“You’re not the boss of me,” is what kids say when they don’t like being told what to do. While it may not be something we’d say as an adult, it is important to be aware of when we are allowing too many people to tell us what to do and direct our lives.
To make others happy, we often say yes to things we don’t have time for, or which don’t support our priorities. Then when we’re asked to do something for an administrator or which we want to do, we’re stressed because there’s already too much on our plates. How often do we say yes because we’re worried about what others will think if we say no – and what’s the cost to us when we do it?
Why do we worry so much about what other people think of us? If we are living our lives based on our values and principles, our actions and choices speak for themselves. Those who judge us should not matter. But somehow, they do. It can make us compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking. Or keeps us from setting boundaries because the opinion people have of us matter more than our wants and needs.
In The Trap of Caring Too Much about What Other People Think, Gregg Vanourek says, “Life is too precious and short to let others determine our path.” People pleasing is a trap many of us fall into. He offers eight tips to prevent what he refers to as “the downward spiral.”
- Acquire more self-awareness – What is your heart and mind telling you to do? Your inner voice when you are not letting it criticize you, knows the truth. When you hear your thoughts say “no, I can’t” don’t say “sure, no problem.”
- Develop clear and compelling personal purposes, values, and vision – You have them for your library. You need them for your life. Who are you? What do you want to accomplish in your life and be remembered for? Write these down if it helps and refer to them before taking on anything new – in or out of work.
- Cultivate self-acceptance – Talk to yourself the way you would speak to a good friend who is dealing with whatever is happening in your life. You certainly wouldn’t criticize or only point out what they’re doing wrong. Self-compassion goes a long way when setting healthy boundaries.
- Take time before saying yes – New tasks always take more time than predicted. Before saying yes, go through tips one and two. Be aware of what you can do and if the new requet first with your purpose, values, and vision. If it doesn’t, say no. (For help with this – you can read my blog post on this topic.)
- Gain perspective – How important is their opinion in the overall scheme of things? In the long run, will it matter? In the moment, it can feel very important, but when you stop and think (see point #4), you’ll likely realize you’re reacting out habit and not out of an active choice to do something that works for you.
- Experiment with experiencing disapproval – Vanourek suggests mentally picturing what would happen if others disapproved of your choice or action. Does it feel less right because of them? Or do you see how the choice represented who you are? It’s important to separate feelings about others from the feelings we want to have about our decisions.
- Notice how people may respect us for setting boundaries – A favorite phrase of mine is, “If you act like a doormat, people step on you.” It goes well with, “We teach people how to treat us.” When you are clear about what you will and won’t do, your communication carries that message and is invariably respected. And people are less likely to comeback and step on your again in the future.
- Imagine and pursue the freedom on the other side of this mental block – In the moment, it’s hard to keep a boundary, but think about how you will feel after. It will likely feel as though a weight has been lifted. There is a huge difference between what we do for others because it’s who we are and what we believe in, and what we do because we fear the criticism or judgement of others.
It’s important that we take responsibility for our choices and not let the responses of others be our primary motivation for making those choices. Setting and keeping boundaries allows you to have more of the life and career you want. You’ll be known for saying yes with clarity and you’ll be doing more of what you want. There will be mistakes and successes, but they will be truly yours.