As part of our campaign to #BREAKFREE from other people's opinions, we researched five foolproof tricks to stop people pleasing
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
Hands up if you’ve ever said, ‘sorry, can I just’, ‘I’m just emailing because…’ or ‘excuse me, do you have a minute’?
Now put your hands down, and just… stop, says businesswoman and former Google Executive, Ellen Petry Leanse. ‘I realised I was hearing ‘just’ three or four times more frequently from women than men,’ she says. ‘It was a permission word… a subtle message of subordination, of deference’. Apologising in advance or prefacing a question with a self-detrimental remark (‘can I ask a stupid question’ and ‘this is probably a bit blonde, but…’) has the same effect.
Body language also plays a big role in boosting confidence. Stand up straight and look at the person you’re talking to in the eye. According to research by Harvard University, ‘power posing’ every day releases testosterone and reduces cortisol (which impacts our levels of anxiety), vastly improving men and women’s performance. As if we needed another excuse to channel our inner Beyoncé.
STOP THE PEOPLE
Brooklyn-based Sarah Knight is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like, Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do. It’s a tongue-twister of a title, but Knight promotes adopting the two-step #notsorry approach to reduce the amount of people pleasing that you do. Step one: decide what you don’t give a f*ck about. And step two: then don’t give a f*ck. Set your own boundaries and stick to them.
Knight has taken to turning down invites with gusto (without making elaborate excuses), and wears her pyjamas to the supermarket if she feels like it. Top of her list of things she no longer cares about is ‘what other people think… all anxiety stems from here’.
We are more connected to the world than we ever were before and there is rarely an escape. For young people in particular, this has put them at a greater risk of cyber bullying, sexual exploitation, and objectification. Even if you reckon you’re safe online, real-life relationships can also suffer, as we spend more and more time online with our ‘connections’, rather than real friends.
Julie Spira, author of The Rules of Netiquette, was the first to suggest that this has given breed to a new kind of stress in our lives: Social Media Anxiety Disorder. Telltale signs include being permanently attached to your mobile, constantly checking for updates, and feeling depressed if you lose followers.
Break the cycle by trying to limit your usage of social media to once a day, or even a few times a week. If nothing else, don’t log on late at night. The University of Glasgow found that nighttime use in particular contributed to poor sleep quality, lower self-esteem and higher anxiety levels.
LOOK TO YOURSELF
Take time to tune in to who you are, what you’re good at and what you like about yourself. Mindfulness and meditation are not for everyone but even a quiet 30 minutes with a pen and a blank piece of paper can be productive. What skills do you have? What do you know? What do you bring to your career, relationship, friendships, and community?
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Now think about what you need. What makes you feel fulfilled? How can you have more of that? What changes do you need to make in your life? If you’re finding it difficult, imagine you are thinking about a friend.
By fulfilling your own needs, you will find yourself looking to others less frequently to make you happy. As the old dating adage goes: ‘plant your own gardens and decorate your own soul, rather than waiting for someone to bring you flowers.’ (That’s Jorge Luis Borges, from the poem You Learn, by the way.)
LET IT GO
Ok, we’re all a bit sick of that song now, but the sentiment behind it is important. Let go of the guilt – you’re not perfect, and that’s OK. Let go of what you can’t control – which is pretty much everything that is not you and your own actions. Now let go of what you can’t rationalise or understand – build a mental box labelled ‘I don’t get that’ and fill it.
You are the centre of your own universe, but are unlikely to play as big a role in anyone else’s. That drunken text you sent at 3am? Probably already forgotten.
Maintain perspective and do something active, like going for a walk or to the gym to distract yourself if you realise you’re over obsessing about someone else’s opinion. Sherry Argov, author of Why Men Love Bitches, puts it well: ‘At the end of the day, happiness, joy… and yes… your emotional stability… those comprise the only measuring stick you really need to have.’
Find out more about our #BREAKFREE campaign here.
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