[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[00:00:11] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than 2 million downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries and part of the Self-Help for Smart People Podcast Network.
In this episode, we explore how you can confidently be yourself even if you're afraid of what other people may do or think. We discussed how our obsession with niceness and people pleasing is often a problem and share specific tools you can use to overcome it. We also talk about the power and importance of saying no and the right way to do so, so that you can move away from approval seeking and step into bold authenticity with our guest, Dr. Aziz Gazipura.
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In our previous episode, we discussed a highly counterintuitive approach to learning that flies in the face of the way you think you should learn and how it just might transform your learning process. We explore several powerful evidence-based learning strategies that you can start to apply right now in your life. We explained why you should focus on getting knowledge out of your brain, instead of into it, and what exactly that means. We share a number of powerful memory strategies you can use to supercharge your brain and much more with our previous guest, Peter Brown. If you want to become better at learning, listen to that episode.
Now, for interview with Aziz.
[00:02:59] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Dr. Aziz Gazipura. Aziz as a clinical psychologist and the founder of the Center For Social Confidence, which is dedicated to helping others break through their shyness and social anxiety. He's the author of the number one Amazon bestseller Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty … And Start Speaking Up, Saying No, Asking Boldly, And Unapologetically Being Yourself. Aziz's work has helped thousands of people through workshops, coaching, media appearances and much more.
Aziz, welcome to The Science of Success.
[00:03:32] AG: Thanks, Matt. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
[00:03:34] MB: We’re were super excited to have you on the show. I think this topic is so relevant, and for me personally, as somebody who has sort of a constant battle with people pleasing and not wanting to say no to people and all of these things, I really want to get into the meat of a lot of this stuff. But let's just start with a really simple question which I'm sure you get all the time, which is you wrote a book about not being nice to people. Why is that?
[00:03:57] AG: Yeah. Well, it’s so funny that you just said this is something you relate to. I cannot tell you how many people just around regular conversations, social gatherings, whatever, when they find out what I do and then we start talking about the topics. How many people will instantly identify with that and say, “Oh yeah, I have a problem with niceness. I deal with that to.” I think is the vast majority of people. I think it's sort of like epidemic proportions. All the things that I create, they come first through my own experience. I struggle with this heavily for many years and I think it's an ongoing, lifelong learning process. So it’s by no means done. But not only did I struggle with it, but then I turned around and saw, well, a lot of people need this. So this is an extremely relevant topic and I think something that almost everyone, especially in our culture, in Western culture, can relate.
[00:04:45] MB: And I think an initial thing to kind of get off to sort of square off on before we get into the meat of it, I'm sure a lot of people hear the idea of not being nice and they think about being rude or being mean to people. But you sort of make this distinction between being nice and being kind. I’d love to explore that a little bit so that listeners can understand that this isn't necessarily about being rude, but it's about something much deeper.
[00:05:08] AG: Absolutely. The title of the book is meant to be a little bit provocative. In fact, the topic itself is provocative, because it’s the first thing people go to and say, “What's the opposite of nice?” Well, the opposite of nice is mean, is harsh, is rude, is impolite or something like that. But actually when you start to dig into what niceness really is and where it comes from, niceness is actually very different than kindness, love, generosity, giving. These are pro-social qualities that we actually want to have. They enhance our relationships in our lives.
Niceness though, as I define it in the book, is really rooted in fear rather than love and connection, and behind the niceness is a need to make sure that everything's okay, make sure that you didn't disturb anyone, upset anyone, that everyone is not bothered by you and therefore approves of you. Hopefully loves you, but at the very least tolerates you, and so you get to avoid all conflict. That's really the core of where not a lot of niceness comes from.
So a lot of the behaviors that we consider “nice” might look like they’re kind, or generous, or giving, but really they're coming from this place of fear, or obligation, or guilt. So I have to say yes to that person. I have to give to that person in small and big ways. In a conversation with someone, I don’t want to talk too much, because I don't want them to be bothered by me. I’ll just listen and smile and nod to bigger things, like, “Yes, I'll give more in this relationship.” “Yes, I'll give more of my time at work without setting a boundary,” and so on and so forth.
So that's really the root of niceness, is that fear. Whereas his kindness and generosity and these more positive virtues come from a place of choice, and you can choose. Do I want to get to this person or not? Do I want to give in this way? Then if the answer is yes, then it’s coming from a more centered place. So I think that's a big distinctions. The opposite of niceness isn't rudeness. It’s not mean. The opposite of niceness is actually bold authenticity. It’s truly being you, and then from that place being able to choose how you want to behave.
[00:07:06] MB: I love that idea, bold authenticity, and I want to get into that, but before we do, there’s so many other pieces of this to unpack. When you talk of fear and guilt and obligation, even at such a small context I think about somebody emails me and the thought, almost the subconscious pattern races through my head of, “I don't want to be rude. What if this person – What if there's a business opportunity? What if they know somebody who knows somebody that ends up negatively impacting me and my work?” There're so many kind of scenarios that play through my head, and I'm sure you had a similar experience with that. How do you start to understand sort of breakthrough that, that fear and those patterns?
[00:07:45] AG: That’s a great question. I think it's so pervasive. It can show up when you check your email. It can show up in a conversation with someone you just met. It can show up with a stranger. It can show up on a date. It can show up at work. Really, this is not just an occasional occurrence. This is actually almost like a personality that we adopt. It’s not your true personality. It’s not who you really are, but it's this way of being in the world.
