If you have followed the activity in the previous post, you probably understand that it is impossible to be totally free from needing approval. Again, do not blame yourself or others for this mindset, because you always do the best you can and your parents always did the best they could. But now that you know how dangerous approval can be to live with, you cannot afford to pass it on to your children, because doing what was done to you is not longer the best you can do.
To change, we need to make a conscious decision to change!
If you need some help in motivating yourself to change, think of how much pain you have endured over the years while seeking others’ approval and about how much more heartache and pain you will have to endure through in a year, 5 years and 10 years if you do nothing.
Think how cruel you will be to your kids by continuing this cycle. My mentor life coach did this trick to me when I faced a difficult change. He said to me, “Would you want Eden to be like this?” and I understood that I managed to live with the pain as a survival mechanism, but I could not live with the pain of being a role model to my daughter and making her suffer for it. I made the change immediately!
The good news is that you can minimize several approval-seeking behaviors at once by developing a single skill. For example, if many of your approval-seeking behaviors are due to lack of significance, working on your sense of uniqueness and learning to feel special will reduce or even eliminate about a third of the behaviors mentioned.
Obviously, each solution requires time and energy, and reading it is not going to make the change, but implementing it and making a habit of it will. My suggestion is to pick one skill a week and to do something that will help you develop that skill every day. This way, over 25 weeks, you can slowly develop your self-confidence and get yourself out of that trap.
People like Talia who are actively working towards getting out of that trap, express feelings of freedom, control and happiness. You can feel the same!
I tell all my clients that when we make a change, we need the help of our subconscious mind, which quietly works in the background to protect us. During years of living by other people’s rules, the subconscious is convinced we are a risk to ourselves and we are not capable of taking control of our life. If you feel that you are out of control and you have thoughts of giving other people the power over your life, it is because your subconscious is now protecting you … from yourself!
Doing the conscious things below will go a long way to convince your subconscious that you are a wonderful, capable and independent person and your behavior will gradually change, as if by magic.
- Develop Critical thinking – sit every day and actively question everything around you. For a whole week, question your tradition, your belief system, the reason you go to work, your lifestyle, your parents’ style of parenting, your own parenting style and so on.
- Develop a responsible attitude – remember that no one can make you feel anything and no one else is responsible for your feelings or actions. When talking to people, instead of using phrases like, “You make me angry/sad/disappointed”, say, “I feel angry/sad/disappointed”. Instead of explaining, “I don’t have money”, say, “I’ve made a choice not to use the money for this”. This will send your subconscious a message that you are taking over control.
- Practice independent thinking – sit down with yourself (or a life coach) when others are not there and examine your thoughts without pressure. Ask yourself, “What do I really think about working late hours?” and be honest with yourself. You may not say it to others immediately, but at least you will not confuse what others want you to think with what you think yourself.
- Associate with the right crowd – people in the approval trap cannot afford to associate with other people who are trapped, because they will reinforce your existing beliefs and behaviors. Find people who stick out for being confident, who do not show all the behaviors on the list, and spend time with. They will not try to impress you and you will not have to try to impress them.
- Develop a sense of uniqueness – make a list of things you are good at and find things to master. They do not have to be academic. They can be any skill, like good time management, being a great cook or being expert at your job. We all have skills. The more you know it, the less you need others to tell you.
- Build your self-esteem – yes, I know, this one is a big ask and one week will not be enough. It is more of a life quest, but do as much as you can anyway. Learn about self-esteem and dedicate each week to implement one idea. You can find many ideas in my self-esteem mini course and many more in the personal development category.
- Stick out positively – there are good ways and bad ways to stick out. If people are annoyed with you, you are obviously not getting their approval and you are choosing the wrong way to stick out. You can always stick out by being good at what you do and by being kind and considerate. Not only will this attract the right attention but after a while, you will feel good enough about yourself not to care so much.
- Listen when you communicate – approval seekers tend to speak more than the people they talk to. When you communicate with others, control your desire to impress and engage mostly in asking questions and listening. Every time you do not tell others what you think of them, every time you do not find faults in what they do, every time you do not put others down, you are one step on your way out of the approval trap.
- Be punctual – being chronically late attracts lots of disapproval. Yes, it will give you attention, but the attention will be negative. If you need approval, stick out by being the person who always comes on time, ready for action.
- Count your blessings – feeling sorry for yourself to attract attention brings disapproval with it. Every time you are feeling sorry for yourself or thinking of telling others terrible stories to get their attention and make them feel sorry for you, think that no one wants to associate with failures, complainers and losers and they will eventually leave you. Every time you want to say something like that, swap it with a blessing. Instead of saying, “I had the flu and I almost died”, say, “I recovered quickly” or “I had a bit of time to rest”. There is always a positive way to look at things.
- Have a system for making decisions – fear of failure can be really debilitating and wanting to look good to other people can turn people into big procrastinators or perfectionists. Tell yourself, “I will check 3 times and that’s it” or “I ask one person to read it for feedback and that’s it”. Editing and improving never ends and the belief that if you improve, you will get more approval is false. At some stage, when you go over a test paper, you start changing things that were correct in the first place. Come up with a rule and stick to it.
