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How People Pleasers Can Learn To Love Saying No (In 90 Days Or Less)
Are You A People Pleaser?
Do you consider yourself a people pleaser?
If you’re unsure, try out the following questions:
Do you rarely if ever say no, and often hide from other’s that you’re going out of your way for them?
Do you repress your own needs for fear of being inconvenient or getting rejected?
Do you often feel that your relationships are “one sided”, with you making most of the sacrifices?
Do you ever get so frustrated that you “blow up” on people, dumping weeks or months of unexpressed desires all at once?
Do you ever have relationships that repeat this cycle over and over until one party just gives up and ends it?
If you answered yes to one or more than these, you likely struggle with people pleasing, and this article is for you.
Personally, I did all of these to the max in every friend, intimate, or business relationship for my whole life until my mid twenties.
Several times things got so bad that I’d mostly cut out all my friends and family and relied solely on whatever dysfunctional enmeshed intimate relationship I was in at the time until that too collapsed, leaving me with no social support at all.
It wasn't until the 3rd time all of my relationships fell like a house of cards that I finally read No More Mr Nice Guy and When I Say No I Feel Guilty (among several other books on codependency, assertiveness, love addiction, healing inner child, etc) that I finally started to understand how my incessant need to never upset anyone nor “get rejected” was to blame for most of my relationship problems.
Through years of therapy, journalling, reading, and practicing, I have finally solved this problem, and am now considered by most who know me one of the best relational communicators and most assertive people they know (to the point that anyone who didn’t know me back then finds it hard to believe I was such a pushover).
Now I don’t expect many others to have the problem this bad, but let my story simply be an inspiration that:
anyone who struggles with people pleasing, lopsided relationships, and sacrificing themselves for others’ convenience, no matter how bad, can become healthy and effective communicators who get their needs met.
How To Fix It
There are dozens of strategies you can and should use to improve your people pleasing problem (therapy as well as the above books are definitely recommended), however today I’ll be sharing just my favorite one.
This technique is my favorite because it:
Allows you to make consistent daily progress in only a few minutes a day.
Is extremely flexible and malleable to your current struggles and skill level.
Automatically scales as your situation or skill level improve.
Has consistently provided the best results in my coaching of agreeable people.
Does all of this in less than a sentence.
Sounds cool right? The technique is simply this:
Say “No” to one thing per day that you otherwise would have said “yes” to.
A couple important notes on this:
Anything which feels scary and may inconvenience someone else counts as a “No”. For example you say “yes” when you let someone insult you without calling them out. Speaking up and saying something this time is totally a “No”.
The scalability lies in the “otherwise would have said yes” part. As you say “No” more, you will start to get more comfortable with it, and that “level” will start to become easy. You’ll then become inspired by your progress, and want to “level up” with harder No’s to continue challenge yourself.
You only have to pick one per day. Pick something that is challenging, but not terrifying. It should be 10-20% out of your comfort zone, but not so much that you have to psyche yourself up too much to do it, but enough that it’s not something you would naturally do.
Ensure Your Success
Some additional tips to improve your rate of progress and sustainability:
Commit to it for 30-90 days. You’re right that there is no value in doing this just once. You need saying No to become a part of your personality. That means small change, consistently, over time.
Make a daily reminder and somewhere to check off your success. A daily phone reminder, an item on your to do list, or even a spreadsheet or habit tracker to remind yourself and reward yourself is crucial to gaining and sustaining momentum.
Reward yourself big time when you succeed. Every day you successfully complete your No, reward yourself with something. A hobby, a movie, some ice cream, some video games, it’s up to you. Just make sure your brain finds every day you do this a net-positive experience.
Procrastination means you’re pushing too hard. 1% better every day for 90 days is better than 10% better every day for 5 days and then giving up. If you notice yourself procrastinating, you’re overthinking it and trying to push yourself too hard. Dial it back, and focus on building momentum.
Know that the start will be the hardest. You’ve conditioned everyone around you, likely over years if not decades, that you will say yes to everything, and no one likes unexpected change Further, you are going to screw up and make mistakes because you’re new to this. That’s okay.. Be patient. Over time you will gain momentum and confidence and people will get used to your new behavior.
Below are some examples from easiest to hardest to help get your creative juices flowing.
Say No As A Joke. If you really struggle to say no, you might have to start with just saying No as a joke or sarcastically. “No that sounds horrible” with a smile on your face and then “yes of course I’ll go” is progress over a straight up “yes”.
Create Barriers. Another great tool when you are just getting started. Wear headphones while you work. Work elsewhere. Schedule your days ahead of time. Etc. Be careful with this one as it can definitely be used as a crutch to avoid real confrontation and can also come off as passive aggressive.
Be Less “Fake”. People pleasers naturally struggle to let negative emotion show in any way, because negative feelings are inconvenient to others. Simply making an effort to be 10% more open about when you don’t like something is totally a “No, I won’t hide myself for your convenience”.
Ask Others To Wait. Say someone comes up to you at work and you’re in the middle of something: you don’t need to pick “yes” or “no”. Instead try “Yes definitely. Let me just finish this and I’ll be over in 5 minutes.” Similarly, if someone calls or texts you and you’re in the middle of something, don’t pick up and just get back to them in 5-10 minutes when you’re done.
“Let Me See What I Can Do”. One of the best phrases in the assertive person’s tool set. People don’t always need their needs met, they just need to feel heard. “Let me see what I can do” shows them that they matter and that you are putting in effort. This has the bonus effect of not committing to anything that you are unsure you can meet.
Say No, Then Say Yes. Just saying No is progress, even if you ultimately say yes. If you say “No I cant” and then they plead, or convince you otherwise, you can say yes. Just like in the IKEA effect, the fact that they had to work for it will cause them to appreciate and respect your “yes” more.
Ignore or Redirect. If someone says something rude or unfunny, you are encouraging the behavior when you laugh at or engage with it. Sometimes it is best to just ignore the question or statement and redirect the conversation elsewhere. Obviously, be tactful with this or you’ll look like a jerk.
There are of course dozens more ways of saying “No” that aren’t listed here so feel free to experiment and get creative. The key is simply that you set a boundary or stand up for yourself in some way you otherwise would have let slide, consistently over time.
Remember: Start easy and slowly work your way up—be more focused on your current trajectory than your current results. This isn’t about any one-off situation, but instead about making the rest of your life one in which you healthfully communicate your needs.
If you can nail this balance and maintain to for even 30 days, I am certain you can make more progress with this technique than any you’ve ever used before.
Bump this up to 90 days, and at the end of it, you’ll be unrecognizable in your ability to be an assertive, communication bad ass.