You Can Lead A Horse To Water

Do you have anyone in your life that frustrates you? Have you ever had the pleasure of watching someone you love continue to make poor lifestyle choices that impact their bodies, environments, or children? Do you have a spouse, friend, or parents that have a nagging habit that is painful for you to watch? One of the questions I get most often is something to the effect of “How do I get my spouse/friend/parent on board with living an efficient, financially sound, healthy lifestyle?”

horseAs the old saying goes, You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Basically, the short answer is simply- people will change when they are ready. It is possible, however, to provide resources, be available, set an example, and work for teachable moments even in the interim. It can be even more frustrating watching someone make poor choices even after you have given them the information and tools needed to make meaningful change. However, for many people, change will happen when they are ready. And our role can be to support, influence, inform, and encourage. Often, results are what we desire, so waiting is tough and the process is often difficult. However, one of the joys in life is simply learning how to enjoy the process. What can you do right now? Be an example. Invite people to try things with you. Find the absolute best material possible. As cliché as it is, work toward being the change you want to see.

You may have experienced the effects of someone else’s financial misbehavior. Often, financial problems and issues affect families, marriages, children, and businesses. And most people who are struggling financially are well aware of that fact. But, as I’ve noticed in my few short years on this earth, people are still surprisingly stubborn even when they are financially destroying their lives. They know it. They know they need to change. But still they do not. What can you do when you have that person in your life? Start by looking inward. Concentrate on your life and the things that you are able to control. Try and understand the individual, and understand the people and things that have influence in their life. Determine which mediums are most effective to get information to them in a digestible way. Be there for them when they reach out for help. Lastly, see if they might join you for a challenge or a short term experiment to break the inertia.

There are very few places as immediately and visibly evident as when people are struggling with their health. At times, health issues are beyond the control of the individuals, but for many, plenty of the issues we see in our family and friends are brought about by lifestyle choices. You probably see individuals you care about that are inactive, make poor dietary choices, drink or smoke too much, or simply don’t take care of themselves. If you are like me, you want to take control. To help. To do something that will make them aware. To help put together a plan for them. To motivate and encourage. But, as we know, individuals will change when they are ready. We tend to have a little more control of our children and ourselves, but people we love are often much harder to influence. What can you do? Again, be an example. Invite people to try things with you. Find the absolute best material possible. And work toward being the change you want to see in others.

In general, Americans do a very poor job allocating the most important resource of all: time. I’m sure you have met someone who suffers from not enough time syndrome. Maybe you know someone who works so much they have too little time with their family. Or maybe you know someone who is so inefficient that any task takes them forever. People often let their circumstances dictate their priorities. And you can use this to your advantage. People will often defer to someone who is willing to make a suggestion or decision. If you have the opportunity, you can often help the people around you by inviting them to participate in activities that are beneficial to their lives. If someone works too much, inviting them over for a relaxing evening may be exactly what they need. If they work too little an invitation to assist in a project, volunteer, or help around the house may be useful. Suggesting something active, healthy, or exciting may be just what your family, spouse, friend, or child needs for a little extra motivation.

Powdered Butt Syndrome
The common joke of the financial and counseling world states that once someone has powdered your butt, they will not listen to you about anything related to sex or money. This entertaining insight may actually help us when it comes to managing our expectations of change. If your parents are struggling and you have the best advice ever- the kind that will completely change their life- lower your expectations. They have powdered your butt. If you have older siblings or people who are older than you but still very close, be leery of the notion that they will have additional difficultly working through changes that you suggest.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You can work as hard as you would like, but people will change when they are ready. We all have been frustrated by someone in our life that makes poor choices. But we can help. We can be there to provide resources. We can figure out how people learn and change. Do they read books? Read blogs? Watch television? Meet with others? Use this to your advantage. You can be there for them when they do become ready. You can live by example to show that it can be done. You can start by leading the horse to water and being there when they are ready to drink.

For people that will actually read:
Financial Basics: Dave Ramsey – Total Money Makeover
Health Basics: Michael Pollan – Food Rules
Time Management: David Allen – Getting Things Done

3 thoughts on “You Can Lead A Horse To Water

  1. Hi Stephen. I was thinking of writing a similar article on people that do not seem to want to change but you’ve pretty much nailed it here!

    I love the positive spin you put on everything.

    One extra aspect that I would like to discuss is the 100% push back in the other direction I sometimes seem to get. Have you ever experienced this? It’s kind of half “powdered butt syndrome” (love that by the way, not heard of that before!) and half of what you talked about in the alcohol article, with people feeling somewhat judged by your good example in the face of their “bad” one. Sometimes this results in people actually saying your new better way is stupid, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary.

    The other point is that I’ve only made a lot of these lifestyle changes very recently so I don’t want to come across as a hypocritical. Maybe people need to see the example for a longer period of time before they can accept it, and not just dismiss this as a fad I am going through etc…

    Anyway this is something I’ve been struggling with as you can probably tell, so thanks for the timely article. I think the only strategy is extreme patience and making sure I stick with it, and hopefully others will follow when they are ready as you say.

    If you build it they will come and all that 🙂

    • I think that is a great point. It is true, there will always be some pushback and it can be tough- especially from people you really care about. But I think that is part of the process. There is an art to being influential without being overbearing, overconfident, aloof and I’m still working on that. I think that balance is what we are all looking for. But when someone is ready to change, they will search for direction.

  2. Man, this posts hits the nail on the head. It’s hard seeing family and friends around you struggling and all you want to do is help them. Like you said though, they have to be ready for change and want it. Just continue to stand by them until that time comes.