I’m a recovering people-pleaser and I know the recovery will take a lifetime. Why do we care about pleasing other people so much? In short, we want to be liked. We wanted to be accepted. And we don’t want other people to think badly of us. It’s a vicious, never-ending way of life, because people are always going to ask things of us. Always. “Could you babysit Friday night?” “Do you want to make cookies for the school bake sale?” “Want to come to my destination bachelorette?”
Martha Beck said something wonderful that struck a chord with me a long time ago: “When it comes to saying yes or no, choose the answer that feels like freedom.” If you’re resentful, overscheduled, and stuck driving a friend to the airport on Sunday morning when you’d really love to be sleeping in instead, you don’t feel very free.
And I get ya… and I’ve got ya! Here’s how you can stop being such a people-pleaser (and still be nice):
Next time someone texts or emails a request, wait to reply. Force yourself to delay your response (even if it’s going to be an eventual yes). We show people how to treat us. And train them on what to expect from us. Immediate replies are conducive to an on-demand human. And that’s not what you are. You are not a slave or a robot. Wait up to 24 hours if you can!
2. Provide an alternative.
There is an old saying that “no is a complete sentence.” And it’s true. But for those of us who want to soften a no, instead of giving an excuse (I’d love to but my cat’s sick and I have a migraine and the cable guy is coming over and I think my mother-in-law is going to need me… ”) you can, instead, provide an alternative. It’s more useful too!
Something like, “I’d love help you pick out a new sofa Saturday but can’t this weekend. Renee has an excellent eye for interior design, and she lives near a Restoration Hardware!” is much more helpful.
3. Realize you have a choice.
More times than we think, we can say no. It’s easy to believe, “Oh, but I can’t say no to Laura. She bought me a concert ticket this summer,” or “But I must impress my new boss. I have to take on this extracurricular project to impress her.”
Pause for a second when a choice comes up that feels uncomfortable. Then do like Martha and decide if, ultimately, a yes or no feels like freedom—and choose that. Even though it doesn't always seem like it, you have more choices than you think.
4. K(no)w it gets easier.
Saying no is a muscle. The more you do it, the more used to it you become and—here’s the kicker!—the less people expect from you. Once you say you are unavailable, unreachable, unmanipulatable a few times, people stop asking so much from you. The irony? They can even respect, and like, you more because of it. We naturally treat people the way they treat themselves and those people who respect and honor their time? Well. We follow suit.
5. Recognize that you can’t please everybody.
And exhale. In his best-selling book Essentialism, Greg McKewon writes, “We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agendas to control our lives... If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”
Other people will always control our agendas, our calendars, our lives, if we let them. And that’s a recipe for misery because we have more than one person in our life. We have our family, friends, colleagues, college alumni, community leaders, pets, neighbors, hairdresser (the list goes on!) to please.
The only way to have a sane life is to know that you can’t please everyone, ever, so please yourself. As you can’t pour from an empty cup, know that “doing you” is a better decision for everyone in your life. Because a positive life experience begins and ends with you.
When making a decision, author and inspirational speaker Danielle LaPorte talks about experiencing a full-body yes. You know the feeling. When you jump at something, feel ease at doing a task, enjoy the eager expectation of getting something done. That’s pleasing yourself, my friend. And a rich, fulfilling life has lots of those yeses—and plenty of loving nos.
Susie Moore is Greatist's life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!