Updated: May 24, 2021
“Leave them better than you found them.”
This quote has become one of my favorite mantras. It’s the idea that you should always be a positive influence on others. At first, this notion might seem like an overwhelming task. You might feel like you need to constantly perform amazing acts of generosity or assistance to make that kind of impact.
I believe it’s far more simple than that. This idea can truly be applied whenever and however you interact with someone. There’s no need to be elaborate. Being a positive influence on someone happens while checking out at the grocery store, having a meal in a restaurant, or texting a friend. Something as simple as a passing smile can actually lift a spirit and give someone a fresh outlook on their day. When we see each other as valuable individuals, each worthy of dignity and respect, it becomes second nature to leave people better than you found them.
Teach for Long-term Positive Impact
I practice this mindset with all of my driving students. In fact, I focus on applying it in this capacity over all others. Of course, at the end of their program (which is usually 4 to 10 lessons), I want to make sure that they are safe, defensive, responsible drivers. But I also approach every individual lesson with this attitude of wanting to see growth.
Even in just 90-minutes, I want to know that they learned something to take away and start using in their driving immediately. To facilitate this, at the end of each lesson, I ask my students two questions:
We went over a tremendous amount of information today. What did you learn?
What are you going to do differently now than you were doing before?
These two questions are game-changers for my teen students’ progress. For one, an essential part of coaching is to review the new information with the student. This helps solidify the new material in their brain so they can retain it. It’s one thing that they heard the information. It’s another thing to have them actually process it. This is why asking questions is one of the most effective methods to helping your teen learn how to drive.
Secondly, it helps with application. In driving, as with any new endeavor, there can be a gap between what is learned and what is practiced. By asking the student to clearly identify the new skill they have just learned, they create a focus for themselves. It’s like putting a big billboard in the brain: Remember to do this!
New habits initially take a lot of intention to develop. Before it becomes automatic to watch out for the speed limit signs and check your speed, teens need to be actively thinking asking themselves “Where are the speed limit signs? How fast am I going?”
Positive Begets Positive
Parents, I encourage you to also use this practice as your teaching your child. Plan your lessons and be intentional about what you’re going to teach them. Focus on your own patience so that your teen can maintain a positive mental image of the lessons. Be sure to review the lesson when you get back to your driveway before your teen jumps out of the car. Remember that the goal is to be a positive influence, so recall great choices your teen made during the lesson and compliment them.
To everyone, I encourage you to consider how you can “leave them better than you found them.” Is it taking the time to acknowledge a particular trait about a friend or colleague that you appreciate? Is it sharing a valuable piece of wisdom? Is it noticing when someone is upset and asking how they’re doing? Take time to slow down and notice the people around you, and you will naturally become interested in their well-being.
A life may be long, but it’s made up of millions of little moments along the way. How are you making each of those moments count? I invite you to let this quote from the talented Maya Angelou inspire you: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”