in Russian because I couldn't comprehend a single word. Fortunately, I knew enough about self-talk and recognized what I had done to myself, so I put my pencil down, did five minutes of deep breathing and told myself, “This test doesn't matter. If you fail, all it means is that your life will take a different path.” That is the difference between a fixed desire and a desire.

The Tao te Ching (also known as “The Book of the Way” which I think of as early cognitive therapy) states, “If you want to be given everything, give everything up.” If you reflect on this statement you may realize that to give everything up, you must also give up the desire to be given everything. Very paradoxical and mind-boggling, isn't it? But that is the first step: To find happiness you must not seek it.

Similarly, Charles Dickens stated in his novel The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, “Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.”

However, that being said, let's discuss how to achieve happiness. Actually, how to create the conditions so that happiness can find you. The work to finding happiness is to remove the obstacles to happiness. READ MORE: page 2

Intro  to Secret of Happiness--page 1

What Is Happiness?--page 2

Is Happiness Possible for Everyone?--page 3

What Intentional Behaviors Can Influence Happiness?--page 4

How Do You Choose Which Intentional Behaviors to Pursue?--page 5

A Final Word About How to Know Happiness When it Finds You--page 6

Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank

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