Want to live life as your most authentic self and stop worrying about what other people think? You can, by following 10 simple guidelines.
1. Learn to recognize people-pleasing behavior
Distinguish the difference between being helpful and being a people-pleaser. Helping people is good; it's healthy and makes you a nice person. People-pleasing is different. When you sacrifice what you want to make everyone else happy, it makes you a victim. As this ABC news story points out, people-pleasers are the biggest targets of bullying, particularly in adulthood when bullying becomes subtler and more manipulative.
2. Accept the reality
Sometimes any course of action will upset someone, so choose to do what's right for you as often as possible. You really can't please all the people all the time, so you may as well please yourself most of the time.
It's easy to spiral into self-doubt when you're under criticism, especially when you weren't that sure of yourself to start with. Learn to research your options and keep your own counsel. Develop the discipline to keep your decisions to yourself until you've really weighed the pros and cons and are sure of your choice. That way you'll be prepared to defend your decision, and be well-informed enough to stay confident if people pressure you to change your mind.
4. Set your priorities
Decide what matters to you and those closest to you. Define your top priorities and most important values, then live them. It's easier to stay true to yourself and not be influenced by the crowd if it's your deep-seated, well-thought-out priorities and values versus their opinion.
5. Remember it's not about you
People's opinions of you and reactions to your choices are just that: opinions and reactions. Often, it's all about them and has very little to do with you. People who have their lives together don't tend to spend all their time criticizing others. Some people just need to take this snippet of advice from H Jackson Brown, Jr:
"Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others"
6. Don't over-estimate your own importance
Ironically many people-pleasers lack confidence but still over-estimate the impact they have on other people.
Susan Newman, the author of The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It - And Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever, points out that usually after you say no to a request, the other person is more focused on who they'll be asking for help next than your so-called betrayal.
You're rarely someone's only option. The impact of not doing what others want is often much smaller than we think it is.
7. Beware of 'reflectors'
It took me a long time to realize this, but when people say, 'you can't do that' they almost always mean 'I can't do that'. If you've come up with a plan, researched it and made a decision, you're a lot better placed to know if you can do it than someone else is. A lot of negative reactions are based on where the other person is in their life right now - they're irrelevant to where you are.
8. Focus on living your best life
Particularly when it comes to your wider circle of acquaintances, you have to eventually get to a point where you just don't care what they think of you. Focus on you and yours. Live your best life and nurture what's in front of you.
No is a complete sentence. Sometimes it's appropriate to add 'thank you' but you don't need to add a list of excuses. It's OK to say no to something for no reason other than you don't want to do it. Add a little humor when appropriate. Try saying, 'Thanks for inviting me, but that sounds like my worst nightmare,' or 'I would, but I really don't want to.' It's fine to have your own likes and dislikes. Not everyone enjoys big parties, or fancy dinners or fly fishing.
10. Be proactive
Offer to help in a way that works for you. Name the day you can come and help paint your friend's bedroom or suggest the dish you'll bring to the pot luck. This way you're being helpful without always having to cooperate with other people and their pre-planned arrangements.
Becoming your own person doesn't mean you can't be pleasant, helpful and cooperative - it just means you get to do it on your own terms.