Change Yourself First to Change the World

Be the Change

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy

You want to make a difference in this world, right?

I am no different from the rest of you in this respect – in fact, I am probably more likely to claim this statement. Ever since I realised the mass potential of our lives, I’ve sub-consciously carried a mission to change the world and leave it a better place than when I found it.

However, recently I’ve had a re-think.

This desire to change the world all sounds very heroic and noble and grand. But is it possible? Is it really possible to change the world, to make huge differences so that people hail us and shower us with praise?

Yes and no. I think it is possible to make a difference in the world, perhaps to a small handful of the world’s population. But on the other hand, I don’t think it’s possible to change the world. There’s a difference between changing the world, and making a difference in the world, which is important to recognise because I believe you can do one but you can’t do the other.

Let me explain with a famous story which you might have heard already

The Starfish Story

There’s a story of a man throwing starfishes into the sea, which I’ll do my best to remember for you here:

An elderly man was walking along the beach, admiring the beautiful view. As he walked, he noticed that a large group of starfishes had been washed ashore by the receding tide, and they were struggling to get back to the water. The man was saddened by this turn of events, but accepted that there was nothing he could do to change anything.

The man walked on, continuing to notice the large numbers of helpless starfishes, until he saw another man in the distance standing at the water’s edge amongst the starfishes. Curious, the elderly man walked over to him, wandering what he was up to.

As he got closer, the elderly man could see that the younger man was picking up starfishes, one by one, and throwing them back out into the sea. Astonished, the elderly man got close enough for the other man to hear him, and then he called out.

“Hey! What on earth are you doing?”

The younger man turned to him and smiled, then turned back to the sea, still continuing his duty of picking up and throwing starfishes.

“I’m helping these starfishes get back into the ocean.”

The elderly man couldn’t believe it, why was this man wasting his time throwing starfishes back? There were thousands of them here, it would take him days! He voiced his thoughts.

“Why are you throwing them back? There’s thousands of them here, it’ll take you forever! How can you possibly hope to make a difference to these starfishes?”

Remaining calm, the younger man continued his duty without looking at the elderly man. Just as he threw another starfish back into the ocean, he replied.

“I made a difference to that one.”

The moral of the story sums up my point about wanting to make a difference. We can make a difference to individuals, even to groups of people. A rare few of us may even influence whole communities and societies. But to change the world outright? To throw thousands of starfishes into the ocean single-handedly? I’m afraid this isn’t possible.

Why isn’t this possible? Part of it is because of the nature of the world right now – there are many global aids and charities in effect today, and they have made significant and important strides towards solving the world’s ailments. But, no matter how much more work they achieve, I fear that the ailments will still exist. There will still be problems. Remove a corrupt leading group, and another one springs up in its place. Lift up a third-world country from poverty, and another one falls back into it. Save a species from being hunted, and the hunters find another species to kill.

But there’s another, bigger reason. The other reason why changing the world isn’t possible, and I believe this is the main reason, is because we need to change ourselves first.

This is the defining element of change – change begins within.

We Can Only Change Ourselves

Do you remember the Mother Teresa quote? It goes something like this:

“If everyone only cleaned their own doorstep, the whole world would be clean.”

What does this say to you? To me, it says that we can only change ourselves, and our first priority should be changing our ways and beliefs, cleaning our own doorsteps.

How can I lead others if I can’t lead myself? How can others trust me, or I trust others, if I first can’t trust myself? How can I love others if I can’t love myself? All these require change within to achieve.

Remember this, it’s not the world that needs to change, it’s ourselves.

If you change the people within the world, the world then changes as a result – it’s not the other way round. I admire the great charities of this world for doing what they do, and for what they’ve accomplished, but ultimately it’s pointless UNLESS those involved change themselves first.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi - Be the Change

How To Change

Over the months and years I’ve made some changes in my life, and it has made my surrounding environment a much better place to live in. I believe this is testament to the thinking I’ve offered in this post, and I believe you can do the same with your own lives.

