How to Let Go of the Need to Please

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It usually starts as a logical tactic. We gain others’ approval, make them happy for a moment, and feel pretty good about ourselves. It seems like the perfect path to take—and it’s one we can continue for many years, believing it’s reducing our anxiety about disapproval in our daily lives. In actuality, it can work pretty well in getting people to like us. We avoid having them disapprove of our actions, and we get to enjoy that friendly pat on the back every once in a while. But there will come a time when the constant need to please—the very solution to our problems—will run its course. And that identical behavior that brought us so many feelings of accomplishment will become the problem itself.

When we urgently aim to please other people, we seek approval from outside sources. And whenever we reach for something in the outside world to give us what we should be giving ourselves, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We set ourselves up to live a life we don’t particularly want but will fit with what other people expect of us. We don’t dare to take a chance on something that may bring on a disapproving stare or rank low on the social status meter. We do what’s expected of us. We do what others want for us and from us. In return, we get their approval. You might be thinking, “Why not seek approval?” Well, the reason is that we only get it at the expense of knowing what we want and being our true selves. When we seek others’ approval, we miss opportunities to learn how to approve of ourselves—even if others don’t.

If you can relate, try focusing on how your need to please pushes you to do too much instead of participating in essential things. When you find yourself getting hurt by doing things for others at the expense of yourself, it’s time to make a change.

When others’ acceptance of you impacts how you make decisions about where to spend your time, you lose awareness of what’s important to you, what drives you, and what makes you happy. You might feel stuck doing work you don’t particularly enjoy and continue counterproductive habits. If this feels true for you, it’s time to focus your energy on getting in touch with what matters to you.

Start asking yourself questions like, what do I value? What keeps me awake at night? How is it that I prefer to spend my time? Start to listen to what you want for your life, and align your actions with your values, principles, and goals. When you live in line with what you value, your life becomes much more straightforward and more effortless.

Instead of making decisions based on what others will approve of, start making them based on what’s right for you. When you make conscious choices about spending your time and are committed to doing what’s valuable to you, you’re able to create your own life. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be—or appear—always busy to be successful. As an alternative, you can see success as a measure of doing what matters to you.

My new reflective journal, “Not Enough You: A People-Pleasers Journal for Recapturing Your Value and Worth,” is filled with thought-provoking quotes, questions, and ideas to think about and activities that inspire a new perspective. By completing the journal exercises, you can identify unhelpful patterns and make life-changing adjustments. It’s time to commit to happiness by committing to bring out the best in YOU.

Check out my new journal here:

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Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene

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