Stop trying to make people do stuff

My wife and I have been struggling with my daughter’s sleep ever since she was born (she’s 3 years old).

But just recently we tried something new that’s looking pretty promising.

We’ve always had a bedtime routine, but one thing we’ve been doing differently now is rather than trying to make her sleep, we let her play in her room after her shower etc. for as long as she wants until she comes to us and says that it’s time for sleep.

This is the small but significant difference between trying to make her do something and letting her decide for herself.

Now it seems counter-intuitive when you think, “Oh, she’s got to get enough sleep and have the right bedtime so she doesn’t get too tried” and so on. But actually she’s been going to sleep quicker than ever before!

This reminds me of the classic truth about encouraging and influencing other people: If you try to make them do it, they will resist. If you leave it up to them and give them freedom of choice, they will come to it in their own time… if it’s right for them.

We always feel like we need to force good behaviour onto others, as if they wouldn’t get there on their own.

And it’s not just kids; we do this with friends through unsolicited advice, staff through threats and incentives, and citizens through law and order.

We never even give people a chance to figure it out on their own.

We’re so obsessed with our own comfort that we try to control others to suit our convenience, unwittingly shooting ourselves in the foot because if we didn’t force them so much we’d probably get more cooperation anyway!

For more on this topic, check out my podcast episode “Ethical Influence: Can Persuasive Language Be Honest and Healthy?” 

One Response

  1. An important part of this is to make sure they’re also not able to do things that hurt or bother you. Boundaries help clarify their options.

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