I have met so many people who have expressed frustration with their attempts at trying to get their husband or wife to eat better, to exercise more, or to stop their destructive behaviors and lifestyle habits.
Interestingly, the most difficult people to influence and persuade are in fact the ones closest to us; moms and dads, brothers and sisters, and husbands and wives.
The biggest challenge is that people have to WANT to change in order for you to help them.
Does that mean you should give up and walk away if they don’t want to listen?
No, it just means that people cannot be pushed or forced into a situation that they are not ready to accept, and it’s important to keep that in mind when offering to help.
There are however a few approaches that you can try which may prove to be successful.
Third Party Credibility
Sometimes, being close to a person causes your opinion to have far less of an impact than if it came from a third party expert.
Even if the expert gives the same advice as you, it is always perceived differently and as a minimum, it is noted.
When dealing with close family members, it is often best to have someone else who can be perceived as an expert, intervene in your place.
If your spouse or family member is willing, you can hire a personal trainer, dietician or other health expert to talk to them directly.
If they are less willing, you can try more subtle measures such as having a friend email them relevant articles on your behalf, gift them books and DVD’s, or even have their doctor talk to them.
Television shows such as the Doctors may also help influence them to take better care of their health. Anyone but you!
Find the Need
More often than not, when a person is unwell, in discomfort, or at risk of disease, they feel the need to change.
They WANT to change.
Yet, despite the warning signs and the pain they might experience, there are many people who still refuse to change their unhealthy habits.
The question is why?
It is human nature to follow the path of least resistance.
If a person believes that their attempt to change will fail to bring them results or if they feel that the effort will cause more discomfort than what they are currently experiencing, then the incentive to change and the “want” to change will be absent.
For example, despite the grave health consequences, a smoker might not want to quit smoking because of the immediate discomfort they will experience during the withdrawal period.
If your spouse likes to eat fast food regularly and does not enjoy exercise, the perception of healthy food and physical activity can seem burdensome.
Why would they want to change their ways if they are seemingly “well”?
In these instances, awareness and compromise can prove to be helpful.
Awareness can help replace false beliefs with new thoughts, and new thoughts lead to new actions being taken.
For example, if a person believes that MSG is safe because they have been consuming it for years without repercussions, they need to know the facts and risks.
Only once they believe that it can harm them will they choose to avoid it.
And remember that if they hear it or read it from a third party expert, they will be more willing to accept it.
It’s Not All or Nothing
Compromise is the next step. People do not like to be told what to do and certainly do not want to be forbidden from something that brings them joy.
In fact, that makes them want it even more. Instead of using the words “do not”, come to a compromise.
For example, if they love to eat processed meat on a daily basis, see if they would be willing to leave it for the weekends or reduce the quantity by half and add more vegetables instead.
If your spouse doesn’t like to exercise, offer to go to the mall together and spend some time walking around.
If they don’t like to eat the meals that you prepare, agree on a menu for the week ahead.
Progress, not perfection is the belief that needs to be instilled.
If they have permission to be human and fall from time to time, they will be more willing to listen to you and to try new things
Last Resort Tactics
If you’ve tried everything and are still failing to get through to your loved one, your choice of words and dialogue can be a factor.
I am not a psychologist, but having worked with many clients and trying to figure out the best way to get through to them, I have learned that the questions asked and the language used are an integral part of motivating and influencing someone.
Look Into the Future
It is so easy for people to get stuck in their daily routines without ever giving a second thought to what the future holds for them.
By giving them a glimpse into the two possible futures, one being extremely appealing and the other one being disastrous, the contrast alone might be enough to make them realize that they need to change their ways.
For example, ask “where will you be six months from now if you continue to move in the direction that you’re moving in now. What will your life be like one year from today… how about five years?”
The farther you guide them into the future, the worse the vision will become.
Then offer the contrast and a solution.
“Where will you be six months from now if you start to walk every day and gradually add in more supportive meals throughout the day? Where will you be one year from now if you lost 20 kilograms and gained control over your metabolism?”
These types of questions can often stir up powerful emotions that will prompt and motivate them to WANT to change.
Shock & Scare
An old client of mine used to be addicted to diet sodas. She used to drink them like water.
I told her all about the negative health consequences and the risks, and despite my efforts to educate and raise awareness, she still didn’t feel the need to cut her addiction.
I even had her Google-search the individual ingredients in her diet soda, but that still wasn’t enough.
That’s when I resorted to the shock and scare tactic.
I sent her a study that was conducted on rats that were fed aspartame in their water to show her the nasty effects of aspartame consumption.
Some of these poor rats, especially the females, developed tumors larger than the size of golf balls and the images are quite disturbing.
Shortly after, she sent me an email thanking me and vowed to never drink diet soda ever again!
Predict the Future & Be Bold
People can sometimes be plain old stubborn and need a good shake from time to time.
When all else fails, being blunt and telling them where they are headed if they continue on their path of self-destruction can perhaps be the solution they need to wake up.
I once had an overweight client who was a sugar addict.
A healthy breakfast to her meant a glass of orange juice, a fruit, and whole wheat toast with jam.
She justified eating this way because of the exercise session that followed.
She had high blood pressure and given her family’s medical history, chronic disease was in near sight.
Education, awareness, compromise, visualization, third party credibility… none of these approaches worked.
So having known her for quite some time, I decided it was time to have a heart to heart.
We sat down and I had her take me through all of the diets she has tried, all of the systems and exercise solutions she has attempted, and where all of these supposed solutions brought her.
Obviously, the underlying message was that there is no quick-fix solution.
I was then very blunt and asked her “do you want to get diabetes like your mom or die of cancer like your dad”. She was shocked, said no and immediately burst into tears.
I realize that this is quite an extreme measure, but if the situation calls for it and the timing is right, it can be enough to grab their attention and shift emotions that will lead to change.
The other possibility is that they kick you out of their house for offending them but only you can make that judgment.
B’s Bottom Line
It is very difficult to see a loved one abuse or neglect their health and unfortunately it is easier to influence a stranger than it is a close family member.
What is important though is to find the right balance.
The act of persuasion is an art and knowing when to stop is critical otherwise your attempts may backfire and end up being construed as controlling and nagging, which can strain the relationship.
The more you try, the more resistant they may become.
Remember that everyone has the power to change if they set their mind to it. All you can do is offer to help and hope that they will accept in time.
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