You can change at any age (Episode 34)

You can stop believing that change and growth is only possible for younger people! Change and growth is a choice, and it can happen at any age. You can’t force anybody to do it (including your care receiver), but you do have the power to change yourself – and ONLY yourself.

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: People can change at any age (Episode 34)

Hi there. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin, and you’re listening to From One Caregiver To Another. This is Episode 34. Before we get started, let me remind you that I’ve got a webinar on “Human Giver Syndrome: Why Caregivers Are Exhausted And How To Begin To Heal” coming up very soon. The link to register for that is in the show notes, or you can just go to my website and you’ll see the link there. If you don’t know what Human Giver Syndrome is, go back and listen to Episode 31. I think it’s an incredibly important concept for all caregivers to learn about, and it can help you really understand why so much of life as a caregiver seems to happen as if somebody else made all the decisions and without anybody ever consulting you first.

Today on the podcast, I’ve got a two part idea for you to think about, and it’s all about change. The first part of this idea is that people can change and can grow at any age. The second part of the idea is that you can only change yourself. Before we dive into both of those parts though, I’d like to talk just a little bit about change and growth. I really want to make sure that when you’re listening to this, you understand what I think about change and growth. Changing and growing are choices. You choose to do them or not do them. So, an opportunity presents itself, and then you choose what to do with it.

Now, there is nothing wrong about choosing not to change or not to grow. I want you to know that I am not judging that choice. It’s okay to choose not to do something. There’s another way that we’ve come to describe this idea of change and growth over the past few years, and that’s having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. There’s a lot of fascinating research there, if you want to look into it, but for the purposes of this episode, I’m just going to stick to the ideas of change, and growth, and choice, just to keep it simple.

When I talk about change and growth, I don’t even mean that you have to make big, dramatic leaps in order for it to count. Even tiny changes and tiny growth can make a big difference in a life, especially when those stack up over time. One of the things that we really like to do as humans is make excuses for someone who isn’t changing and growing, instead of looking at that as their choice. It’s just way safer and it’s more comfortable to let somebody off the hook than it is face what’s going on with real clarity and let ourselves believe that they’re simply choosing not to change and grow. Age really is one of the most common times that we tend to make an excuse for why someone has stopped changing and growing, but there are others, too. I would say that grief is another reason we will make excuses for someone who’s stuck and who’s not changing or growing.

One of my favorite movies happens to be Chocolat. it is set in the lush countryside of post-World War II France. I think it’s set in the early 1950s. If you haven’t seen it, it’s just such a charming movie that really gets into human nature and the nature of love, and unconditional love for others, and also unconditional love for yourself. Okay. In the movie, there’s this minor character and she’s a little old lady who always wears black. We are told that she is in mourning, because she lost her husband in the war. One of the main characters says something about how sad it is that her husband died in the second world war. One of this lady’s best friends says, “Not that war, dear, the first one.”

What we learn is that this widow has been mourning her husband for what looks like well over three decades. That’s a clear choice that the widow is making to mourn him and not to grow or change. Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m not judging it. If it sounds like that, I’m sorry. I really am not judging it, but I am making an observation. This storyline just happens to be a great illustration of how changing and growing are choices.

All right. The first idea to talk about today happens to be one of the bigger stereotypes about caregiving. You know, it’s also about people in general. It’s this idea that people can’t be expected to make changes, or grow, or stretch their abilities or their bodies either because of this arbitrary thing that we call age. In fact, this was number five on my list of stereotypes about caregiving in Episode 26. You might want to go back and listen to that. The truth is, and hear me on this, the truth is that people can change and grow at any age and in almost all circumstances in life. This is true for care receivers, but also for caregivers. You are allowed to have expectations that the people in your life, and I mean all of them, children, parents, partners, best friends, they will change and grow. You’re allowed to expect that. Now, they might not do it, and I’ll talk more about that in a minute, but you still don’t have to give up your right to believe that they can, if they want to.

There are a very few exceptions to this truth that people can change and grow. I would say that somebody being in the later stages of dementia, well, that’s a good example of a condition that can really limit a person’s ability to grow and change in very big ways. But one of the things that we tend to do, all of us, we just do this as humans, is we look for the reasons why somebody should be allowed to just stop changing and growing. We think we are protecting them by limiting their exposure to new experiences and potentially painful situations. But there is science out now that shows we might actually be harming their brain health, causing their brains to age faster by building this protective bubble around them in that way. I will put a link to that information in the show notes, so that you can take a look at that research for yourself, if you’re interested.