Really, what it is, it’s damage control, it’s safety mode. It’s like, “How do I get through life? How do I get through my day staying alert to all possible dangers and do whatever I can to avoid them?” That’s the sort of program that's running in your mind subconsciously as you’re checking your email, because it’s, “Oh! Someone wants something, or someone asked for something,” and your initial gut response is probably like, “Nah! Whatever. I don’t want to –” “I don't even want to respond,” maybe is your natural gut response.
I really dealt with this a lot is. I felt this compulsive need to respond to everything, which worked okay and when I had my personal life, whatever, that as I started to grow in my reach and reach more and more people and email started come in more and more and more, that became a major problem, and I had a lot of anxiety similar to what you're describing about getting back to people late, not being able to accommodate what they wanted, or worse, as time went on, just not being able to get back to people at all.
Now I have a bigger team and people can actually at least get some response, but there's this fear. When we’re in that safety damage control mode, we’re kind of scanning the day, like, “I hope nothing bad happens,” and we’re always looking for the ways that it could be problematic, and then our number one priority is to avoid those possible dangers. Usually, the dangers are rejection, disapproval of some sort. Our mind magnifies it as if there's going to be real, almost threat to our livelihood or something, like, “Well, if someone disapproves of me, then I'll lose customers, or I won’t get any more business, or I'll be fired,” and we create these pretty unrealistic, dramatic scenarios. They’re part of that safety programming that says, “Hey, number one is just make sure everyone is pleased.”
Behind that email pattern you’re describing and behind all these stuff, it comes back to the approval seeking. The idea that if I can make sure that no one feels anything negative around me, then I'll be safe. And that's how the nice person lives their life.
[00:09:54] MB: Let's get into this approval seeking, because I think it's something that I definitely deal with and I’m sure many listeners deal with. Where does it come from and how can we start to mitigate it?
[00:10:06] AG: Sure. It’s a great question. I think that to some degree, approval seeking, wanting the approval of people you interact with is normal and is human and is part of bonding and attachment connection and whatever, makes us human and survives as tribes in groups. So sometimes I work with clients or other people and they’ll say like, “I want to not care at all what people think of me,” and I get that sense. I felt that way too. We spend so much time being so worried about what other people think, that there’s a part us that’s like, “I just want to not care at all.”
It’s like, “Well, you didn’t care literally at all. I wish I have a relationship. I wish I have a friendship, or a marriage.” You become a sociopath. We don’t want to go that far, but what we want to do is we want to not have the awareness, that social awareness about maybe someone might like this or not. We don’t want to have that dominate our choices, our actions, our emotions. We don’t want to create panic or anxiety or extreme guilt. We want to just tone it down to be able to get to a point where you can say, “Okay. What do I want to do in this situation?” and that is the MVP question. I noticed I’m already answering the what we can do about it. So I’ll get to first where it comes from and then we’ll dive into the what we can do about it, because I love that second part, the liberation.
But the MVP question is; What do I want in this situation? Do I want to respond to this email or not? Do I want to ask this person this question or not? Do I want to say yes or do I want to say no here?” Once we got that internal awareness of ourselves and not alienated from ourselves and operating from some outside awareness of what should other people think I should do? We’re really rooted in ourselves. What do I want? Then we could make a choice of what we’re going to say and what we’re going to do.
Here’s the thing, and this goes back to where it all comes from. Most of us are not connected with ourselves. We learn – I call it in the book nice conditioning. From a very young age, this is an early upbringing, all throughout out childhood and it starts in the family. Whoever raised you; parents, grandparents, extended family. It continued on heavily in school, which is we are systematically told to not trust ourselves, to step outside of yourself. They do the right thing. What the “right thing” is depends a lot on the family you grew up in, but [inaudible 00:12:15] nice conditioning, the right thing is be nice, share your toys, don't be upset, don't be aggressive, don't be disobedient, do what I say, do what I want you to do. When you don't do that, I don't care why you don't want to do it. Just do it. It bothers me when you disobey me. That's kind of the message we get.
I'll say it now, because I say it in the book too. I want to be clear. I’m a parent, and I get how hard it is at times. So this isn’t about blaming parents or something. It is very challenging, and good God, I sure want my kids to be obedient and compliant all the time, but I know there's a cost of kind of demanding that enforcing that, and that's what a lot of us grew up in. The result is we’re not connected to ourselves. We don't even know what we want. We think a lot of our feelings are bad and unacceptable. So that if someone says, “Hey, do you want to come to this thing or do you want to ask something,” and our inner response is no, “No, I don’t want to date you. No, I don't want to go to that thing.”
Even before we open our mouths to say that, we feel bad, “I’m going to hurt this person. Oh!” All those are signs of our nice conditioning. It really comes from early childhood, and we can talk more about the way out too.
[00:13:18] MB: It’s funny – I mean, this is getting at sort of some of the solutions to this, but you've identified another major challenge and major problem, which is in addition to this whole sort of architecture of niceness. At the core of it, many people don't know what they want, and that's I feel like a major problem in our society. I had a listener email me literally today asking about how to sort of resolve that and try to figure out what they want out of their lives. That’s a big question, but how do we start to answer that and really sort of chip away or kind of clear the fog that’s preventing us from seeing what we truly want to do.
