People Don’t Do What You Tell Them To Do…

After years of being married, raising three children, working with people, speaking thousands of times, and writing four books, I’m finally coming to accept the fact that people don’t do what I tell them to do.

2 Sea Doos

Our family enjoys an awesome time away in June at a friend’s vacation home on Flathead Lake in Montana. One of our favorite things to do there is jet skiing. Riding a Sea Doo is really fun… and also terrifying if you’re riding with a 6-year-old like our grandson, Camden! For as long as we’ve been going to the lake – which is Cam’s whole life – he has loved the jet skis. And he loves speed. Under his control, or lack of it, you’re in for the ride of your life.

Ander, Cam’s 4-year-old brother, is the opposite. He’s more reserved and cautious. Each year we’ve tried to get him to go out on the jet skis and he hasn’t wanted anything to do with them. In fact, at the beginning of the week this year, he didn’t even want to go out on the paddleboat. When we tried to talk him into it he quietly said no and was content watching from the shore as I headed out with his brother and cousin.


Knowing how fun jet skiing can be, and knowing that he would probably love it once he went out on one, we did our best to talk him into going out with one of us. He didn’t want to go. Until one day, Katie asked Ander, “Will you go out on the jet ski with me? I have to go really slow since I have a baby in my tummy” (She was 5 months pregnant). Ander gave his usual “No.” Katie quietly said, “Please?” And miracle of miracles, he thought for a couple seconds and then said “Okay” and started heading for the jet skis.

They started out really slow and gradually got a little faster. And he loved it. In fact, he didn’t want to get off, so he stayed on while two other people took turns riding with him.

Katie and Anderson

In the days that followed, Ander was out on that jet ski a lot. Not because we told him to do it. He did it because he finally told himself he wanted to do it. We knew he would love it if he would just try it, and we had told him that, but he didn’t want to do it until he wanted to do it.

People don’t do what you tell them…they do what they tell themselves.

Now that doesn’t mean parenting, teaching, coaching, counseling, etc are unimportant. But it does mean that in the end it’s not what you say that moves a person to action. It’s what they say. It’s what they decide.

You want to help others have more fun? To make better decisions? To stick with commitments for more than a day? Consider doing more asking than telling. Help them to think it through, and share perspectives that they may not see on their own, but remember that in the end, the choice is theirs.

People don’t do what you tell them, they do what they tell themselves. Even kids.

Can you identify with this?

By David Gudgel