When I first started saying this, it was usually because one of my boys was tattling on the other. When they got a bit older, I said it more often when they made comparisons, “He never cleans his room”, “He always leaves things to the last minute”, “He’s bragging again”.
At a certain point I began to add, “We all have things to work on, so focus on yourself and what you can do better instead.” It’s meant as a simple reminder that not only should we be focusing on ourselves, but ultimately it’s way easier and more effective.
Focusing on others and what they are doing wrong, or trying to change other people’s behavior (whether its our kids’ or husband’s or anyone else’s) is down right exhausting. It can feel like we’re banging our head against a wall because other people are next to impossible to change. But when we let go of wanting to change others and instead shift our focus to what we can do to change the situation we can let go of the struggle; it suddenly becomes easy, and it can feel liberating.
Clients most often solicit my help when they want their kids to change their behavior. They expect to be coached on how to implement a new reward or discipline technique and finally get their kids to listen. It can be pretty surprising when instead I ask them shift their focus away from how their child should change their behavior, to how a change in their own behavior can make profound changes in their children.
There are a range of ways we can shift what we’re doing that impacts the way others behave: the way we communicate, how we manage stress, restructuring the family schedule, revisiting the way we set expectations, or sometimes there is a simple solution found in the physical environment that makes a world of difference. Whatever it is, the focus is always on connecting with what is within one’s own control and making changes there, rather than looking outside for answers.
Locus of Control is a term in psychology that refers to an individual’s belief about the impact of their actions. Individuals with a strong internal locus of control believe events in their life derive primarily from their own actions. People with a strong external locus of control tend to praise or blame external factors such as the teacher or the test.
When we have a strong internal locus of control we experience greater self-efficacy, feelings of empowerment, control, increased self-esteem, and contentment. In contrast, those with a strong external locus of control may often feel victimized, out of control, anxious or depressed.
As a parent, it’s my job not only to help my kids learn that they are the one and only agent of change in their lives by redirecting them to focus on what they can do differently, but also to model it by connecting with the change that I’m capable of making. It’s a subtle shift that can have profound effects.
So, go ahead, focus on yourself, it’s a full time job.