[00:13:54] AG: Yeah. I love that question, because it's so important and I highlight it so much in the book. What do I want? It’s a way of coming back to your yourself, really. I love that phrase you used; clearing the fog, because I think the issue is – First of all, most people don’t even realize that that's a very important question. They either think that it's selfish, “How dare you even think about what you want in this situation when so and so sick, or so and so wants more of you?”
I remember I was speaking with a client recently, and he’s not – He’s being overworked, really. It's pretty intense environment, and he needs to make some shifts or he’s going to burnout. But his primary concern is, “Yeah. But if I reduce my hours, if I asked her to say I need to change something, other people there are going to have to take on more work.” There’s this huge inner conflict and fear and how much he’s going to be hurting all these people. Not seeing, “Well, the employer could hire someone else,” or that’s not your responsibility to burn yourself out to help everyone else. But what do I want is its lost in that fog, or it feels bad and unacceptable to even ask. I see there’re some relationships too. What do I want romantically? What do I want sexually? It’s bad.
The first thing we need to do is we need to clear the toxic message that what you want is inherently bad or wrong. I go in-depth in the book about this, “No. You must turn that around to what I want is inherently good.” At first, for some people, because of their conditioning, that sounds like blasphemy or something. What a terrible – I’m just going to go out of control.
I make a big distinction between feeling and doing. So we want to just start to uncover, 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 to you immediately. It's part of connecting with yourself. First is clear the negativity around it’s bad to have what I want, or ask for what I want, or even think about what I want. I’ll say one more thing about that, because I know some people might intellectually think that's a good idea but don’t know how to do it, which is to realize that when you're more in touch with what you want, it's not only better for you. It's better for everyone. Because let me give you this quick example.
Have you ever been on a date or out with a friend that’s romantic or platonic? It doesn’t matter. You’re hanging out with that person and you're like, “Okay. Cool. We’re going to go to a movie and let’s get a bite to eat.” You’re like, “Hey, what interests you for food?” They’re like, “I don’t know. Whatever you want.” “Are you sure? Do you have any plan?” “No. No. Whatever you want.” You’re like, “Okay.” So you pick Mexican food and you’re like, “Okay. Great. Now, let’s go see a movie. What are you into? There’s an action movie to watch. There’s romance.” They’re like, “I don’t know. Whatever you want.”
How enraging is that to be around someone that doesn’t just say what they want? It’s a detriment to people around you when you don't say what you want, or you don’t even know what you want. Because it bothers them and it gives them nothing to work with, because it’s a lie too. It’s false, because the truth is you do – Some part of you does want something. Some part of you does prefer a certain food even if you think you're super flexible. It doesn't mean you can't go different ways, but there's a part of you that does want a certain kind of – Like something most. There’s a part of you that likes a certain kind of movie the most and something sounds best to you, and people want to know that. When they know that, you can work together. It could be on the table, and you can actually create better choices as a group. So people benefit when you know what you want.
Then last way to actually start to find what it is, is you got to take the time to do it. You mentioned that fog. I was just doing some research on this for my next book, which is why we’re so against ourselves. Why do we turn to ourselves so critical? Of course I was thinking about media and what media has to do with that.
I was looking up, “How much TV are we watching these days?” The stats are always crazy. The average American watches five hours of TV a day. I was looking up what they currently are. Here’s the most recent statistics from the Nielsen in 2018. These are just my best memory right now, but it's four hours a day of live TV, about 45 minutes a day of recorded TV, like with TiVo and stuff. But when you add in all source of screen time, including social media, cellphone, tablets, streaming on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, all that stuff, people are watching a screen 11 hours a day as of the first part of 2018. 11 hours a day, and that’s not including work time.
That means basically every waking moment that we’re not at work, we’re probably at a screen at work too. We’re hooked on the screen. We’re insanely addicted to it. So it is very hard to find out what you want when you're compulsively externally focused. You’re not like externally focused on a flower. You are externally focused on something that jamming huge amounts of input into you, trying to influence what you want and saying, “You want this. Don't you? You want that. Don't you? You should want this.”
Whether it’s a certain body image, or a certain kind of partners, or a certain lifestyle, or a certain object, or a car, or whatever, we’re in this cloud. To find out what you want, you got to unplug for at least a little bit of a time, and the more the better in a lot of ways. Then – So go for a 30-minute walk with no headphones and ask yourself that question, “What do I want?” Ask it not with like, “Okay. I got 28 minutes. Let we find out what I want for my whole life.” No. Just ask yourself that question, “What do I want in this moment? What do I want today? What do I want in my job?” You just ask it and maybe find some answers that they may be not. If you had a practice at that where you did that walk – I don’t know, three times a week, you would find so many answers so quickly once you unplug and really start to tune in with.
[00:19:10] MB: It's funny, I think the question that obviously comes to bear on this that you addressed in some ways, but I'm sure listeners are thinking and asking themselves, and I'm honestly asking myself this even though I know intellectually that this is true. But when you come back to it, is doing what we want selfish?
[00:19:28] AG: It's so good. I'm glad you’re asking that and invoicing that, because it is in there. That is part of our training, and the truth is it can be. I have a chapter in the book called be more selfish. Again, controversial title. I thought I’d make it spicy. But that is actually true. We do need to do that. It's just that there is a – Selfish is not binary. It’s not A or B. It’s not like you're selfish or you're not. Selfish is a subjective interpretive label that you put on something.
