Do you struggle with people-pleasing and being afraid to say ‘no’ to people?
A lot of the behaviors that we think are nice often come from fear, obligation, or guilt and you don’t want this approval-seeking to dominate your actions and behaviors.
Unfortunately, people-pleasing behavior tends to influence a majority of people in our society. This seems to be a result of “Nice Conditioning”, a term used by Dr. Aziz Gazipura to denote the pervasive thought patterns which are instilled into us at a young age by those who raise us. Dr. Gazipura is a clinical psychologist responsible for the Center For Social Confidence, founder of Confidence University, and author of ‘Not Nice’.
He discusses how we’re told to step outside of ourselves and “Do the right thing”, which causes us to develop a systematically non-intuitive method of behavior. Little did they know (the people who raised us) that self-sacrifice can lead to harmful symptoms and an ineffective approach to decision-making.
The path to clearing this fog which obscures our desires is an inward-path that will empower us to be ourselves unapologetically. This path flies in the face of what most in our society deem “acceptable behavior”, but this can be rectified with a deeper understanding of niceness, it’s roots, and superior alternatives.
Niceness: What it Is and Isn’t
Dr. Gazipura finds it useful to differentiate between being ‘nice’ and ‘kind’. Being nice is rooted in fear, needing to ensure everything and everyone is okay, and avoiding conflict. He believes this “Safety-Mode” is so pervasive it acts as an adopted personality; one where you constantly look for possible dangers and plan to avoid them. This creates unrealistic, dramatic scenarios where everything is a crisis.
Kindness, on the other hand, is generosity rooted in choice. It’s understanding you have the option of doing something for yourself or someone else, then choosing them because it’s more desirable to you. This choice requires a certain degree of self-awareness (where you’re able to genuinely ask yourself what you want to do) and conscious strength (where you’re able to do what you want and tolerate any disapproval).
“Most people don’t even realize that it’s a very important question. They either think that it’s selfish, or it feels bad or unacceptable to even ask… Just because you ask: ‘What do I want?’, doesn’t mean you’re going to run out and go force the world to give it you immediately. But it’s part of connecting with yourself.” – Dr. Aziz Gazipura
One of the most obvious objections to doing what you want is that it will be perceived as selfish, bad, and wrong. While Dr. Gazipura agrees that some degree of approval-seeking is normal and necessary, he advocates finding an amount of niceness that doesn’t dominate; an amount where you’re capable of asking the most valuable question: “What do I want to do?” This question creates internal awareness and connection.
The Spectrum of Selfishness: From Self-Absorbed to Self-Sacrifice
“’I’ve never done a thing I wanted in all my life.’ Well, you may have a success in life, but then just think of it, what kind of life was it, what good is it? You’ve never done a thing you wanted in all your life.” – Joseph Campbell on the final line in Sinclair Lewis’ ‘Babbitt’
Contrary to popular belief, selfishness is not binary nor objective; it’s just a subjective label placed on to actions. Beyond being subjective, there is also a spectrum of selfishness—a spectrum which implies two extremes and a healthy balance in the middle. Those two extremes are: Self-absorption and self-sacrifice; leaving a healthy self-interest right in the middle. But what does a healthy self-interest look like?
Let’s look at the extremes first. Self-absorption keeps you from caring about what other people want, which prevents you from forming relationships with anyone. Self-sacrifice forces you into a life of fear-based niceness, which is known to cause physical health problems (like stomach problems, chronic pain, and tension myositis syndrome) and mental health problems (like depression and a general dissatisfaction with life).
A healthy self-interest requires you to figure out what’s right for you in the moment, not what’s ‘right’ by society’s standards. You must clear the fog of Nice Conditioning. Here are some changes that can help you clear the fog and return to yourself:
Clear the negativity and change the message to: “What I want is inherently GOOD.”
Realize that being in touch with yourself is better for you and everyone else. Not knowing what you want bothers others and gives them nothing to work with.
Reduce your time spent externally-focused (e.g. watching TV, being on social media) which clouds your inner desires with external suggestions.
Continually ask yourself, “What do I want in this moment?” This will build over time.
Retraining Niceness into Authenticity
“Discomfort Tolerance (your ability to go into something uncomfortable and do it) is transferrable.” – Dr. Aziz Gazipura
One of the most powerful techniques to overcome Nice Conditioning is learning how to say ‘No’ appropriately. To recall the previous objection of selfishness, it is important to know that saying ‘No’ can be selfish; but at times, it isn’t. Saying ‘No’ can be difficult and even scary for some people, so let’s discuss two of the incorrect assumptions that make doing it difficult:
1. The dramatic fantasy you imagine will happen once you’ve said no doesn’t actually happen.
2. And if there is a negative response, you can handle it; but it might be uncomfortable.
Dr. Gazipura suggests a strategy that you challenge yourself to say ‘No’ a certain number of times a week, then increase this number over time and you’ll see dramatic results very quickly. Start by asking yourself, “What do I want?”, moment-to-moment. Because saying ‘Yes’ can be an unconscious behavior, asking yourself this question requires awareness, reminders, and practice.
“Just like a muscle, your capacity to say no grows.” – Dr. Aziz Gazipura
How to Actually Say ‘No’: From Theory to Practice
“Think of it like an instrument or any other skill: Just start playing it and you’ll get there.” – Dr. Aziz Gazipura
Dr. Gazipura offers some advice on how to refine your skills of saying ‘No’:
“The world is a friendly place” – Use this as reassurance to approach things as if they’ll help you, not harm you.
Give yourself total permission to say ‘No’ – Saying ‘No’ is healthy and not bad. Don’t be apologetic or self-effacing and avoid elaborate explanations.
Be willing to ‘Sit in the no’ – Don’t decline one thing, then immediately over-commit to another. Accept that it will be uncomfortable.
Saying ‘No’ won’t make people hate you – In fact, it will probably make them want you even more!
Warm-up with ‘Social Fitness’ – Approach strangers with friendly greetings (or ask for a recommendation). You can do whatever you want, and it doesn’t matter; you’ll be alright.
When talking about people who experience social anxiety, Dr. Gazipura shares his wish for them to “Get on the other side of that and feel what it’s like to be socially free, to be liberated, then they can just be who they are and really enjoy that—and have fun!”
How to Ask Boldly
“So much of the time people approach fear as if it’s this brick wall, but really it’s like a thin curtain and you can literally walk right through it. The only thing stopping us is the physical discomfort in our nervous system.” – Dr. Aziz Gazipura
Beyond approaching strangers and engaging in harmless social encounters, there’s a time where we need to be bold when asking for what we want. Sometimes this need arises with our boss, our close friends, or our parents (or the very people who are responsible for our intense niceness-triggers). Dr. Gazipura views these intense triggers as ‘heavy weights’, while the harmless encounters with strangers are the ‘light weights’ we use to build up strength.
He also recommends that we recognize that niceness isn’t serving us, and it isn’t who we are. Then he encourages us to take risks and face discomfort. And the final step is to stop being afraid of ourselves. It’s necessary that we ask ourselves what we want, then ask for it!
A Self-Empowering Assignment
“It’s like any sort of training, you want to start where you can and just keep leaning into that edge.” – Dr. Aziz Gazipura
Dr. Aziz Gazipura ends with some actionable steps towards self-awareness, inner-strength, and putting an end to excessive niceness. You must begin by making the fundamental decision that you don’t want to be as nice anymore (and clarify why it is no longer serving you). Be in an environment that supports you. Pick one action that is easiest or most beneficial to you (like saying ‘No’). Then set a specific, small goal with that action (like saying ‘No’ twice a week).