Something I’ve heard a lot of families say about their father, for example, I hear this a lot about fathers is, “Oh. Well, dad is just too old to learn to cook.” That’s an excuse, and it’s a common one, and it may be an excuse that dad uses, too, but it’s also a choice that somebody made. I mean, maybe dad made that choice, or maybe it was the caregiver’s choice not to ask him to learn to cook. In other words, it’s not a given that dad can’t learn to cook. It’s not a fact. You can’t go to court on that. Also, when you say that dad is too old, well, that doesn’t actually give me any helpful information either. There’s no data in there that I can use to figure out what the real problem is. Is he too frail to stand at a stove? Does he have poor eyesight, so he can’t see a cookbook? Or maybe does he have a hearing impairment that would prevent him from hearing the timer go off? Those would be helpful pieces of information that we could discuss and maybe even solve for.

Now, if you don’t actually want dad to cook, because he makes a terrible mess in the kitchen or because he’ll only make treats and sweets, well, that’s a different thought altogether. So, you still might not want him to cook, but in this case, it’s actually about you. And that’s totally fine. You are allowed to think and to feel whatever you want. But if it’s about you, then own what you think. You don’t have to give away your power to think like that. No matter how long you have believed something, you are always allowed to re-examine that belief to see if it’s still the right thing for you.

This applies to you, you who are listening to this, no matter who you are. I know that, because if you are listening to this podcast deliberately, that tells me something important about you. You know how to select a podcast episode, which means you are capable of changing and growing. No matter what your circumstances are, you can form new thoughts in your head. You can change old beliefs, if you want to. You can learn to stay present in hard conversations, and you can learn to change how your relationships work.

I have to tell you that I know this, because over the past 10 years, I’ve done a lot of work with the way I show up in my relationship with my mom. My mom is my care receiver, and we have a very different relationship now than we did in the past. My mom and I talk about very difficult subjects now. We are learning to say no to each other when we want to, and we do so much better about taking breaks from each other when our heated emotions prevent us from communicating clearly. We are both changing and growing as caregiver and care receiver and as daughter and as mother.

It’s very hard sometimes. I’m not going to lie about that. It’s hard, but you know, I never dreamed that I could have an adult relationship with my mother that looks so different from what it used to look like. We both put in hard work on this all the time. We have learned to watch each other struggle without trying to fix each other. Most of the time anyway, we don’t try to fix each other anymore, and we sit quietly together when one of us is angry or grieving. When one of us is being a jerk, we have learned to apologize, and accept that apology, and still love each other anyway. I’m not trying to say our relationship is perfect, but we both act like mature and responsible adults a lot of the time now, and that makes things a lot easier for both of us, and it’s different from how we used to be.

Now, the second part of this big idea about change is this truth about human behavior. Here it is. The only person you can change is yourself, and this is just the reality for humans. You can resist it if you want to, it’s up to you, but it’s only true 100% of the time. I want to be honest with you and tell you that I heard this a lot in my life, but until the last few years I didn’t really buy it. I thought I had seen plenty of evidence in my life that was proof that I could control other people in a way that would make them change and that I really had made them change. Turns out that I had been confusing change with compliance. I thought people had changed, but what they were really doing was complying with my wishes, and those are not the same thing at all.

What’s the difference? Well, if somebody is complying, they are participating in some activity, or maybe a behavior, and maybe they are participating very willingly, but it has nothing to do with a choice they made to change. Anybody can perform an action or go along with something without believing in it. Think about how many people you know who go to family dinners on holidays, but they would rather not be there. But they go to those dinners year after year, even though it’s not their preference. That’s not change when they keep going year after year. That’s compliance. So, when someone is choosing in a way that means they are changing, they aren’t just participating because they have to. They are choosing to be there and do the thing, because they want to and because they believe in it. They show up, and they are in it with their whole beings, but you have no control over that.

Here’s something else to think about. There really is no reliable method to change somebody else, even if you could do it, which you can’t. You can’t love somebody into changing. It just doesn’t work. Love that’s only offered up to get somebody to change isn’t true love anyway. It’s a form of manipulation. Look at people who spoil children. They hope that it’s going to get those children to change, but a child who has no rules and no discipline will probably behave even worse over time, not better. Care receivers who are indulged will not change either. They are much more likely to become more helpless. You can’t shame somebody into changing. Shame doesn’t work at all, but it sure can do a lot of really ugly damage to a person and to your relationship with that person. Even brainwashing isn’t about real change. It’s still only forcing somebody to comply because the person has been brainwashed has only been convinced that they don’t have any other choices. So, basically they’ve just forgotten that they could make other choices.

