There’s a popular saying in self-help circles that has made its way to my industry, performance coaching. It’s attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but I suspect it predates him by centuries. You’ve probably read it before:
Be the change you want to see in the world.
I love this quote. It’s all about personal responsibility, accountability, and minding your side of the street. And although most people don’t read it this way, I think it’s also about not whining: it tells you to not to fuss about circumstances. Instead, get on with the job at hand.
You work on what you can control, and you don’t waste energy on what you can’t control.
There’s a problem here, though: sometimes in order to change your life, you need to change your environment.
In other words, you need to do the opposite of what the Gandhi quote says: to change yourself, you need to change the world.
I see it over and over: people want to change. That’s a good thing. But they fail to understand that who they are is a combination of internal and external forces. The don’t realize they’re as much a product of their environment as they are of their vision of themselves and the choices they make.
So they change themselves through sheer force of will, but the change doesn’t stick.
The answer lies in recent developments in behavioral health: research from the field of addiction and recovery shows that people trying to get sober – i.e. change themselves – must change their peer group and environment if they want to achieve sustained sobriety.
It’s not just supposition: the data prove it.
A Total Renovation
Think about it this way: you developed the things you want to change about yourself in a particular context and specific set of circumstances. The two – your internal state and the external environment – collaborated on creating the you that you want to change.
Therefore, in order to change yourself, you need to change more than just the internal part. You need to change more than just you. You need to change the external part, too – and that includes the people around you.
On your journey to transformation, I say yes, absolutely, change yourself. But for that change to stick, you have to go one step further: you have to surround yourself with people you want to be around and place yourself in environments that represent your future, not your past.
That way, the internal and external landscapes of your life will synchronize. They’ll lift you up, propel you forward, and create the lasting change you truly seek.