As a mind coach, I have encountered many people who feel stressed, anxious or feelings of guilt, due to people pleasing. So what is people pleasing? People pleasing can be defined as constantly placing other people’s agenda before our own. Ofcourse it is admirable to help others, but when it starts affecting our own emotional wellbeing, something has to give. 

I distinctly remember working with a client who felt that she was constantly drained, had no time for herself, and was always playing catchup with life. This had impacted on her relationship, with her partner finally leaving her. 

She described her house as akin to a bus station. People were always stopping by on the way somewhere. They would chat, tell her their troubles, drink her coffee and then leave. She felt that she did not have the will power to turn friends or family away. It made her feel guilty. She had though now started to feel resentful. There was no time for herself, her children were misbehaving and life seemed out of control. Things like domestic housework were impossible to do, and she continually felt overwhelmed. Inside she felt like screaming.

I described to her a technique which could help refocus her mind. This would involve her having to focus on one particular word. The word she was to focus on was the word ‘ruthless’. When we think of the word ‘ruthless’, it portrays a negative meaning. However in this instance it can be applied to oneself. 

What are the two greatest resources that we have? Time and energy. However when we ‘people please’ these become used up, leaving us with a lack of both. What if you could preserve your time and energy? Protect them? By focussing on the word ‘ruthless’, you are training your mind to guard your time and energy. (Remember: people pleasing can rob you of both.)

Here are the steps to implement it in everyday life

  1. Write out the word ‘RUTHLESS’ on a post it note, and place it by your bedside, preferably where you can see it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. You need to see it for it to ‘sink in’. If you can imagine that everything that you have ever learnt is by repetition, this is a very fast way of installing it into your mental vocabulary. 
  2. Place a post it note in your bathroom and in your purse or wallet. That way you will always be reminded of it. 
  3. There will be times when you are asked to do things for others which your ‘people pleasing self’ will want to accede to. It is at these times you will be remembering the word ‘ruthless’.
  4. Let me get back to you.’ – Often we are asked by someone else for a favour or to do something which normally we will say ‘yes’ to. Give yourself some wiggle room. Instead of flat out saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’, just use the words ‘Let me get back to you.’ or something equivalent to this. Try it. It works very well! You then have the time to weigh up whether saying ‘yes’ would be akin to people pleasing. 
  5. If a friend would like to see you, and would like to come over your place, suggest a coffee shop instead, with a pre-determined time (I recommend 1 hour) so that you have the freedom to leave. There’s nothing worse than someone coming over your house and over staying their welcome. This can cause undue annoyance, stress and anxiety to the host! This is a great way of you regaining control of your time.
  6. Repeat this mantra daily ‘I choose to be ruthless with my time and energy.’ What it will do is train your mind to focus on your time and energy being precious to you. This constant reinforcement will form a new habit in around 66 days (University College London 2009 Phillippa Lally et al). 

 Within weeks of starting the ‘ruthless’ approach to time and energy, the client noticed that people became more respectful of her time, and some stopped asking her for ‘favours’. Not only did she feel that life appeared more calm and peaceful at night, but she felt her self esteem had started to grow. She felt good about herself. By respecting and protecting her own time and energy, other people had started to respect it too.