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A natural by-product of being a dating coach and improving other people’s thoughts and behaviours for a living is that you learn to see which areas the other people in your lives – be they friends, family or lovers – can improve upon.
Focusing on your own self-development is great and ultimately what we’re all here for. But it’s often forgotten though that we are partly a product of the influences around us and therefore, if we can make those influences as strong and healthy as possibly, we ourselves will become better.
There are two things that high value people do that are critical to establishing good relationships in their lives:
• Screen for similarly high value people. They don’t bring someone into their life unless they recognise some equivalent or higher level of value (even if that value is in a completely different area to them) in that person.
• Inspire those they bring into their lives to be even better and develop more value.
Screening is another topic and I will talk about that separately. Today I want to talk about inspiring those around you.
Pavlovian conditioning theory states that if we reward a behaviour in an organism, it is likely to be performed more often; if we punish it, it is likely to be performed less often. Reward and punishment are certainly useful tools in dating science and social dynamics, but I the “carrot and stick” principle is often executed in too crude a manner.
Ineffectual lovers and businessmen do this every day when they chastise people by shouting at them, embarrass them in front of others, and have petty arguments. On the other hand, as rewards they may treat people to lavish dinners and bestow gifts upon them that don’t truly strike at the heart of the specific emotional efforts that a person has gone to in order to be better.
A more effective application of the reward and punishment principle is to understand why someone is behaving in a certain way, reinforce it subtly, and then help them to understand the framework behind what they are doing.
When it comes to reinforcement in particular, a specifically useful and healthy way to employ it in relationships is to use the “compliment sandwich,” in which you surround the criticism or negative feedback with praise or positive feedback.
Let’s take a common relationship example. Your girlfriend is always asking you to go to the opera with you even though you don’t enjoy it and have stated this to her on numerous occasions. A bad way of dealing with this would be to get angry and say, “Ok, well I really HATE the opera but I’ll come with you if you come to watch an action movie with me.” You still don’t want to go to the opera, but feeling that she doesn’t understand the discomfort it causes you, you reason that if there is some sort of punishment for her in watching a movie she doesn’t want to watch, it will balance out. You end up both being slightly resentful of it, but do it because you think that’s how relationships should be – but relationships should NEVER be about compromise (that’s another article).
The key to understanding the situation is realising that her current belief is that “The more time we spend together doing everything the better.” This is a commonly held belief but an unhealthy one for relationships. A healthier belief is, “Spending time together doing the things we both love and spending time separately each doing the things we enjoy will together, make our relationship stronger and more enduring.” So how can you help her to understand this without coming off as arrogance or difficult?
You could say, “Sweetie, I love spending time with you but I find it the most enjoyable when we’re both doing things we like. I think it’s so healthy that we both have our own interests and can spend time apart from each other doing the things we love. It’s what makes us work so well together, don’t you think? Why don’t you call your friends who love the opera and go with them, and I’ll go catch up with my boys tonight. But wear something sexy for me, because when you get home I may just have to ravage you.”
Notice the subtle positive reinforcements that surround the feedback to encourage her to change her current belief. Instead of saying, “You’re wrong and you’re making me angry,” you inspire her to be better with your wisdom, calmness and astute understanding of her emotions.
Here are some tips for inspiring others around you to be better:
• Set a good example. Live your life the way you preach it. If you want others to be making themselves stronger, you should always be doing so. This is about being a man of high integrity.
• Praise the parts or behaviours in people that you like and are healthy. Tell your lover, “I love it when you’re affectionate like that,” if you enjoy when she is affectionate but she does it all too rarely.
• Distance yourself when you observe behaviour you don’t like or is unhealthy. There’s no need to always be coming down hard on people; simply pulling away normally suffices and sends a subtle but powerful message that this isn’t the way to be.
• Only give advice when they are ready. The temptation when you understand more about the world is to try to “fix” everyone around you, but not everyone is ready to be helped. When your friend or lover is ready, they will come to you. Information when someone is not ready is wasted information.
• Have a boundary that they cannot cross. Understand what behaviour you will not tolerate. If they cross it, let them know in a polite but firm way, “Baby, I understand why you’re in a bad mood. But it upsets when you take it out on me, so please don’t do that, ok?”
• Be willing to walk away if they repeatedly cross the boundary. Your time is worth more than that and you know you can have people in your life that live up to your standards.
If you do all these things, you will notice that the people around you start living up to and exceeding your standards. As the people around you improve, they will realise that you are partly responsible for that and your value in their eyes will increase.
Remember, you are not at the centre of the universe: all these processes occur both ways. I don’t bring people into my life so that I can inspire them and feel like a hero. I do it because the friends and lovers I have inspire me too.
Not all of them will be conscious of the fact that they inspire me, but I will occasionally let them know that they do and that I am glad to learn from them. One of my all-time heroes, Dale Carnegie, says:
Every man is my superior in some way, and in that I learn of him.
I would add “woman” into that sentence, because a great lover is one that guides you and inspires you.
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