Here are two ways that you can change yourself, and change the world as a result. I only offer these as my own interpretation – feel free to use both, or just one of these ways:

1. Practice Forgiveness

All of the conflict in this world has been due to misunderstandings, which have been due to a lack of communication, which has been due to fear. Fear of losing out, fear of being controlled, fear of looking weak.

Just think, by changing ourselves to being more forgiving, we could do a lot of good. If we could practice forgiveness more often, and forgive the person who has wronged us rather than seek to cause conflict, this would reduce the amount of conflict in the world.

To help us practice forgiveness, here’s how to speak with a kind heart.

2. Go One Day Without Complaining

We all know of the world’s problems – global warming, terrorism, recessions, etc. But what are we actually doing about it? For the majority of us, all we do is complain.

The simple fact is that complaining will get us nowhere. As much as it may seem to be enjoyable and relieving, all it does in the long term is to make us complain more, and become more run-down and depressed. Complaining leads to more complaining, the spiral runs on, and nothing ever gets done.

So why not go one day without complaining? Tomorrow, make a vow to stop complaining, and get on with the day. Sure, there will be problems, but instead of complaining about them, focus on solving the problem. Or if you can’t solve it, move on. Just don’t complain about it.

To help us be happier in life and complain less, here’s 31 ways to bliss and lightness

So what can YOU do to change yourself?

Have you ever noticed a change in your world once you’ve changed yourself? Let us know via your comments below!

More Inspiration from Gandhiji to Help you Be the Change:-

Now please check out these inspirational blog articles written by me and inspired by Mahatma Gandhi:-

  1. 6 Key Lessons in Life from a 140 year Old Man
  2. 11 Key Lessons from Gandhi for leading a life of commitment
  3. Gandhi the Ultimate Minimalist
  4. Let Your Life your Be your Message
  5. Lessons in Peace from Sammy, also known as Gandhi

Thank you

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  1. Thanks ever so much for giving me the opportunity to write for you again Arvind!

    Take care 🙂

    • Arvind Devalia says

      Thank YOU Stuart for a great guest post again.

      I have already received some great feedback via email:-)

      As you have said so eloquently, change begins with us…

  2. Hey Stu 🙂

    I really enjoyed reading this post and you made some great points, many of which have given me ideas on how I can continue to change to become a better person :-). I’ve come a long way already, but I know that with your help I can go further and coninue to better myself!

    Thanks for sharing this – you are an inspiration!

    Sam xxxxx 🙂

    • Hey Sam, I’m happy to see you here – thanks for following me over to Arvind’s place!

      I’m also happy that you’ve taken insights from this to become a better person, it means a lot to me that you’re willing to listen and open up. Yes, you’ve come a long way, but there is so much more to explore 😉

      Thanks Sam 🙂 xxxxx

  3. I think we all strive to make changes to our lives to improve ourselves. But often we fall short of understanding the importance of making changes not just to our own individual life but for the rest of the world too.

    Awesome post and there are things which you have written in here that are worth thinking about daily. Good read.

    • Hi there, thanks for stopping by and commenting! I do appreciate the kind words you’ve given me here!

      Change is the most important thing we can do on a consistent basis, yet as you say, we often fall short of realising this importance. I think if more people did realise it, we’d see some major changes to the world at large 🙂

  4. Hey Stuart,

    You’ve made some really great points and I agree with almost all of them, except the premise that we can’t change the world. I believe we can. To use the starfish story (which I’ve always loved), we don’t change the world by throwing all the starfish back, but by envisioning and lining up with a world where they don’t wash up on the beach in the first place, or maybe even, where they find a way back to the sea on their own (like a big wave comes in and washes them back out to sea…) We don’t have to physically make those changes happen. The real leverage comes from when we take the energy path, which does create real change. So, while we can make a difference with our actions, we can change the world with our energy. We can inspire millions, we can line up with peace, we can line up with a safe, whole, healthy earth and happy, joyful, passionate people. You do not need other people to line up with this vision in order to experience it. All it takes is you. 🙂


    • Hi Melody, thanks for leaving such a wonderful comment!

      I hear what you’re saying – our actions and energy can make a difference in the world. But I’ve found that all the change in the world has been a direct or indirect result of the change in ourselves.

      We can’t try to force the world to change, but we can force ourselves to change.