If someone says, “Hey, can you give me a ride to the airport?” and you say, “No. I can’t do that. I’m sorry.” Is that selfish? It’s actually a complex calculation. It’s in the eye of the beholder, because what if the friend that asked you for the ride never does anything for you at all and refuses all of your requests? Then is it selfish? Most people would say, “No. No.” What if that friend is a lot for you? Then is that selfish? People will say, “Yeah.” There’s this social accumulation of data people are assessing.
So it's not binary. It's much more complex than that. It’s much more nuanced, and there's a spectrum. I have this in the book. There's a spectrum of selfishness. On one side you can go too far. You can just be totally self-absorbed, self-interest, egomaniac like just give me what I want. I don't care about you at all. I’m going to use you like a chess piece, like the tool to get what I want. There are people that operate in the world that way, and that is destructive to relationships, to companies, to them ultimately even if they don't know it.
But that doesn't mean that the opposite of that is actually any healthier, because the opposite of that, the extreme opposite, the other end of the spectrum, is self-denying, self-sacrifice. That’s like – It doesn't matter what I want. My needs don't matter at all. Whatever you need or want or whatever, here I am. For me to say no just because I don't want to or because it feels too overwhelming or stressful or just feels like too much for me to say yes to that, it doesn’t matter. That’s bad.
What we want to do is we actually want to –A lot of people that are nice kind of live towards that end of the spectrum. So we want to move up the spectrum towards more selfish into the healthy self-interest range. That can be described as, “Okay. You have needs and desires, and I have needs and desires, and both of them matter, and I need to figure out in this moment what’s going to be right for me.” So sometimes I’m going to prioritize my own needs, because that's part of the balance. That’s what I need to do. So no I can’t give you that ride, because I have these seven other things that I'm doing and that’s going to tip me over the edge.
Or sometimes I’m going to prioritize your needs. I have a family and wife and kids and so a lot of the times I do prioritize what they might need over what I might need. But I can still do the opposite and sometimes prioritize myself. So that’s the secret, is that balance, and that only comes when we have the nuance to understand that it's not just you’re either selfish or not, good or bad, and it's really okay to uncover and decide case-by-case.
[00:22:21] MB: I think bringing the idea of a spectrum to it really shines light on how to think about it more intelligently, and it reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books of all time; The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, and he's talking to Bill Moyers about this book by Sinclair Lewis called Babbitt, and the quote as, “I've never done a thing I wanted all my life,” and that's from the Sinclair Lewis book. But Joseph Campbell then goes on to say, “Basically, don't be that person.” Don't be the person who's never done a thing they wanted all their lives, and yet so many of us spend so much more time on the self-sacrificing side of the spectrum. I think the word that you used that puts it in sort of a new light is to seek balance.
[00:23:03] AG: Mm-hmm. That’s really what it is. 10 self-sacrifice might be essential in a time of crisis. Someone’s sick or you spend the night at a hospital. It doesn’t matter if you're tired or you’re not at work or whatever. Sure, we want to be able to do that. That's part of life. But if you operate that way – And I think a lot of – When we’re in that a nice mode, we are kind of operating that way, because we're treating everything like a crisis. If that person who emailed me doesn’t hear back, that's a crisis. If I say no to this friend who wants me to go to this thing this weekend, that's a crisis.
Underneath that, there is a threat mode happening, and this is super essential for everyone to understand, that niceness is not – Excessive niceness and the problems around it is not benign. It's not like, “Okay. Well, maybe it's hard and it makes me not have the life I fully want, but I’m least I’m doing the right thing. Darn it!” It's actually not that, because what happens is when you're in that kind of state of fear and threats that’s underneath niceness, you are much more prone to experience all kinds of symptoms as a results, and these symptoms can range from physical symptoms, G.I. symptoms, stomach problems, all kinds manifestations of back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, the term that's been coined by many doctors as TMS, tension myositis syndrome or tension myoneural syndrome.
There's a phenomenal author named Dr. John Sarno, who is a pioneer in this field, but most people don’t realize how many of their aches and pains and physical problems and even things that they think are injuries are actually the results of living in this kind of chronic stress, fearful state. One of the biggest contributors is actually niceness. I think it's so important to realize that you're not only not living life that you want, which might make you feel more depressed or dissatisfied, but you're also literally harming your body by remaining in this overly nice mode for years.
[00:24:51] MB: I want to transition and look at some of the other manifestations of this. One of them –These are outcroppings of the same theme and idea, and so the underpinnings are going to be very similar. But you talk about saying no and the importance of saying no, and that's a particular area of niceness that I personally really struggle with. But I'm curious how we can start to think more effectively about that and really start to say no more often in the right contexts.
[00:25:16] AG: Great. I love that question. I think the conversation we’re just having is a perfect prelude about selfishness, because one of the reasons we don't say no is, well, that’s selfish. So really getting clear that, at times, to support that balance, you’re going to need to prioritize your own needs, and that's not bad. That’s not wrong. That’s not malevolent or something against other people or harming people. That's healthy. It’s part of a healthy relationship. So to that end, sometime when we’re prioritizing on our own needs, we need to say no. How do you know if should say yes or no? Well, it start with, “What do I want?” So I really encourage people to ask that question not just as like a soul-searching journey once in that 30-minute walk or something. I mean, moment to moment, and it's so important to start asking that question. You might even want to like write it on your hand or have it on a sticky note on your desk or your computer, especially if you’re – Maybe that’s where you’re checking your email and there’s a lot of responses where you are saying yes or no to things, because the conditioning to say yes can be so fast.
