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How to stop your people-pleasing behavior from limiting your success

Continually saying “yes” to others’ demands can become an addiction.

How to stop your people-pleasing behavior from limiting your success
[Photo: Hybrid/Unsplash]

We all want to be liked by our friends, family, and coworkers, but if you’re constantly putting the wishes of others ahead of your own wants and needs, you may fall into the category of being a people pleaser.

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“While genuinely caring for others is an admirable trait, people-pleasing goes one step further, resulting in behaviors that may be detrimental to both our mental and physical health,” says Dr. Jeff Nalin, a clinical psychologist and the founder and chief clinical officer of Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center.

Continually saying “yes” to others’ demands, Nalin says, can become an addiction. “Yes” becomes an impulsive reaction. For many people pleasers, their self-validation hinges on what other think of them. They fear what others will think of them if they say no and try to avoid rejection at all costs.

But saying “yes” to every demand leads to more people asking for more. People pleasers can find their days consumed by fulfilling the demands of others to the point where they don’t have time left to do the things that are important to them personally. This can prevent them from moving forward in their own lives.

If you’re a people pleaser, try these tips to get unstuck and start taking back control of your life.

Set boundaries

Examine the tasks that you do daily, and evaluate which ones are your biggest energy drainers. Ask yourself how the task makes you feel and whether it has a positive or negative impact on your life. Ensuring that those priorities are communicated both to yourself and others can help you to set boundaries around how you use your time. “By clarifying priorities and making better use of their schedules, people pleasers can regain control and alleviate the burden that comes from taking on too much,” says Nalin.

Practice saying “no”

If you struggle with saying “no,” practice by saying “no” to little things. When the waiter asks if you want to add fries to your meal, saying “no” isn’t going to affect how they feel about you as a person, so that’s an easy “no.” Then move on to declining that birthday party invitation, or the request to take on someone else’s work when you’re already overwhelmed by your own.

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“If you practice saying ‘no’ about very small things that are easier to say ‘no’ to, you build up a tolerance and learn to set appropriate boundaries when faced with more difficult situations,” says Nalin. You may at first get pushback from family and friends who are surprised to hear you turn them down, but over time, they will come to understand what fits your priorities.

Recognize that you aren’t being selfish

Putting an end to people-pleasing behaviors doesn’t mean you stop doing things for others; it just means putting a stop to doing things for others because you feel you should, or for fear of being rejected if you don’t. Choosing to spend your time focused on things that are in alignment with your priorities is not selfish. Before saying “yes” or “no” to a request, ask if it aligns with your priorities. Are you doing it because you feel you “have to” in order to gain someone else’s approval, or are you doing it because you want to and because it’s good for you, too?

Look for inward satisfaction

One of the most important steps to overcoming people-pleasing behaviors is to shift your focus to inner satisfaction rather than looking to the outside world for approval and validation. People pleasers often have difficulty finding satisfaction in their own accomplishments and turn to friends, family, social media, and the outside world for that validation. “When people learn to love themselves, they will automatically shift their mindset from one that yearns for third-party validation to one that thrives on self-love,” says Nalin. If you have trouble recognizing your own accomplishments, try keeping a journal to track your personal successes and remind yourself of them often. Once you can achieve self-validation, the need to please others will lessen.

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About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction

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