Being a people pleaser can become a soul draining habit. This is because, most people will be glad to walk all over you if you allow them that freedom.
Like any other limiting mentality, the people pleaser mentality arises out of a negative thought pattern in your subconscious mind. Such thought patterns generally develop from negative childhood experiences. For instance, a parent who was disapproving of you, who made you feel that you are not good enough.
Now, when your mind is conditioned with such limiting beliefs, you are automatically drawn to seek validation from others which lays the foundation for the people pleaser mentality.
If you believe there is a people pleaser in you, then you have already taken the first step towards overcoming this habit – you have recognized that you have this mentality. The next important step is to rewire your brain which is possible thanks to neuroplasticity – our brain’s awesome ability to discard old thought patterns and create new ones in its place.
Based on this premise, the following are some simple techniques that will help you rewire your brain and hence kick this limiting habit for good.
1. Become conscious of the negative thought pattern
Every mentality arises out of a thought pattern in your subconscious mind. A thought pattern is a neural network in your brain. Think of this thought pattern as a little entity of its own. It has existed and sustained itself over years of reinforcement.
The good news is that the brain has the power to change. It can discard old thought patterns and create new ones in its place. This ability of the brain is known as neuroplasticity.
So how can you make this change? Let’s find out.
The most important step in discarding a negative thought pattern is to become ‘aware’ of the thought pattern. When you become conscious of a thought pattern, it is no longer hiding away in the depths of your subconscious mind. Instead, you have brought it to the forefront for further questioning and examination. Think of this as catching a fugitive from their hideout!
Here’s a simple exercise to become conscious of negative thought patterns:
Sit comfortably, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Now bring to your mind a recent event where you felt obligated to say ‘yes’. Try to relive this moment in your mind. Now see if you can identify the thought pattern behind this action by asking yourself a series of ‘why’ questions.
For example, ‘why did I say yes?’ Listen to your answers consciously.
If you consciously analyze your answers, you will soon realize that these are just innocent beliefs that your mind picked up when you were still very young. You will realize that these beliefs might have helped you as a child to cope with the situation at hand, but as an adult these believes are baseless.
Also, as you ask these questions, you start getting familiarized with this thought pattern. The next step is to become familiarized with the emotion that this thought pattern generates in you.
2. Feel the thought-emotion connection
Every thought pattern has an underlying emotional response that is found in the body. Hence establishing the thought-emotion connections helps you understand the thought-pattern better.
Repeat the previous exercise (of reliving the moment), but now instead of focusing on the thought, divert all your attention to the feeling this thought generated in your body. Do you feel any sensations in your body? How do these sensations feel? where do you feel them? Is it in and around your heart, your gut area, your throat? Study this feeling as deeply as you can.
As you become conscious of this feeling, it will start to lose its grip on you. The next time you feel it, it will be much easier for you to deal with it as you are already conscious of it.
Also, now that you are conscious of the thought pattern and the associated emotion, it will be much easier for you to catch the thought pattern as it arises next time. You won’t be taken in by this thought pattern, instead you will have an option to be responsive rather than being reactive. You will no longer be compelled to say yes, but will have an option to think it through and say no.
3. Use affirmations
Affirmations are a great way to start reprogramming your negative thought patterns. You can simply listen to affirmations or say them out loud (or in your mind).
The following are examples of positive affirmations:
- I am perfect as I am; I don’t need anyone’s approval.
- It’s not important what others believe about me. It is only important what I believe about myself.
- I love and accept myself unconditionally.
- There is nothing that is too good for me. I deserve all the good that life has to offer.
- My happiness is not dependent on other people and it’s not up to me to make others happy.
- Today, I abandon my old habits and take up new, more positive ones.
- I am self-reliant, creative and persistent in whatever I do.
The best time to say these affirmations is right before you go to bed and as soon as you wake up in the morning.
4. Become a ‘NO’ person for sometime
A powerful way to change a thought pattern is to start doing things differently. Because you have been habituated to saying yes, the best way to discard this habit is to go to the other side of the spectrum and start saying NO . Do this on a day to day basis.
Every morning, say to yourself that you are your first priority and that you will say NO to things that do not appeal to you. If something does not feel right, you will say NO.
Sometimes you need to go to the other extreme in order to bring things back into balance.
5. Practice saying, ‘No’, with assertion
When you say no, you need to say it with a sense of assertiveness without sounding meek. Firstly, don’t feel obligated to give a reason to justify your answer. If you do that, you may come across as weak and the other person might try to pressurize you in other ways, making things more difficult. If you want, you can use a generic reasoning.
You can also visualize yourself saying ‘no’ with assertion.
Another way is to record yourself saying ‘no’ (rejecting a request) and listen to it over and over again until you get it right. Your tone needs to sound assertive, not necessarily arrogant. Don’t worry if you do not get it right the first few times, it will come with practice.
The human mind is a wonderful thing, it learns with practise and once it does, it starts becoming better.
6. Reassure your mind that you are not at fault
Because this is new territory, the first few times you say No, you will feel emotions of guilt that will make you feel bad. But don’t give into the emotion.
Understand that there is nothing outright good or bad in life and that everything is a matter of perspective.
Ask yourself, ‘why do I feel bad?’ The answer you might receive is,
‘I think I have hurt this person by saying no.’
‘This person can scheme against me and take revenge.’
‘This person will not respect me anymore.’
Reassure yourself that this person is an adult and needs to be mature enough to handle the hurt. It’s their problem that they took you for granted and expected you to reply with an affirmative. So if they feel hurt for that, then it’s not your fault.
Give yourself such reassuring suggestions whenever your mind throws up a guilt filled emotion.
7. Stay mindful of your attention
The more motivated we are to change, the more readily our brain discards negative thought patterns and replaces it with empowering ones. One of the most powerful things you can do to aid this positive change is to stay mindful of your attention.
If you find your attention focused on thoughts of worry that you have hurt someone, consciously refocus it on empowering thoughts. By not giving your attention to negative thought patterns, you are making these connections weak. This is how neuroplasticity works.
According to author and neuroscientist, Rick Hanson, “Neural Connections that are relatively inactive wither away”. This means, when you devoid a thought pattern of the unconscious attention and consciously divert your attention to positive thought patterns, the negative patterns tend to wither away.
Practicing focused meditation can be immensely helpful in this regard. It will help you stay more conscious of your attention thereby helping you gain more control over my attention.
As you do these exercises, you will find yourself becoming free from the people pleaser mentality along with other related limiting mentalities that hold you back. Because all these mentalities are connected, touching one thought pattern automatically starts to bring forth to your conscious vision other limiting thought patterns that you can also discard.
Finally, let me leave you with this empowering quote by Dr. Suess, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.