Why People Pleasers Get Hit By Trains

In the hit film Inception Leonardo DiCaprio plays a man who can enter peoples’ dreams to steal corporate secrets. At one point (spoiler coming) he enters a businessman’s dream and is driving down a city street in a parade of cars when a 300-ton freight train juggernauts out of a side road and smashes into the lead car taking vehicles, asphalt and everything else with it….

If you are a people pleaser, then not only are you in a dream-world where you think others control you, but you are also in that lead car. And each time you give in to someone and compromise your dreams you get hit…hard.

In this article I’m going to introduce several ‘truths’ about the mindset that leads to people pleasing, the repercussions, and what you can do about it to keep yourself ‘on track’ (and the trains decommissioned or left in the sidings).

Truth 1:

It’s your train

Train, of course, is a metaphor for negative, unhelpful attitudes, beliefs and thinking patterns which ‘derail you’ from your chosen course of action. But unlike British Rail, or the New York Metro, you actually own these ‘trains’. I know it seems that they just career out of no-where and smash into your conscious but all that’s about to change. It’s time to apply the emergency break!

Try stepping back (mentally) and asking yourself:

  • Do I have to tolerate this thinking pattern any longer than necessary?
  • How long before I step up and take control of what I already own?
  • Am I’m willing to claim ownership now?

‘People pleasing’ often comes from believing that other people have more authority than you; that when it comes down to the deciding vote between you and them – they have the final say. This is a thinking process often referred to as a meta-program – a set of instructions that operate meta – above’ – what you are consciously aware of. You can become aware of them, but most people don’t.

So unless you have taken ownership of your ‘train’ it will continue to ‘hit you’ without you knowing where or when to expect it.

Think of it this way. When you have a problem with someone else, when you call them a bully or an enemy your problem is not just with them. It is with your concept of them. You are classifying them and rejecting them according to your mental model of how they are behaving. Geddit?

Therefore, you have the power to reclassify people in your head. Recently, I decided I would not use the concept ‘enemy’ any more as it prevented me from looking at the situation objectively (I know all perception is subjective, but it helps me to think this way!)

As I did this, I remembered something I’d been taught: “People are not the problem, it’s the frames….” And remembering that all that stands between us is a difference of opinion and as a difference opinion doesn’t necessarily make someone ‘evil’ or someone to avoid, I feel a lot freer in my head. And I don’t hear the sound of a train approaching…!

Truth 2:

Runaway trains do damage all along the line

If you’ve ever seen a thriller with a runaway train then the destruction is often caused not just at the end (when the train inevitably goes off a cliff or bridge, or crashes through a station) but also along the line, hitting cars, level crossings and various other objects it comes into contact with.

It’s not just at the time you give in to others that the train hits you. Each time you say “Ok Frank, I’ll do it your way” you take a bashing to your self-confidence (btw – the ‘fidence’ in confidence comes from fidelity and means faith/truth in – so confidence refers to your ‘faith in’ something) and increase your reliance on others.

This means, further down the life-line, you’ll have grown less and less confident in your own ability to decide for yourself. This may lead to a lowering of self-esteem and even a questioning of your personal identity.

“Why aren’t I man enough to stand up to them?”

“I’m just a weak woman and I hate myself for it.”

Ask yourself:

“Am I prepared to put up with the long term consequences of doing what others want when it’s not what I want?”


Truth 3

There are other people on the train that hit you (and they don’t even know it)

And, sorry to say – you put them there. These are people you have given authority to boss you around, and then claim you can’t do anything about it.

Remember, it’s your train.

Leaving the train metaphor aside, a great way to find out where these people are (in your head) is to use the Social Panorama model. This is an NLP model that helps you understand how to move people around or shrink them down so they don’t bother you so much. There’s a book called the Social Panorama which teaches you about it, and there’s information on the internet that’ll get you started.

Question: Who put you in charge of me?

Truth 4:

There is no Train

It’s true. It’s all in your head. Just as there is no spoon, there is no train.

The last truly great dream-world film was the Matrix (also good is the 13th Floor, 1999) where humanity was locked into a computer-generated illusion and didn’t know it. Those who broke free could re-enter the Matrix with the power to bend and break the rules of the system, and fight the Agents of the system that originally seemed undefeatable.

In real life, those Matrix rules are the mental rules you live by. These are the rules of society you have consciously or unconsciously adopted. When you change the rules, you change the game, right? If you take the ladders out of snakes and ladders, it’s a whole different game…! If you tackle the key ideas that make up your train, you can make it fall apart in a matter of minutes. A great coach can help you do this, or you could start with a book like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by Avy Joseph which is not really about therapy but absolutely superb for busting beliefs.


Simple. You just stand in front of it and shout stop with every bit of refusal and aggression you can manage. I know you fear you’ll get pasted across the windscreen like a bug or crushed under the wheels but that’s just the way your mind works. It’s not real, remember. Repeat that as it approaches…it’s not real…it’s not real.

To dissipate the train, you just need to decide that it’s not a train (problem) any more OR that you’re not going to let it run on your mental tracks. You are the Fat Controller (only Thomas fans will get that one.)

Rise up in your mind to a place where you feel you could make a good decision from (or have made a good decision in the past). Then ask yourself if you’d eat a plate of squirming maggots in rancid flesh. Feeling the NO WAY? Then take that feeling and apply it to your ‘thought-train’. Again and again until that thought breaks up and feels like it’s not an issue any more.

This is a real technique known as the meta-no technique and is a staple belief change of the field of Neurosemantics

To summarize…

Obviously I have used a metaphor to suggest that letting others run your brain for you is unhealthy, and an illusion at best. It’s not easy to challenge what feels so real in your own neurology but seriously, for the sake of your dreams and sanity I urge you to give it a go. Here’s a hint: don’t wait until you feel strong enough to do it because you probably never will.

And if you need help scrapping your train, contact me.

To your highest and best,

Doug Cartwright

Doug is a Meta-Coach in the field of Neurosemantics and has been helping professional career clients ‘live their words’ for the last few years. If you are interested in finding out more, visit www.livingwords.net or for his latest product (for the outrageous price of £10) which is called The Personal PowerPack (self-esteem and confidence building) go to www.personal-powerpack.com

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. 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.