You Have 4 Minutes to Change Someone’s Life

In dedication to my most amazing mother’s birthday, I have decided to write about the motto which she lives her life by. But first, you must know more about my Mom and the reasons she is so amazing; which are what even inspired me to start this blog. Debra Badger (as she is known now), started off her professional career as a high school teacher at Sandy High after receiving her Master’s degree in teaching from Warner Pacific in Oregon. Now you must understand something, not only was she starting her career as a teacher, but she had me when she was only 22 years old, and only two years later had to deal with the divorce of her and my father. As you can imagine, that time of her life would be anything but easy. Not only that, but she was only 23 when she started full-time at the high school and what most people would call a ‘late bloomer,’ so inappropriate remarks from her students were somewhat of a regularity.

None of these could stop my Mom from her true passion; helping children learn and develop. The great thing about my Mom, though, is that she wanted to open her students’ minds. She taught Global Studies, which was the perfect subject to do so. She was allowed by faculty to explore all the different cultures of the world, and even more impressively, explore their religions. She always pushed her students to accept ideas from other cultures, and apply morals and values to their own lives.

Well, after 11 years of teaching, my Mom decided that her talents could be used more effectively elsewhere, and in a different context. So, being the ridiculous overachiever that she is, she went back to school (while still teaching) to get her second Master’s degree; this time in Counseling. She decided to become a Middle School counselor, because she felt that the problems students faced at home and in their personal lives started before high school, and she wanted to attack the root of the problem. To this day, she continues to help children in any way she can; taking them under her wing and helping tutor them, bringing them into her home for months at a time to allow a break from a broken family, or simply by doing what she does best: listening.

That is what brings me to the real topic of this post, and one of the ways my Mom has forever impacted MY life, and literally everyone around her. Her motto, which I mentioned before, is “You have 4 minutes to change someone’s life” (hence the title of my post). Obviously, this is fairly vague, so I am here to elaborate.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional, as is my mother, and this is simply my interpretation of her motto, but it will be helpful I believe, regardless.

The key to changing someone’s life is simple: listen and ask questions. Not everyone is fit to give advice, and that is fine; it does not mean for a second that you are not fit to listen to someone’s problems/complaints/rants. Anyone can do it, as long as it is done unselfishly, and with the intention to help. So what does it take to truly listen to someone? Some simple instructions are:

1) Make eye contact. This is probably the most overlooked aspect of having a meaningful conversation for most people. A lot of people find it uncomfortable for themselves, or perhaps think it will make the other person uncomfortable. Truth is; that is the easiest way to build trust. A good rule of thumb is to look into the other person’s eyes for 3 seconds, then look away for 1.

2) Keep your mouth closed while the other person is talking. This may seem silly, but when you open your mouth, even to yawn, the other person may feel like you are trying to interrupt and stop short. You DO NOT want this. Let them get everything out, and then when they stop or ask you a question, you may open your mouth, and proceed.

3) Don’t ask questions that ‘you want to know.’ Just because you’re curious about a certain situation, if it isn’t relevant; leave it out. Focus on the problem at hand, and only ask questions that truly get to the heart of the problem.

4) Always let the person know that they don’t have to answer. If you ask a question that is a little too revealing, you may shut the person down, so let them know, that if they don’t want to answer the question, to tell you, and you can ask a different one.

Now that you know how to listen and ask questions, you need to know how to make an impact. This part is more difficult. Each person needs something different depending on their situation. The basic categories are:

1) Empathy. True understanding of what they are going through, and relating to it if possible. If you can empathize, and the person realizes that is possible for someone else to go through what they are, or at least that someone understands it, then it can totally change their perspective.

2) Sympathy. I’m sure you’ve heard people say ‘don’t feel sorry for me.’ Well honestly, sometimes a person needs to be felt sorry for. If the situation or problem is so traumatic, or if they flat-out tell you that they just need sympathy; then that’s what you give them. It may be hard for you to do: whatever you do, NEVER fake it. The person will see right through it no matter how distraught they are, and they will never trust you.

3) Advice. Like I said before, not everyone is fit to give advice. But, if it is a topic you can relate to, have been through, or just know about, then your level of expertise is high enough to dish out advice, as long as they ask for it. But only if it is sound, relates to the person, and is ACTIONABLE. What do I mean by that? There has to be a way for the person to actually carry it out, and they have to be able to track results.

