The One Habit That's Hindering Your Health (and Happiness)

Updated 10/04/17
stop being a people pleaser—pushover
Christian Vierig /Contributor

Has saying yes become a bad habit? If you’re not sure, then ask yourself how you feel when you say it. Do you feel good, or are you gritting your teeth and cursing on the inside for not saying no? The difference here is crucial. Either you’re saying yes out of the goodness of your heart because you really want to help, or you’re doing it because you want everyone around you to be happy (even at your own expense). 

If it’s the latter, then you fit into the people-pleaser category. Don’t worry—you’re not alone. As a working mom, I know all about putting everyone else’s interests before my own. It’s a habitual ritual that I’m more than ready to ditch. Why? It’s ruining my health and happiness. But in all honesty, it’s almost become an addiction. It feels good to be needed, but more importantly, I worry how others will view me if I say no. That disappointment is a heavy burden to bear. I want to be nice and for others to like me, but at what personal cost? No one wants to be considered a pushover. 

But here’s the thing: You’ll actually earn more respect when you politely decline. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s the truth. According to Susan Newman, Ph.D., a New Jersey–based social psychologist and author of The Book of No, “You can make yourself sick from doing too much.” She told PsychCentral, “In the worst case scenario, you’ll wake up and find yourself depressed, because you’re on such overload,” she said. You can’t do it all, so here are simple ways you can quit today or start trying.

You might think this is an easy one, but saying no is harder than it looks, especially when it means saying no to your boss or declining a friend’s invitation. Here’s a tip—remember why you’re doing it. There’s a good reason you are; because you’re worth it. This is quality time you can spend with yourself or the people you really want to help. It might not come easily at first, but soon enough you’ll be “singing the praises of a well-considered no,” just like MyDomaine lifestyle editor, Sophie Miura.

“When yes is your career catchphrase, it can be scary to say no,” she wrote. “I’d become known as the girl who responded to emails in the middle of the night and dropped by the office on weekends. Would my boss see this change in attitude as an issue? Overcoming the need to be liked is one of the biggest challenges.” So it’s time to ditch the “cult of likability” and start putting yourself first.

William Ury The Power of a Positive No $13
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Ask yourself this question: How are you going to be of use to the people who really matter (including you) if you’re not happy and healthy? The quick answer is that you’re not. Once we start to lose track of our own needs, dreams, and personal joy, we begin to lose sight of the things that matter most. And you should be at the top of that list of priorities. It is possible to change your life, but the choice is yours. Are you ready to start saying no and be yourself? Perhaps some life advice from our favorite hilarious women will give you the strength you need to push boundaries and speak your truth once and for all.

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How long have you been pleasing people? If you really want to quit the habit, then take a look back and think about where it’s coming from. When did it start? Why? Or as Susan Biali, MD, wrote in Psychology Today, “How did you get the idea that you had to accommodate the needs of others more than your own? As a child, I got a lot of approval for being ‘mature’ and really helpful. I got addicted to approval early on, and people-pleasing is an obvious (though yucky) way to try to get that. I also fear that if I don’t go along with what others want they’ll reject me.”

Take the time to reflect and recognize things from your past that might be affecting you now. If you can’t seem to recall anything, try journaling

Harriet B. Braiker The Disease to Please $11
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If there’s one word all women should stop saying, it’s sorry. Let’s take a quick test: How many times have you said the phrase “sorry” just this morning? It might be tricky to think back (and you might not recall all of them), but perhaps just take the time to have awareness around it from this point on. You might surprise yourself at how many times it’s uttered in one day.

And Lena Dunham agrees. In fact, she urges us to jump on that anti-apology bandwagon. “Apologizing is a modern plague, and I’d be willing to bet (though I have zero scientific research to back this up) that many women utter ‘I’m sorry’ more on a given day than ‘Thank you’ and ‘You’re welcome’ combined,” wrote Dunham in an op-ed for the Huffington Post. “But what do you replace sorry with? Well for starters, you can replace it with an actual expression of your needs and desires. And it turns out when you express what you want (without a canned and insincere apology) everyone benefits.” Does this sound like you too? We think it’s time to retire this apologetic attitude once and for all.

Naya Rivera Sorry Not Sorry $11
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Are you a people-pleaser at work? Do you say yes to everything your boss asks you? Or are you a mom people-pleaser like me who fears that asking for help with the kids is like admitting you’re not competent to take care of them? Well, in case you haven’t heard the old phrase, here it is: It takes a village to raise a child. And that philosophy applies to so many other aspects of life. It takes a team to build a great company, for example. You need everybody working together in order for true greatness to occur. 

So this is your opportunity to delegate. If you’re overwhelmed by emails, assign some of your other tasks to a colleague. Have some important meetings coming up that coincide with school pickup times? Co-ordinate with a family member or friend to collect your child for a play date. You can’t be everything to everyone, so let go of that desire to please (or to be perfect) and ask for help. It’s okay to be vulnerable.

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If you’re a Type A personality (it’s okay, we’re raising our hands too), you’ll sympathize with this one. We all want to attain that impossible state of perfection, but in reality, it’s really just not achievable. Or as my beloved cousin once told me, “Perfection is overrated”—ain’t that the truth? So stop reaching for impossible goals and set realistic ones that you know you can achieve. 

So what does that mean exactly? It means take baby steps. Don’t think your people-pleasing is going to stop overnight. Be aware of it, stop saying yes, start saying no, and be mindful of how much time you are leaving for yourself after you’ve taken care of everyone else. Notice how the people around you are asking for your help. Is it genuine or abusive? If you feel you’re being taken for granted, then make sure you end that chain of command or get help.

Brian Tracy No Excuses! $13
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As I mentioned in the introduction to this piece, I am continually fighting the urge to say yes and please those around me, from my family to my colleagues. It’s not easy to change a habit that’s been formed over many years. It’s going to take time but just know that you’re not the only one who’s battling with this urge to please. If you’re altruistic by nature, it will take time to recognize those moments. It all comes down to mindfulness. Be acutely aware of the people who surround you and the requests that come your way, then determine whether or not they’re genuine or taking advantage. You’ll figure it out. 

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Are you a people-pleaser? How do you say no when you really want to say yes? Share your tactics with us.

This post was originally published on October 4, 2017, and has since been updated.

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