We all want to be nice. We all want to be liked. And we probably say yes more times than we want to get there.

 

Certainly, being liked has many advantages. When we feel liked, we also feel accepted, protected, and supported. And the desire to be liked is not exclusive to humans as many primate studies have demonstrated that primates also go to great lengths to maintain their social connections (de Wall, 2010).

 

Yet while pleasing others comes with many benefits, there is also a price we pay when we always say yes. Here are three hidden costs of trying to please everyone.

 

You Are Not True To Yourself. If you say yes in the moment and then later think, ‘I didn’t really want to say yes,’ you have just let your need to please someone else preempt your connection to yourself. Because while you probably did make someone else happy, you are suffering. That little frustration deep in the back of your mind tells you that there is a part of you that disagrees with your decision. And that part of you might be your need for the autonomy to say what you want to say. To be honest. To state your truth — regardless of the consequences.

 

Pleasing others can be as simple as agreeing to help someone while forgoing your own interests, or much larger — like putting off pursuing a degree because someone told you it wasn’t a good idea, or didn’t want you to do it. Either way, you placed making them happy over being true to yourself and honoring that part of you that really wanted to make your own decision.

 

The Fix: Pay attention to every time you say yes. Ask yes yourself, do I really want to do this? Is there any part of me that wanted to say no? If you find you are saying yes when you mean no, slow down and perhaps next time say “I will get back to you”, and give yourself time to consider what you really want to say.

 

You Don’t Confront Your Fear Of Being Alone. Ultimately when we please people it’s to ensure our relationship with them. And the reason we do this is so that they will support us, not reject us, and not leave us. Pleasing others is a way to prevent being left alone. And yet, when you put the needs of others in front of yours to maintain the relationship, you are already alone. What you have separated from is yourself. Because you are never alone when you know yourself — and know who you are and what you want to say.

 

Learning to be alone is a universal challenge and many people go to great lengths to avoid it. Yet, being alone is also a developmental challenge. Children must learn to separate from their mothers when they first go to school. The young adult must learn to be on his own when he leaves home. The soldier will leave home to go to war. And on many levels, every time you strike off on your own to do something that others may not agree with — start a business, go to college, travel, leave a marriage, whatever — you are facing the fear of being alone.

 

The Fix: If you find yourself afraid of charting your own course, start with small amounts of time. Spend just an afternoon on your own doing just what you want to do — even if it seems silly, pointless or childish. Once you begin to get comfortable with the idea of being alone and trusting yourself, move to larger amounts of time, and even larger ideas. Spend an entire day, and then an entire weekend by yourself. Consider taking a short vacation alone. And allow yourself to try things you have always wanted to do but for whatever reason never seemed possible.

 

You Lose Confidence In Yourself. Saying yes against your wishes, while it may help you learn to please people, does not teach you to trust yourself. And when you can’t trust yourself, you lose confidence in who you are. Because when you say yes too often, you are constantly reconfiguring who you are to please someone else. Who you really are is somewhere lost in between pleasing others and becoming resentful because you are saying yes when you really mean no. And the further you get from it, the more your authentic self can escape you, as the less you trust who you really are, and what you really want, the less likely you are to pursue it.

 

Confidence in yourself comes through listening to yourself, to what you really want, and from going after it — even if others doubt you. Because while others may not believe in you, there is a part of you that uniquely does. On a larger level, there is a part of you that seeks this out — even if it is rife with challenges. What we know from experience sampling method studies is that people are happiest when they are challenged, when they are in the moment, fully engaged in something meaningful (Seligman, 2012). And being true to yourself is certainly meaningful.

 

The Fix: Building confidence in yourself — like being alone — starts with small steps. Take one or two small ideas you have and pursue them. This can be as simple as deciding to take a class that you are interested in, start an exercise program, stop exercising altogether, start writing a short story, article or book, research a subject that you are interested in, or creating a business plan. Whatever you chose is not as important as the fact that you — and only you — chose it.

 

There is nothing wrong with pleasing others — and it is certainly something we can all learn to do more of — but there is a cost to all of this saying yes, especially when we really mean no.

 

 

References:

de Waal. (2010). Moral behavior in animals. TEDxPeachtree

Seligman, M. (2012). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York, Atria Books.