      An example – we have a problem with fox hunting in England, and there have been numerous reports of aggression and sometimes violence between groups of opposing opinion.

      Now, if the anti-hunting activists continue to lobby, continue to protest and disrupt planned hunts, they won’t get anywhere. They won’t change the world by force, because the pro-hunting group will resist them and fight back. However, if the fox hunters change themselves and develop more compassion and kindness as a result, then they’ll see the hurt they’re inflicting on the foxes, and stop.

      They changed themselves, and so the world was changed as a result.

      Hope this helps Melody 🙂

  5. We all live in a world where people have the freedom to choose how they will live their lives. Some strap bombs to their bodies and blow up women and children and other innocent lives. Others go on walks. Some shoot people and rape people and rob people. Others choose not to. Their values are different. Their anger is different. Their beliefs are different. I agree with you, Stu, that the only way real world changes can occur is if each individual decides strapping explosives to their bodies to destroy the lives of others is a horribly bad idea. Cultural change can occur, but it is cultural change only because a bunch of individuals chose to change things. It all starts, as you say, with the individual, looking in the mirror and saying, “It’s time to change!”

    Thanks for the post, my friend! And thanks, Arvind, for the hosting!

    • Ken, you are most welcome! Good to see you at my blog so regularly:-).

      As you have so eloquently put it, it all starts with us – and there will come a day soon when people will realise that strapping explosives to their bodies to make there point (no matter how valid) is not really a good idea.

      Change – and positive change -begins with us – and let us all continue to spread such ideas.

    • Hi Ken, apologies for the late response. I need to keep a better eye on my guest posts 😉

      One individual deciding to make a change is one thing, that individual actually living that change is something else entirely. And what’s great is that once that individual lives that change, others will notice, and they might feel compelled to make change happen themselves.

      Only then, will you get a ‘culture change’ as you put it. And only then, will you be able to change the world 🙂

  6. Jimmy/Life Architect says

    Hi Stu and Everyone,

    I am for the first time.

    This is an interesting article which can cause us to truly think about what can we do to make a difference in the world. I would have to agree with Melody who believes that changing the world is possible as long as we have the faith to believe in it. Only in such a state will the positive energy and vibrations affect others enough to cause a major change for the better. Stu, if we think that we can only make a difference to one star fish, than we are actually sending out a lack mentality to the universe. But if we have the faith that our eventual action will make a difference, then one day all or most of the star fish will be saved. I believe we are capable of that and should never lose faith just because things appear to be not happening fast enough.

    The other side of thing is that I agree with you, Stu, that to make that change we must change ourselves first. It is the most powerful force we can give for the good of the people. When we change we lead by example and others will follow.

    Cheers and thanks for tolerating my long comment.

    • Hi Jimmy, thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment!

      I hear what you’re saying, but I think my message has got a little lost here. I believe that you CAN make a difference in the world, but it won’t happen UNTIL you change yourself first. Trying to force the issue won’t work.

      With the starfish example, the man threw many starfish back into the sea, but he did it one at a time. If he tried to save them all at once, it wouldn’t have worked. But by thinking we can help one person, we actually stand a much better chance of helping that person out. If we try to help many people at once, it won’t work.

      Thanks for stopping by Jimmy 🙂

  7. Stuart, thanks again for a great post!

    Now, what would I do to change the world?

    Change in the world begins with me. So to change the world, I would:-

    • Eat less, exercise more
    • Sleep less, write more
    • Accumulate less stuff, share much more
    • Stop seeking perfection, settle for excellence
    • Surf the internet less, meet more real people
    • Think less, speak more and share my wisdom
    • Stop wasting time, create more special moments

    And I would eat more ice-cream and do things that really bring me a lot of joy! Because when I am joyous and my vibration is high, good things happen to me and those around me:-)

    • That sounds wonderful Arvind, do that which raises your energy levels, and which brings out the joy in you!

      After all, joy is infectious 😉

      Thanks again for the opportunity 🙂

  8. Hi Stu,
    First of all, thanks for the wonderful post. It was truly inspiring.

    I think “changing ourselves” is one of the biggest secrets, which many people don’t know or know but don’t practice. In either cases, results are same. People blame the whole world for their problems, they fill their hearts with negative feelings and spread the negativity even around them.