I've had clients I’ve been working on this with who they set the intention to say no and talk about strategies, which we can talk about in just a moment about how to do it, how to be ready to do it. They’re all primed and here they go. The next thing they know, they have said yes three times without even realizing that it happened. It just came out. It's so conditioned.
First we got to be become aware that it's okay to say no and we need to say no and that we want to do it more. Once that stage is set and having those reminders to help you remember to do it, and then it's a matter of actually just practicing it and saying no like many of the other forms of retraining, from niceness to authenticity. It's all about discomfort tolerance, really. If you're willing to experience discomfort in the short term, you will gain much more benefit in your life in the long term, because in the short term saying no to that person can be uncomfortable.
It can also be fascinating though, because when many people who are trapped in the cage of niceness almost never say no. Unless it’s like, “Oh my god!” There’s a clear overwhelming reason. If it’s not, they’ll just say yes. What they do is they live in a cloud of stories of what could happen if they said no, “Oh! This person can get upset.” This thing that you were talking about, so and so is going to tell so and so and that's going to negatively reflect me, and I’m not going to have guest interviews, or whatever, stories we come up with. But we never test it.
So what I love is working with people and watching them start to really test it. Hands down, two things almost always happen. One; the dramatic fantasy that they created in their mind about what was going to happen doesn't happen, and we all know that, and hearing that on this podcast is one thing. But to actually viscerally experience that in your own life, like, “Wow! I was making myself bonkers, and that didn’t even happen.” That’s a powerful lesson that we all should benefit from experiencing.
Doing it, testing it and seeing, A, it doesn't actually happen most of the time; or B, that if someone does have a negative reaction or gets upset, that we can handle it. That's even a more empowering part, is you can tell yourself for months, “I can handle it. I can handle it,” but nothing shows you you can handle it like going through it. But here's the thing; handling it might be uncomfortable. Saying no might be probably uncomfortable at first. You got to face those fears, face that discomfort.
What I love to liken it to strength training or building any sort of physical strength, whether it’s running or weightlifting. If you go to the gym and you're never uncomfortable, you’re probably not growing in strength at all. I don’t know what you’re doing. You’re just stretching, hanging out. Even in stretching you can be uncomfortable, right? We got to lean into that edge, and that's exactly what we know. Just like a muscle, your capacity to saying no grows. So if you made a commitment right now, and anyone listening made a commitment now, say, “I’m going to say no twice this week. I’m going to look for two opportunities to say no.” Then you do that again next week, and then again next week, and maybe even upped it said no to more things. Within, literally, 3 to 4 weeks, you'd be in a very different place than you are now. I mean, it can start to happen that fast just like you start to build muscle that fast.
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00:31:24 MB: I love this, this notion of facing discomfort, and we’ve had a number of episodes on the show and interviews where we’ve gone really deep into how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and we’ll throw those into the show notes for listeners who want to dig into that. But I want to come back to some of the specific kind of tactical strategies for saying no. How do we actually do it in the moment?
[00:31:45] AG: Yeah, that's great. A lot of people want to be like super smooth at it. I would say think of like an instrument or any other skill. Just start playing it and you’ll get there. First and foremost, just play it inconsistently. Play it as we’ve been talking about, face that discomfort. But there are ways to refine our skill. This is actually a surprising one, is inner game. It's complete and total permission to say no, because what happens is people start just, “Okay. Okay. I’m going to say no. I’m going to be less nice. I need to do it. Here I go,” and they’re really nervous, and there's a lot of mixed messages inside of them that says, “What I'm doing is bad.”
Therefore, their communication is very murky and muddled. It will come out as very apologetic, “Oh! I can't. I’m so sorry. I'm so sorry, I can't drive you to the airport. Ah! I’m so bad.” It'll come across this self-effacing or they’ll talk about why they’re bad. It’s amazing people say this. Or they’ll have a very elaborate explanation. So they really get across why they totally would do it, except for here's my seven reasons why.
What I encourage people to do is first and foremost remind themselves they have complete permission to say no and it’s healthy. The second step is going to be to say no and to minimize, remove actually, all qualifiers and then minimize the explanation. You can give a short sentence or two if it's relevant. For example, instead of saying, “No, I can't get that to you by then because I have this and I got to do that and this and that.” Just say, “Okay. You want that by Friday? I’m not going to be able to do that. I have several things before then that I have to get done, but I’m not going to be able to get to you on Friday. Let’s figure out what else we can do.”
It’s short, it's tight, and then be willing to sit in the no. This is another super important part, is then as people will say it, and they’ll immediately actually overcommit to something else. I don’t know if you’ve done this. This was the worst. We say no, “No, I can't have you at this time,” or “No, we can't do that.” “But how about on this time, or how about this, or how about these other seven things that I can give you?” Now we’ve overcommitted to something else.
