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October 19, 2011 / mike54martin

How to Stop Being a “People Pleaser”

In my last post I offered a quiz to help you identify if you were a “people pleaser”. Not that you needed my little questionnaire to tell you about your own lifelong habit of helping people with little or no return. The real point is to help you get out of a life in the service of others (unless you are in the French Foreign Legion or have taken a vow of obedience) and to learn to serve yourself first.

Start Small to Make Big Changes

So where do we start? The same way you would you eat an elephant. By taking small bites out of a big problem. But every small step you take to stop being a doormat is a step in the right direction.

Make Yourself a Priority

Take the time to know yourself and to recognize your needs. First. Before you start thinking about she or he or they would like you to do, think about me, myself andI.Put yourself first for a change.

Think, Think, Think

Before you say yes, take the time, even a few seconds, to think about it. Then just before you agree, think again. One more time, just pause and think about whether you really want to do that thing for someone else. If the answer is yes, go ahead.

Just Say No

If you don’t really want to do something, then just say no. How hard can that be? You learned to say no at around 2 and a half and they’ve been trying to get you to stoop doing that ever since. Say it with me. No. No. No,

Re-establish Boundaries

Ah, boundaries. That’s where you end and I begin. Rediscover a new country, the country of YOU. You haven’t visited in a while. It’s the place where your needs and wants and dreams live. It’s a nice place. Make plans to visit often. Until you can learn to live here again.

Reward Success

When you do something good, like standing up for yourself, taking a small bite out of the elephant, or finally saying no, then give yourself a pat on the back. Better yet, buy yourself an ice cream, or a book, or a new pair of shoes. Acknowledge success so that you will be encouraged to keep going and get more.

Don’t Give Up

When you say yes when no was right on the tip of your tongue. Or when you put him or her or them first, again, don’t beat yourself up. The sovereign country of YOU wasn’t built in a day and you can’t change bad habits overnight. Get up off the mat, dust yourself off, and try again. Surely, but often slowly, you will get there.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of “Change the Things You Can” (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit:


Leave a Comment
  1. Alexis / Oct 22 2011 12:23 am

    Great post Mike. I have worked on this very issue with myself. Some of the things I’ve learned is to see how your service to others can serve you as well. Service is supposed to be a mutually beneficial act. When you can do it in a way that serves you both, instead of just over-extending yourself in order to please someone else, everyone ends up happy instead of the normal lopsided feeling. Also, finding ways to say no politely, like “That doesn’t work for me” or “Not right now, I will get back to you with a better option”… Something that will respect the request but respect yourself in the moment as well is better than just saying no or yes for that matter.

  2. Ann / Oct 22 2011 4:44 pm

    I used to go visit car dealerships to practice saying no. I knew that I would have more trouble with someone I knew so I went to places where I wouldn’t know the sales people. Boy, was it hard to say no in some of those high style, highly safe and useful cars; but they were also highly pricey for my budget.

  3. Steven E. Rice (@StevenERice) / Oct 23 2011 2:46 am

    Great tips on how to set appropriate boundaries in a healthy way and change behaviors that have enabled the lack of them previously. It is a difficult process…or can be…but the advice to start with small steps is key!

  4. Lanre / Oct 23 2011 3:43 pm

    I feel so guilty. I never really thought that trying to please others at my expense was so wrong. Trying to overcome such actions is not a days’ work, it’ll take time and practice. Like Alexis said, getting some form of benefit from what you do for others would do some good. Thanks for this post, I’ve got some self reforming to do.

  5. Jeannette Paladino / Oct 26 2011 3:42 am

    I think as professionals we can be too hard on ourselves. If something doesn’t work the first time, it must be me. But maybe it’s them! Forgive yourself if you make a mistake, and move on.

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