Well, why does all of this matter anyway? It’s important, because it means you can stop putting energy into trying to control and change other people. It’s okay for the people around you to simply participate, or comply, or follow your rules. You can take all of that extra energy you’ll have and you can work on yourself. You could work on your own self-awareness, or your fears, or your anxiety, or anything else you want to do really. Now, if you need people to stop doing things, because it makes you uncomfortable or goes against your wishes, or values, or integrity, that probably means you actually need to set boundaries. If you want to learn about boundaries, go listen to Episode 33. That’s all about boundaries.

All right. To show you what change looks like in practice, let’s go back to this example I started with of cooking. I’ve got a real life example of this, and this is in my own family. That’s my husband and my two teenage boys. They live in the house here with me, and my mother lives right next door in an attached flat. Several years ago, I discovered that I am allergic to dairy. So, my family, my husband and my two kids, graciously learned to adapt to my need to eat food that has no cheese or milk in it. It’s a big sacrifice on their part, and I’m really so grateful to them for being so kind about it, but they still eat lots of dairy when it isn’t going to affect me. So, they are complying with my food allergy needs out of love for me, but they haven’t changed, and I don’t kid myself that I changed them in any way.

My mom, on the other hand … And by the way, we cook for her most nights a week, but she also cooks for us on a regular basis, too. My mom changed some of her own diet and a lot of the way she cooks by her own choice, for her own health, and to make it easier to accommodate my food allergy. She was very happy to choose that, and it has benefited her in some ways, too. She still eats dairy every now and then and she still prefers to bake with real butter, but she is flexible and thoughtful about it, and it was all her choice.

Now, I want to look at that hypothetical, but really common, dad that I talked about earlier in the episode and this idea that he is just too old to cook. If you, the caregiver, tell dad that he is not too old to cook and he’s going to learn, there are a lot of ways that could turn out. Maybe dad will agree and will really get into it and become a famous baker and a YouTube sensation. Maybe dad will disagree and be angry with you. Maybe dad will bargain with you and say, “Okay. If you don’t want to cook for me, fine. I’ll eat cereal three times a day.” But even if dad does agree to learn to cook and follows through with it, he will not be doing it because you changed him. He’ll be doing it because he agreed and is either complying, like my family does with me, or choosing to cook. As long as he’s cooking. I think it probably doesn’t matter if he’s changing or not. He’s doing it. And we don’t really need to split hairs about which is which.

I want to bring these two parts of this idea about change back together here, and I want to tie them up in a bow before I close today. Remember, the first part of this idea is that you and all humans are never too old to change. In fact, there are very few circumstances that make you or anybody else unable to change. The second idea is that the only person you can change is you and the only control you have over change is about you. I want you to know this is actually great news. That might be hard to believe, but if you are in a relationship or a situation that you don’t like, you can change the way you act and the way you show up. You don’t have to wait for the other person to change. You have the power within you already to change your own life, to count on yourself, and you can have your own back. You don’t have to rely on somebody else to be different or for things to be different. This is true in all areas and all relationship in life, even if, like me, you are a caregiver.

Thank you so much for listening. You can learn more about me and about all of this work at That’s There you can also sign up for my newsletter, which will include notifications about new podcast episodes. That newsletter is also called From One Caregiver To Another, just like this podcast. If you want almost daily doses of straight talk for family caregivers who want to learn how to improve their own lives, please follow me on Instagram. There is a link for that in the show notes. If you liked this episode, please leave a review, and that will help other caregivers find their way here. Definitely consider telling a friend who also happens to be a caregiver. I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator on Fire, has a dream to create a world that is generously inclusive of all adult generations. The best place to connect with Kay is on Instagram.

Caregiver Coaching” is for family caregivers who are ready to improve their own life. Facilitator on Fire’s “Building Trust Across Generations” seminar helps leaders and managers build amazing teams that are attractive to people of all ages. Kay’s keynote address, “Top Myths of Leading Generations,” helps businesses see the hard costs of miscommunication between generations.