- When talking about others, only say good things and be honest – when you say bad things about others, you may be doing it because you want them to be perceived as inferior compared to you. The technique is very easy. Every day, say something good about someone. We do it at dinnertime sometimes – we go around the table and say something good to another person. Because people like to build rapport, you will get back what you give and people will start saying good things about you with no effort on your part.
- Learn to be assertive – again, this is a lifelong quest and we all need to be assertiveness artists. When you express your needs without hurting anyone else, you are assertive. “I feel sad and I would like you to treat me with respect” is assertive. “You made me sad because you did… you have to treat me with respect and if not, I will make you suffer” is not. Learning to be assertive will also help you resolve and avoid conflicts and understand that when others think differently, this is not a threat and you can still hold your own thoughts and ideas. If you eat at a restaurant and the food is not hot enough, calmly call the waiter and say, “The food is cold. Please replace it for me”. It is not a conflict, because you have paid for hot food and the restaurant takes mishaps like this into consideration.
- Distinguish between being proud and bragging – bring proud is when you say something good about yourself. Bragging is when you compare yourself to others or need others to be inferior for you to feel good about yourself. Make a list of 100 things you are proud of and read it every day (also see my post I’m Proud of Me).
- Learn and consider yourself smart – smart does not mean being academic or having higher education. You can be a smart person even if you left school early (like Einstein was). Being curious and feeding this curiosity will make you a smart person, so develop your curiosity and feed it!
- Compliment and reward yourself – we all like compliments and rewards but we do not have to get them from others. We can give them to ourselves. Whenever I achieve something, I reward myself with time off, I buy myself something, I cook something I like to eat, I go for a walk on the beach and so on. I can reward myself any time and by that, I need others to reward me less and less.
- Learn how to buy time – when someone asks you to do something and you are not sure, say, “I need to check my schedule”, “I need to check with my wife” (Gal’s secret weapon) or “I’ll get back to you on this”. This will buy you time until you find the confidence to say “No” or calmly decide to say “Yes”.
- Be kind – give for the sake of giving without rewards. People in the approval trap give to others only when they expect some reward, but that gets them the opposite of what they want. When they help someone, they seek their approval, but by doing it for the approval and making others feel uncomfortable to have asked for help, they attract disapproval. In this cycle, the other person will ask less and less and the trapped approval seeker will get fewer and fewer opportunities to get rewards and increase their significance. Be kind for the sake of kindness and for making this world a better place. You will be surprised how good it feels (see more in my post Ways to be kind).
- Have a vision and set goals – with a vision and clear goals, you are less likely to drift towards what other people want in life and more likely have a good understanding of yourself. Only 10% of the people in modern society have goals. Not surprisingly, these are the most successful people. You can find lots of information regarding goal setting in the personal development category. Write a goal for every area of life and for the next 3 months, 1 year, 5 years and 10 years.
- Consider your compromises – life is full of compromises. When you make a decision, take a minute to think clearly and independently and ask yourself “This is what I gain from doing it, but what am I going to lose?” Then, weigh the benefits and losses for the short term and long term. Never ever lose more than you gain!
- Choose when to zig and when to zag – the choice whether to stick out or follow the herd must be done when you are not stressed. We cannot always stick out or always follow the herd and when you make the choice calmly, you have much more control over your life.
- Live and let live – what others do to look good or bad is none of your business. You are not there to tell them what to do or how to do it. On the other hand, your need for approval is your problem, so do not make it theirs. What you think and do is your choice and you do not need others to think and do the same in order to be convinced that you have made the right choice. Do what you think is right for you and allow others to make their own choices.
- Notice when you control others or put them down – every time you put someone else down, or try to control them, you send a message to your subconscious that you are projecting low self-esteem. Find out what triggers this behavior, catch yourself when you do it and build your self-esteem with acceptance and encouragement.
- Leadership skills – not everyone is born a leader, but to be a successful leader means that you have developed independent and critical thinking. To find out how leaders think, find leaders that inspire you (teachers, friends, your parents or someone else that has followers) and learn what they do that makes others follow them. You will never find a leader who lives without vision and goals or takes ages to make a decision. Learn from other leaders by associating with them or by reading about them – the library is full of books about leaders.
- Take some time with yourself – fear of being on your own can draw you into the trap of approval by compromising your relationship needs and thinking that it is better to be with someone who abuses you just to avoid the pain of being on your own. Find 15 minutes every week to be by yourself and gradually increase that time. Do some fun things in your “me time”, enjoy your own company and learn to be independent.
Like many others, Talia had a very particular trap of wanting to please one person – her mom. In the process, she learned that she was giving her mom power her mom never had or wanted (after she left home). By implementing each of the tips mentioned here, she slowly got out of the trap into a very happy and fulfilled life.
You can too!
May the force be with you for life,
This post is part of the series The Approval Trap: