Little switches that make a big difference

I remember the exact moment my life went on the offensive. I was in my apartment in Barcelona complaining to my dad about my first world problems. But before I could really get going he stopped me and said, “Michael, shut up and go buy that beautiful wife of yours some flowers.”

I had heard a million times the key to happiness was getting out of our own heads and doing what we could to place ourselves in the hearts of others. However, something about the matter of fact way my dad said it compelled me to finally internalize it, such that I could put the advice into action.

Later that day I went out and bought my beautiful wife some flowers. Upon receiving them, she wasn’t the only person smiling. So was I.

If I could go back in time and tell my 20 year-old self advice that would make my life easier, my dad’s words would top the list. This is because they made me realise the fastest way to immediately improve the quality of my own life was by doing something to improve the quality of someone else’s.

I’ve come to think of these paradoxical acts of empathy as ‘switches.’ And ever since, I’ve been collecting and utilizing those which improve my relationships. Here are the most impactful.

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Tell people you like them instead of worrying about if they like you:

In the book, “Influence,” author Robert Cialdini tells the story of Joe Girard, the world’s greatest car salesman. Cialdini was eager to learn how Joe had separated himself from the competition and set out to learn his secrets.

To Cialdini’s surprise he found a simple man that grew his business by embracing one simple aspect of human behaviour: most people will like you if you first show them how much you like them.

Every month, no matter what he had going on, Joe sat down and sent out a personalised handwritten letter to each one of his clients. He asked about their children by name. He followed up regarding any celebration or devastation. In short, he showed his clients he cared about them. As a result, his clients cared about him.

The next time you are thinking about letting someone know how much they mean to you, steal a line from Joe and just do it.

My mom got it dead right — “People like it when you are nice to them.”

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Ask the people around you what they believe instead of saying “I believe”:

When it comes to building relationships another aspect of human behaviour that often gets overlooked is most people would rather talk about themselves than listen to someone else talk about themselves. Use this nugget of information to your advantage and approach each conversation as a chance to learn something you don’t already know.

Setting up a punishment clause every time you catch yourself saying “I believe” before asking the person in front of you what they believe is a good place to start.

My friend Brian Pennie got it dead right — “Nobody cares what you think. So stop talking so damn much.”

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Put your own to-do list aside and take notes on what the people around you want to do:

Most people wake up and immediately think about what they have to do. However, those who start their day thinking about how they can improve the lives of the people around them win.

One of the easiest ways to make this switch is by taking five minutes in the morning to write down the happenings of the people you care about.

Do you know someone who’s going on an interview today?

What about someone who’s having a rough go of things?

How do you think these people would feel if you reached out to give them a boost?

Long lasting relationships are sealed with little consistent actions. Taking the time to prioritize others in the morning and doing what you can throughout the day to support them is a bullet-proof way to ensure your relationships stay strong.

My best friend from home got it dead right — “If you want to be supported, it sure helps if you start by doing the heavy lifting.”

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Every time you want to complain to someone ask them for their best piece of life advice:

Despite the fact that most people don’t like complainers, most people complain. So remove yourself from “most people land” and stop doing it. Instead, when you feel negative words rising, make it a habit of asking the people around you for their best piece of advice.

Once you’ve asked them about their advice, move onto book recommendations or important lessons they learned from their mentors. Quality conversations lead to quality relationships. So do yourself a favor and kick them off by asking quality questions.

My father-in-law got it dead right, “Positivity is a choice.”

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Stop thinking about what makes you special and start spotlighting the special in others:

Human beings can be complicated, no argument here. But deep down we are actually quite simple. We want to be acknowledged and we want to be respected. So stop obsessing over what makes you worthy of acknowledgement and start giving people what they want.

Compliment people on their new opportunities. Show them you care by following-up on the things they are working on. Make it a point to notice something new about them. Relationships are sealed in the details. So stop focusing on what makes you special and start paying attention to how special the people around you are.

My wife got it dead right — “There isn’t a lack of beauty in the world, just a lack of people looking for it.”

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Share the work of the people you are jealous of:

Few things impede our progress regarding the relationship we have with ourselves, and the relationships we have with others, more than jealousy. And everyone has an opinion on how to curb it.

From my experience the easiest way to do so is by making a choice to openly support the work of the very people you envy. This is because it’s hard to be jealous of someone you are proactively taking the time to promote.

The next time you feel jealousy rising, stop, accept it and then take 30 seconds to blast the message of the person you are jealous of around the world. You may be surprised at how liberating this simple action can feel.

My friend John Mashni got it dead right — “Successful people don’t sit around all day comparing themselves to others. They are too busy lifting people up.”

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A very wise man defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Don’t let your relationships drive you insane and mix things up by embracing the power of the little switches listed above.

If you want someone to like you — tell them how much you like them.

If you want to people to care about what you are doing — make it known how much you care about what they’re doing.

The quality of our lives are measured by the quality of our relationships. So if you want to create better ones, give these little switches a shot.

You may be surprised how big of a difference they can make.

The future belongs to the kind.

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I almost forgot—leaving pieces of fruit around the house instead of cookies will do wonders for your relationships as well. This is for the simple fact it’s hard to be impatient with your partner or yell at your kid after eating a piece of pineapple.

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Call to Action:

Eat more pineapples. They’re delicious. And if you enjoyed this article feel free to get more relationship advice here.

This article first appeared in PS I Love You (Medium.com)