The Ripple Effect: Changing Yourself Changes Others


Study after study shows that when we meditate, we change. But we don’t just change ourselves. Others around us begin to change too. Meditation improves our intimate relationships. We’re less reactive, feel more freedom and safety, and have a better understanding of our connections to others. When you actually listen to what your partner is saying, rather than figuring out what you’re going to say in response before they’re even done talking, you can’t help but strengthen your connection and understanding. When you don’t get so upset by normal conflict, and can step out of the automatic habit of escalating it, agreeing to disagree becomes much easier.

In his international bestseller Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” As we learn to stop judging ourselves, we’re less judgmental of others. It’s really easy to blame the person closest to you when you’re upset; it’s a lot harder to simply be upset, without blaming anyone – but this is what the skill of mindfulness enables us to do.  This is the secret first step to “changing” (or should I say “influencing”) others.

For twenty years I tried to “change” my husband (and what I perceived as his “flaws”).  In all that time he never changed. He resisted and I tried harder – not a recipe for happiness. It wasn’t until I became a regular practitioner of meditation that I noticed him starting to change. How did this happen?  In every relationship we are part of a dynamic system. When one part of the system begins to change, the other part must change also. Through my meditation practice I had begun to change myself. I had learned to be more present and less reactive and judgmental toward my own internal landscape of thoughts and emotions. As I continued to practice this skill of non-reactivity in my daily sitting, it became more available to me “on the spot” in daily life - during those inevitable unpleasant moments in any relationship. Those moments are the birthplace for change if we can stay present.

The only moment in which change is possible is the present moment. Only in the present is there the possibility of not-blaming back, of not pushing someone’s buttons, of not saying the hurtful thing that automatically pops into your head. Meditation helps you learn from your own experience that you don’t have to automatically react to whatever someone says or does, just like you don’t have to automatically react to thoughts and emotions that arise inside you during your practice. By staying present, you have some breathing room around difficulties that enables you to consciously choose what you will do next. That is how we positively influence not only other people, but also the course of our lives.

In Your Daily Meditation Practice

  • Schedule a regular time and place each day when you will be undisturbed. Ten, or even five minutes is fine to begin with.
  • Sit in a comfortable posture and scan through the sensory experience of your body noticing any sensations of tension or ease but not necessarily trying to change anything.
  • Feel the rise and fall of your own natural breathing. Invite your attention to rest into the sensations of breathing in and out.
  • Without judging yourself, simply notice when your mind is no longer on your breath – when it has become absorbed in a series of thoughts, including thoughts about an emotion you may be feeling. Without trying to push either the thought or the emotion away, simply return your attention back to the feeling of breathing in and out.
  • Be patient and persistent. If you mind wanders a hundred times in ten minutes, gently bring it back to the feeling of your body breathing.

In a Difficult Interaction

  • Bring your awareness into your body. Notice the physical sensations that accompany the difficult emotions of a heated exchange.
  • Locate the feeling of your breath and settle your attention there.
  • Notice unpleasant thoughts and emotions arising inside you without judging them or trying to make them go away. Focus on the feeling of your breath as you become aware of your physical and emotional experience right in the midst of a difficult exchange. Notice that you are simply bringing awareness to what is happening inside you moment by moment without automatically reacting to it. This is the skill you will have built during your daily meditation practice.
  • Ask yourself, “What’s called for now?” or “What is the most skillful response here?” Here lies the opportunity for a conscious choice rather than an automatic, habitual (and usually unhelpful) reaction. Over time, and with a great deal of patience and kindness toward yourself, you will have more and more influence over how such difficult exchanges unfold. This changes everything.

Madeline Ebelini is a former stressed-out lawyer turned certified mindfulness instructor with a mission of helping people reduce stress through teaching them practical and effective mindfulness techniques. She teaches the 5-star reviewed online course Mindfulness For Stress Relief, and leads a weekly live online meditation group Remember to Breathe. Register for her free webinar Learn 3 Quick Mindfulness Practices for Stress Relief.


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