This is one of 10 guiding principles I learned from my coach and friend Joe Stumpf. (And yes it is my commitment to write about all 10 of them.) The more I reflect and apply it, the deeper the meaning becomes.
Another way to think about it is, “What we think about, we bring about.” Lasting change whether positive or negative – begins with a thought, followed by other thoughts, and more thoughts.
A job change, a new hairstyle, a different health regimen, learning a new skill or hobby, mediating, different parenting approach, different eating habits… you name it, it all begins somewhere inside with our thoughts which then determine the actions (or lack of) that we take.
We all have friends that have hated their job for years, are unhappy with their relationship, have an unhealthy lifestyle. What’s different with a lasting change?
I have a good friend who lost over 100lbs after decades of struggling, friends that divorced and remarried decades later, friends that have been sober for decades, friends that quit their job to do something different and are happier than ever now. When lasting change occurs, we, on the outside feel it. I realized it is the quality of thought on the inside that changed first.
I remember a significant shift in my thinking when our kids were teenagers. When they were younger I could protect them by controlling things—environments, activities, influences, people…. As all parents eventually discover, that illusion of control ends. One way or another it ends. And we are faced with how to respond to it.
My reaction was fear. It was the dawn of social media … and the more I saw, the more fearful I became. There were dangers everywhere! Of course the more fearful I was, the more I pushed and tried to control. The result was increasing silence and avoidance from our kids… which, you guessed it… further fed my fears. They are “hiding” something! I know it! (They were.)
I didn’t like the sleepless nights. I didn’t like not trusting (neither did they). I didn’t like being worried. All. The. Time.
Of course danger exists, but I had to accept that it was impossible to control outside forces and it would not serve my kids to do so. Plus, there are so many other wonderful things that exist as well. I had a choice of which lens I would view things. I had a choice of what I would model and teach our kids. Fear or Confidence?
I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to live in fear. And I didn’t want them to live in fear. Around that time I got some really great guidance. I learned to answer, “What DO I want?” in more than a superficial way. Yes I want them safe, happy, healthy, successful. What did that mean? To me? And more importantly to my kids? Specifically?
There was only one way I could learn that answer. I needed to ask them. And I needed to listen – really listen. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (Stephen Covey) was my guiding light. I wanted to understand their viewpoint, because kids just like adults, form opinions based on their viewpoint. It was time for me to improve the quality of my thinking to become an improved version of me so I could be a better mom.
I had a private conversation with each of them. It went something like this.
I want to get your advice on something. So just hear me out for a minute. First I want you to know that I love you and I am so very proud of you. I’m proud of how you keep your promises, how you care about others, how you apply yourself, how you make us laugh….
I want so many things for you. I want you to be happy. I want you to have opportunities to pursue whatever is important and of value to you. I want you to be healthy and safe so you can do more of what you want in life. I want you be well prepared to be on your own so you can have the life that you want be the best version of you that you can be. That’s what I want for you.
Now for the part I could use your help. I want to be the best possible mom I can be -- for you. And I’m wondering, what does that look like for you? What can I do to be the best possible mom to you?
That is when I stopped talking and listened, full-heartedly listened. it was a pivotal moment for me our kids. They were surprised. Mouth wide-open type of surprised. What I remember is how much they appreciated being asked. They felt respected. They felt heard. They felt valued. And they began to understand the role they played in helping themselves and others.
I learned that they wanted respect, trust, and understanding. I learned they wanted space, and freedom. They wanted to matter and belong. But they also wanted guidance, boundaries, someone to listen (with no judgment… or as little judgment as I could manage) wisdom and counsel (even if they ultimate choose not to heed it all). The wanted options and choices.
The conversation – especially the quality of the conversation that day and the days after shifted for us.
I changed the quality of my thinking. That changed the quality of my decisions, which changed the quality of my actions. That meaningful change began with me on the inside and worked its way to the outside. To the hearts of my kids (which made it MUCH easier to also reach their head.) And so rewarding is watching them share this insight grow within them and work its way out to people important to them.
Understanding this principle helped me realize the importance of taking time for inner work and patience as it work its way out.
I encourage you to try this with anyone important to you. Spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, student, leader. And if you are inspired, please pass it on and share it forward!