So sitting in the no and say, “I’d love to, I can’t.” “Thank you for the invitation. I’m not going to be able to make it,” and just be okay to sit in that, whether it's a text. Just let it lie or face-to-face or over the phone and be in that discomfort. Here's the thing, and I talk about this a lot with my wife, because we all are overcoming our niceness. But one of her triggers is saying no to a friend or someone she's building a relationship with. Saying no to their invitations, especially if it’s like the second time in a row for whatever reason. She has this fear. She’s like, “Well, if I say no to someone twice, especially too close together, they’re not going to want to be my friend anymore.”
What I often remind her is, “Let's test that out.” I actually think that if you say no twice, but you're warm and you even offer other alternatives, that people want you more and become a slightly higher demand. You're not so available. Not as a game, but it doesn't – It’s not going to ruin relationships. So sit in the no. Trust that it’s not all over. The building won’t crumble. Then practice it again and again and again.
[00:34:44] MB: I think the idea of getting the reps in and sort of doing the work of building that muscle is such an important mental model to apply to developing the skillset of being less nice, of saying no. This is sort of a segue, which we’ll go kind of far away from where we are but then we’ll come back to it. But you have amazing YouTube videos, which we’ll put in the show notes as well, where you kind of do street shenanigans.
One of the things that I thought was really interesting at the beginning of that with street shenanigans, which you can kind of explain to listeners what that is, but was you did a bunch of, as you call them, I think warm-ups for your social fitness at the beginning of that, which is another great example of sort of the same idea of getting those reps in and sot of building that muscle.
[00:35:24] AG: Yes, street shenanigans. We just had a lot of viewers in YouTube Channel or whatever asking me to demonstrate things and I was like, “Okay. I’m going to go out in the street.” One of the big things is a lot of people are dealing with social anxiety. So my key goal with that video was not to do the smoothest, [inaudible 00:35:40] stuff in the world, but to show, “Hey, you can just do whatever you want kind of and it doesn't matter.” You can be silly, you can be outrageous, you can say weird things. You're okay no matter what is what I really wanted to convey.
I sent a message out to my list and said like – And the YouTube channel, like, “What do you want to see me do so?” It’s kind of like a dare kind of thing. You got all these ridiculous things that I had to sift through, and I picked the ones that would make me the most uncomfortable as long as they weren’t socially aggressive. Some of them were. It’s like, “Nah. We’re not going to do that.” So we would picked the ones that were affirming, positive experience for everyone, but are uncomfortable. That was the goal.
But before you jump into that – And a few might ask, “”Why on earth would you want to do that?” Discomfort tolerance, your ability to going into something uncomfortable and do it is transferable. If you can do push-ups on a street corner, then you are actually going to be much more able to approach someone you're attracted to. It might seem like totally different things, but one of the biggest things that stops us from approaching someone we’re attracted to is the fear of embarrassment, the fear of being judged by that person or by witnesses around, or friends watching. It’s our ego. It’s like, “Oh! I’m going to not look as good.”
Well, if you go out and do pushups on a street corner or flex in a store window, as someone asked me to do, you get over yourself. It's okay to be embarrassed. You can tolerate that embarrassment, that social – People watching you. Then therefore you're able to go do something that’s a real value to you. But whether we’re going to go talk to people we’re attracted to or do something of literal value or just these exercises to build that muscle, you start with a warm up, because it is so much like fitness.
I’ll just walk on the street and do what’s called friendly greetings. Just say hi to people a dozen times in a busy street, and it's amazing. I have seen this again and again out in the world with people where they go from a place of like, “I can’t talk to anyone. I feel uncomfortable right now. I'm scared. I’m nervous. I’m self-conscious.” Then we scale it back to some friendly greetings, maybe even have them walk up to a of couple people and say, “Hey, do you have a restaurant recommendation. It’s lunch time, we’re curious to get – Where we’d get some food.” Some low-risk question where they’re probably not going to get rejected.
I've seen this literally happen a number of times. One guy I’m thinking of where he did a couple of friendly greetings, did that twice, asked for restaurants. Then the next thing I know, literally, he was – There is a woman he wanted to talk to who was walking down the street and she was pretty far away and he ran to catch up to her and jumped – Not jumped, appropriately walked around her to get in front of her and started this like long extended conversation. From 0 to 60, which would've been impossible, literally 10 minutes earlier. The warm up, I’m a big believer in that and I've seen it work wonders.
[00:38:14] MB: The funny thing is this stuff is really fun and enjoyable once you kind of get into it. I mean, when you watch the street shenanigans video, I was laughing and smiling within probably one minute of it starting. Even just a friendly greetings were hilarious. Then some of the other stuff is even more funny. But Austin and I, the producer of the show, we were in Minneapolis recently for a speaking engagement and we had some extra time to kill before I went on stage, and we went to Mall of America and just decided that we we’re going to do rejection therapy for the whole evening. We had a blast. We were laughing. We got some free cookies. We get discounts on stuff. We were just goofing around and doing all these things. But it seems so sort of scary, but as soon as you start to build that muscle and flex that and get comfortable being uncomfortable, all of these kind of exciting, fun, wacky, ridiculous opportunities open up and you start to realize that the world isn't that scary of a place.
[00:39:10] AG: Yes. You’re speaking my language. That’s why we have a banner in my live events and it says, “The world is a friendly place,” and that’s a complex topic. You could debate philosophically about. But in one way, it’s trying to highlight exactly what you're saying, which is when we step out – There’s like this thresholds. It’s like – What it’s called? Critical velocity? When like a spaceship is trying to take off and it reaches some distance and speed from the Earth's gravitational pull or something and it blasts out? There are some process I found that’s like that socially, where there’s all these gravity kind of holding us inside of ourselves. We can’t even look at people. We can’t even make eye contact, like, “Oh my god! I can take out my ear pods right now.”
