Braking Habits


I have a vivid memory of sitting in a café with a trusted friend, many moons ago, lamenting my then relationship.

I had quite the shopping list. Why couldn’t my ‘other half’ be different? Why couldn’t all my love and input make things ‘better’ for us?  Couldn’t he see how hard I was working to try and help? This particular friend doesn’t cake decorate her words. She’s direct. Focused. She knows how to intercept tears.

Here’s what she said:

“Picture this – two broken down cars parked on the same street. One of them belongs to you and one of them belongs to him. You have all the tools you need to fix your own car, but for some inexplicable reason you are spending all your time attempting to fix him first, even though your own rent-a-wreck won’t start. You are NOT equipped to fix his car – only he can do that! Newsflash – you ARE qualified to work on your own misfires, and if he sees you revving your engine, polishing your rims, changing your oil – there’s a good chance he’ll be inspired to do the same.”

Okay – so I might have embellished her metaphor slightly, but the wisdom remains. At the time, I felt defeated. Why wasn’t I ‘enough’ to tune him up? Surely he wanted to ‘improve’ in order to make me happier?

Before long, I realized my sage confidante was a pretty astute psychological mechanic, and I embarked on a mission to service my own ailing parts, instead of wasting my precious energy using a rusty unsuitable spanner on his.

In essence, I began to be kinder and more attentive to myself, and as a result, less critical towards him. It seems to me, we are often drawn towards being our own worst enemy, rather than our own dear friend.

With this insight, I felt more effective and less of a victim of my circumstances. Bitterness receded and I became easier to relate to, while he, miraculously, began to find it easier to relate.

Not so miraculous really, it makes a lot of sense.

The most effective method of change is modelling the behaviour you hope to see in others.

A very simple example is one that parents encounter frequently. They yell at their kids in a vain attempt to stop their kids from yelling. It never appears obvious at the time, but if we could watch ourselves on video flailing around in these chaotic moments, the picture would be absurdly clear.

Ghandi might not have been berating a six year old or fuming at his partner when he said

Be the change you want to see in the world…

 but the most poignant mantras can be applied in many circumstances.

So if you’re investing all your efforts into solving someone else’s problems with the intent of  increasing their worth, put the brakes on. While you’re at it, listen for a squeak – a sure indication of where your own work needs to begin…

Did this post resonate with you?

WRITING PROMPT: Take ten minutes and jump off from the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world…” what meaning do these words currently hold in your life? OR Write about a relationship where you feel stuck in ‘fixing’ mode. Explore options. How can you take your tools and turn them towards self development?

4 Responses to “Braking Habits”

  1. Brianna
    June 24, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    I’m not one for metaphors, but man, that car metaphor is brilliant. We cannot fix in others what we aren’t willing to fix in ourselves.

  2. carol hogg
    June 24, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    be the change you want to see in the world, this is something i’m trying to do, in kabbalah we’re taught that if we want to change something or someone then first of all we must change ourselves – sounds simple but its still kinda hard – but yeah this post totally resonates with me as its something i’ve been thinking a lot about this last week.. and to be honest feeling a little upset and let down by some people – but i guess all i can really do is stay true to myself and work on being the best version of myself that i can possibly be and if people don’t like that – tough.

  3. allisonstabile
    June 24, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Wow. I needed this. So easy to look at what my husband is doing or not doing. Which, obviously, makes it easier not to work on me!

  4. Betsy/Zen Mama
    July 31, 2013 at 6:02 am #

    I love this post! Your broken down car metaphor is wonderful and so true. I have to ask, did the relationship last?
    Great reminders! Thanks!

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