    Changing ourselves instead of expecting the world around to change, is so simple yet powerful. Once our internal transformation begins, the world around us amazingly changes (world is mirror of ours) and a wonderful life begins.

    The sooner, one realizes that he needs to change, the faster he will on his way to a amazingly satisfying life.

    • Hi Naveen, that’s a great way of looking at things – as soon as we realise we need to change, then the change will start to happen. No-one else will make that change happen for us, we must bring it about ourselves.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  9. Rob @notactuallyahero says

    The mindset you’re laying out in this post is basically the only way to live. If you insist on changing the world, you can make it far too easy to not bother improving yourself.

    But one thing I think you’re forgetting, the changes you’re proposing will change the world. You will be a happier more enjoyable person. And that doesn’t just make you more likable – it makes the people around you happier as well.

    And it can so easily spread like a wave.

    • Hi Rob, thanks for commenting!

      I agree – this is why I titled the post, “Change Yourself First To Change The World”. Trying to change the world first won’t work out – instead, change yourself, and become a better person. This will then have a ripple effect which influences the world, starting with those around you.

      Take care 🙂

  10. Hi Stuart- What a fantastic article! I will be printing this one out to share with a few people. I agree with you in on so many levels.

    Yes, change begins with us; and if we wish to change the world in which we exist, we need to be that change.

    Oh… and I want to highlight something that you said so profoundly and subtly: “…change within to achieve”. I believe that it is important for us to follow that path of change. This path allows us to be at the most excellent state for any particular time. From this one phrase, I do not see in any way you suggesting that we need to be perfect first before we help others or the world in general. You only state that we need to seek or develop the excellence within us; and in doing so, as we, our “selves” interact with “others” we create experiences in which we all benefit…. in which we all grow… or “change”.

    Arvind made a wonderful comment to further my thought on this phrase:”stop seeking perfection, settle for excellence…”

    If we wait until we could develop the ability to throw all of the proverbial starfish into the ocean, we would never be a factor of change in this world; conversely, we if strive to successfully get at least one starfish back in the ocean, we have just demonstrated our excellence in achieving change.

    Great post!

    • Thanks Ajen for your full and hearty comment. The word that came to mind when I read your words was “exuberant”!!!

      Let us be the change we wish to see in the world – Gandhi had it spot on all those years ago.

      Good luck Ajen with everything – and just remember to strive for excellent and not perfection:-)

    • Ajen, I must thank you for the kind and wonderful comment! I’m happy that you agree with me, but I’m even happier that it sounds like you live true to your words.

      I’m not sure if we’ll experience a perfect world in our lifetime, but an ‘excellent’ world is definitely possible. In order to achieve this, then we must become ‘excellent’ people first. And that means we won’t be perfect, we’ll still have some flaws and fears, but excellence in our lives overall means that the world will shape to accommodate us.

      It will become excellent!

      Thank you Ajen 🙂

  11. By changing ourselves we are changing the world. We are ripples. Our thoughts and our actions have an outward effect on the world. I have to disagree with the fact that we cannot change the world. We do, we can and we do everyday.

    • Hi Nicole, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Please bear in mind that I never said that we ‘can’t’ change the world – we can only do so by changing ourselves first. As you said, it’s a ripple effect that flows outward from ourselves and affects the world around us.

      It’s entirely possible to change the world, but we have to view ‘changing ourselves’ as the main priority 🙂

  12. Jeanette Melian says

    I so enjoyed reading you very honest and thoughful post. I love the quote from Gandhi “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We must be the change first. To move in that direction of inner change and transformation, we must begin with awareness. We must be willing to look at ourselves honestly and see that which is limiting us and that which no longer serves us in this world. When we are able to do that and dig deep, we can begin to take those first steps towards change. As others see the transformation in us, and we begin to live it, it becomes a ripple effect of change.
    Wishing you all the best,

  13. please try to change the people or neighbours
    near your house or surroundings

  14. please to change your self then you can change others in our country

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