Then if we push that edge and we start to build that – The rocket starts going, which are to move outside of ourselves, at first it's really scary and really uncomfortable. But if we just keep doing it – I don't mean keep doing it over years. I mean, literally over the course of like 10, 15 minutes. What happens as we reach this like breaking point where we just pop into no gravity and all of a sudden – I’ve seen this happen so many times at people, especially at live events. Because at live events, we take everyone out. It’s like we’re not just going to sit in a room and talk about this. You’re going to go do it and then we’re going to watch you.
What I’ve seen happen again and again is all of a sudden they’re like, “Whoa! I think I can do like anything and I’m okay.” Because once embarrassment or rejection are no longer intolerable experiences and you can kind of say what you want and do what you want.
I remember one guy I was working with who's almost like, “No. Give me something else that’s going to make me really scared. What's the next thing? Give me something else.” I was like, “I don’t have anything else. You can do whatever you want right now. You’re liberated in this moment.” That's what we’re going for.
I love how you described that, the story with you and Austin, because that’s’ what I want people to experience, is to get on the other side of that and feel what it's like to be socially free, to be liberated and then they can just be who they are and really enjoy that and have fun.
[00:41:01] MB: One of my favorite quotes is “everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of fear”, which perfectly squares with that. We kind of came far away, but I want to come back. This really comes back to once you overcome this niceness and the fear and the insecurity that underpins that, how do we start to ask boldly? That’s one of the sort of promises that you make in the headline of the book, and start unapologetically being ourselves?
[00:41:26] AG: Yeah, I love that. The unapologetically being ourselves comes when we have first seen that niceness is not serving us, that it actually it’s not who we are. It's a safety pattern. Then we start to take the risks and face the discomfort to say no to, in some way, figure out what we want and then ask for it. We start to do the behaviors. We can’t just read about it and think, “Oh, yeah! That sounds good one day.” But literally do it. Get in the gym as it were. Lift those weights. Get uncomfortable. Then the byproduct of that is you stop being afraid to be you. You build this inner power that allows you to tolerate someone's disapproval, “Okay. I know that they might not like this, but this is what I want to do, or this is important for me to say, so I’m going to say it.” You have that freedom. You have that choice, and that's where that unapologetic comes from. It's like, “No. This is okay for me to be me.”
One of the other things to practice in addition to saying no to get there is the asking for what we want. So step one is what do I want and really discovering it. Step two is ask for or it, or state it, or request it. Again, there's just a lot of fear behind this, fear of rejection, fear of upsetting the other person. Fear, fear, fear. As you just said, which I love, is everything you want in your life is over that fear, around that fear, through that fear.
So much of the time people approach fear as if it's like 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 own nervous system. So when we move into it – And just ask for what we want. So that’s another practice. Very simply, just like, “No.” say no is asking for what we want. So, “Hey, I like to do this,” or Can we do this?” or “It will be important for me if we could do that,” and finding, again, two opportunities a week to specifically ask for what you want. Just like you want to strengthen yourself by lifting more systematically overtime or running further or faster, or whatever your goals are physically, you want to ask for things that are edgier for you. So maybe at first you literally just ask – I don’t know, just ask the server for check at a restaurant, because normally you’re so nice that you just wait for them to give it to you even if you're in a hurry.
Maybe you ask, say, “Hey, listen. I’m in a hurry. Can you rush my order?” today at the restaurant. Those are simple things, and maybe that's the weight that you can lift right now, because even that feels uncomfortable. But eventually as you do it more, you start to ask more vulnerable things. Ask for something in a close friendship, or ask for something in a conversation with a friend or a sibling and say, “Hey, listen. There’s something I want to talk with you about and I love to just have your attention for like 10 minutes as we talk about something that's important to me.” If you never request that, maybe that feels so selfish or edgier. So that will be the next level to lift up.
Then, of course, in your romantic relationship, being able to ask more authentically for what you want, whether it's time together, or something around your sex life, “I would love if we could do this.” Or similarly, what do you do not want, “I want to do less of this. This is uncomfortable for me when we do this,” and not uncomfortable in a good kind of way like I should do it more. I wish we didn't do this. All of that is going to come from taking those risks. That's why I call it boldly asking for what you want. It’s because it's scary, it's edgy, it feels like a risk. We need courage. We need boldness and we want to do so with that owning of ourselves.
[00:44:51] MB: If someone has a parent, or a boss, or a friend who they’re specially scared of disappointing or that triggers a stronger feeling around some of these insecurities and put them into sort of the shell of niceness. Are there any particular strategies that you would recommend or that you seem work for dealing with those kinds of dynamics?
[00:45:11] AG: Yeah, absolutely. I would say don't start there. That's the top of the mountain, because – Think about overweight. It’s too heavy of a weight. So people will sometimes be down on themselves or beat themselves up about it, and that never works. We cannot beat ourselves into confidence or any new behavior long-term. What you want to do is do all the stuff that we’re talking about in this episode, the small weights, the 5-pound weight.