4) The final category doesn’t have a single word. It’s called a Kick in the Ass. Sometimes people are too busy wallowing in their own sorrow to see the simple truth: they are blowing things out of proportion and just over their head. The way to stop this is to give them a swift kick in the rear (not literally). You need to sit them down and ask them, ‘are you open to some feedback?’ or ‘can I tell you what I think?’ If they say yes, they have opened the door for constructive criticism, and you may give it out in small portions. Don’t call out all their mistakes at once. You want to focus on ONE thing in the beginning. If that works for them, then most certainly they will come back to you. But don’t crush all their dreams in one fell swoop; they’ll be heartbroken, and they probably won’t ever tell you about their problems again.

OK, so we have covered how to listen and find the root of someone’s problem, and we have discussed how to help a person depending on their needs. However, what if a person doesn’t ask for help, doesn’t want to tell you about their problems, or doesn’t want to be listened to? How do you change their life then? The answer is; I don’t know exactly. Is it possible? Yes, absolutely. But people who don’t open up aren’t as susceptible to having their lives changed. The crazy thing about my Mom is that EVERYONE opens up to her, so she has a chance everyday to change someone’s life. Not all of us get that chance. But let’s just say you want to help people; that you want to change someone’s life. How do you do it?

There are many ways, but I’m going to be somewhat generic, and give you some basic ideas to work with to live a life that influences other people merely by them seeing the way you are:

1) Have strong values. Perhaps the easiest way to gain respect among other people with values (and even those without) is to have a clear set of values that you ALWAYS live your life by. I won’t tell you what values to have, because I think everyone should discover their own. I can tell you that mine are; to always treat others how I want to be treated, to never steal, lie, cheat, to never kill or act out violently towards anyone (violence doesn’t solve anything), and to smile everyday. If you are able to define values in your own life that are important to you, people will see it, and respect you because of it; even if you don’t tell them what they are (pretty cool).

2) Have goals. It is always important to have a set of short-term and long-term goals. It is even better to have what are called SMART goals. SMART stands for: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely. What this means is that you want to have goals you can clearly define, that you easily measure the success of, that you actually take steps in achieving, that are within the realm of possibility, and that you will achieve in this lifetime. You don’t need 300 goals or even 10. Just one or two short-term and one or two long-term goals will help you in organizing your life. This will reflect in how you carry out each day and again; others will see it, and you will gain their respect.

3) Have dreams. One thing I have seen throughout the years that saddens me very much, is the stifling of creativity. People get bogged down in their everyday lives and forget to think about the big picture, and what their passions are in life. It is very healthy to have dreams; they keep us happy, they keep us thinking forward. When you have dreams and you share them with people, you inspire them to have their own dreams. That’s all you can hope for.

4) Live everyday to the fullest. Quite possibly the most cliché ‘inspirational’ quotes of our lifetime. It doesn’t matter. It is the truth. You want to go to bed each day happy enough for it to have been your last. It doesn’t mean that you need to have achieved every single goal you have at the end of each day, or reached all of your dreams, or any of that. What it means is that you shouldn’t end a day with ‘unfinished business,’ and I’m not talking about your job. I’m talking about; if you wanted to talk to someone because you haven’t seen them in years, CALL THEM TODAY. If you wanted to play with your kids because you haven’t in weeks, DO IT TODAY. If you haven’t watched your favorite TV show in months because you’ve been too busy, WATCH IT TODAY. You will go to bed that night feeling a sense of accomplishment, even if it happened to be a particularly shitty or unproductive day. If you can live your life that way everyday, it will absolutely show, and you will emanate awesomeness. Don’t believe me? Try it. People will begin to notice and ask you questions about your life. Then guess what? BOOM! There’s your 4 minutes baby.

So, this is obviously my longest post ever. But I think it is my most important. I have never been so inspired by someone as by my Mom; she is truly my greatest hero. Michael Jordan ain’t got shit on her;-) If you take anything I write in my posts seriously, then please, take this to heart. I really feel that if everyone were to take the time to listen to people, give them the help they need, or merely just live a full life with values, goals, and dreams, that the world would be a much much MUCH better place. And please, if you haven’t talked to your mother in over a week, give her a call as soon as you read this: she’ll appreciate it more than you know. If your mother isn’t here anymore, go visit her next chance you get; she’ll know you did.

Good night and good luck until my next post!

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