Look at what your patterns are, your dysfunctional patterns are with the parent or that boss, “Oh! I can't say no to him or her, or whenever they make a comment about me, I just feel – I believe everything they say and I feel terrible about myself.” Okay. Well, those are signs of things that you want to work on, but start working on them elsewhere, because it's very unlikely that you are totally aware of what you want. You built up a lot of muscle and being able to say no and act in your healthy self-interest in every single instance of your life, in all your relationships except your boss, or except for your dad or your mom. You’re probably doing it everywhere. It’s just more intense with them.
Work on it elsewhere, and I’ve seen this again and again, especially people that are in my group programmer where we work together for years, and there’s even two or more. The first year, it’s all – They’re interacting with strangers, or colleagues, or even dating and stuff. But then in the second year it’s more like, okay, with her longer-term relationships with their spouse, with the family, with their parents and they’re kind of surprised, like, “Wow! this is so hard to do with my dad or my mom.” It’s like, “Yeah, that is the epicenter.” That’s where the nice conditioning was first transmitted to you. So of course it’s going to stir up the most discomfort. I’d say work your way up to it.
[00:46:44] MB: Great piece of advice. For listeners who want to concretely implement some of these ideas, and I think we’ve touched on a number of these, but what would be one or two pieces of homework that would be simple action items they could start with right away to put some of these ideas into practice?
[00:47:01] AG: Great. Absolutely. The first thing would be to make a fundamental decision that you don't want to be this nice anymore. That might seem kind of obvious, or like, “Oh, yeah. I’m already there.” No. Really sit down and write out just a short paragraph. You could do it on your phone or in a laptop or write it on a cocktail napkin. It doesn’t matter. Why it's no longer serving me to be this way, to be this nice, and I'm going to do some different.
Because without that fundamental decision, there's still this story in us that it's better to be nice and it's bad to hurt other people's feelings, and, “Oh! I can’t upset anyone. That’s so wrong.” That will undermine any tactical or strategic attempt to change this. Because as soon as you do it, you'll feel guilty or uncomfortable and say, “Oh! That was the wrong thing to do.” We need to be an environment that supports this so that when you take that action and you feel guilty, the environment tells you, “Yeah, you feel guilty, but you didn't do anything bad. This is actually healthy.”
I designed the book to hopefully be an environment for people. Obviously, in my world when I work with people in workshops or my groups, we create that culture so that people can get that affirmation. But in the absence of all of that, just at write out the commitment, the decision to yourself.
Then second thing will be just to pick one thing. We talked about a lot of things and sometimes people are like, “Okay! I’m going to do it all.” Well, that's kind overwhelming. Just pick one thing. So what's the one that is either the easiest for you to do or the one you feel like, “Oh man! That would benefit my life. I need that the most.” Maybe that’s saying no. Maybe that’s asking yourself what do I want and discovering it. Maybe that's practicing, asking for what you want. Maybe that's the more slightly higher up on a selfishness spectrum and putting your own needs first sometimes and some of the other things we talked about as well.
Picking one of those things and then just setting a very specific small goal, like, “I’m going to say no twice this week,” or “I’m going to practice putting my own needs first once this,” or, “We didn’t get into boundaries in this call,” but maybe you need to set a boundary with someone by saying – Asking for what you want or saying no or telling them something needs to be different. Maybe you set a goal to do that.
Here's the thing, it's like any sort of training, you want to start where you can just keep leaning into that edge. You’d be amazed overtime, in a period of 3, 6 months, what can radically transform if we consistently do this sort of thing.
[00:49:19] MB: For listeners who want to find you and your work online, what's the best place for them to do that?
[00:49:24] AG: Sure. The website that kind of captures everything is my main website, which is socialconfidencecenter.com, socialconfidencecenter.com, and you can find out about my book and YouTube with live events and all those things in the podcast. So that's kind of like the hub.
From there, you can see what you want to take in. We have a lot of free stuff with the YouTube and podcast, or if you want to get immersed in an environment, there're live events. Year-long mastermind program, all kinds of great ways to really take these ideas from intellectual to actually reprogramming yourself, because it's uncomfortable and – I don't know. I didn’t make very much progress in my fitness in my entire life until two years ago. I'm 35 now. So from 33 to 35 I made more progress in my fitness in my entire life, and that was in two years that I joined like a gym with a trainer and have that accountability of that group. So that’s next level. You really want to make these changes.
[00:50:14] MB: Well, Aziz, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing all these wisdom. This is a topic that's very personal for me and I think really, really relevant. I have a post-it note, one of my baby steps. I got a post-it note that says say no and ask boldly sitting right next to my monitor now. So that'll be at least one little action step reminder. Again, thank you for coming on the show and sharing all these wisdom.
[00:50:35] AG: Beautiful. I love that. I love that you’re applying that. You're most welcome, and I think it’s going to be a really cool experience. When you do that, you say no or you ask boldly and it’s uncomfortable, and then you get on the other side and see like, “Whoa! Nothing terrible happened that I couldn’t handle,” and then, boom! You just grow in power. So I love it.
[00:50:55] MB: Did you enjoy this episode? Do you want to step into bold authenticity and stop being afraid to be yourself? Go to successpodcast.com/confidence to check out Confidence University. Our guest on this episode, Aziz Gazipura, has an incredible course offering here that you should definitely check out. Again, that successpodcast.com/confidence. If you want to step into the bold authenticity of being yourself and stop being afraid of what other people think about you.
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