Why I'm not as nice as I used to be.
Habits are really hard to break. I'm not talking here about physical behaviours, like smoking or chewing your nails. I'm talking about thought habits - the patterns of thinking and feeling that keep you thinking and feeling and thinking and feeling about things in the same way over and over again.
My terrible habit - one which I keep thinking I've overcome until it kicks me in the butt again - is people pleasing. I've been talking to a friend about it recently and have really highlighted for myself how energy draining it is.
You see, I started off as a young person in an angry household where I would try to play nice, stay quiet and appease other people to keep the peace. As I've grown older, studying psychology and philosophy and health, I have formed a sense of purpose out of helping people to elevate their wellbeing. After a period of time in business (working in my own as well as others') this sense of purpose was accompanied by a sense that I should be nice to everyone - because the customer is always right (right?) and PR is important (right??).
Wrong because the customer simply is not always right and we need to stop sucking up to people who act like spoilt brats, and wrong because being true to oneself is far more important than keeping up appearances.
I'm finally starting to understand that this old "be-nice-to-everyone" bullshit simply comes from a place of insecurity and leads to me being inauthentic. I fall into the trap of trying to be all things to all people, and even when I know the trap is there, I let my guard down for a minute and fall straight back in! Luckily I know enough about self-compassion to forgive myself for it, but it doesn't change the fact that I still have a people-pleasing habit to resolve.
When I started looking into what I can do to break this habit, I realised that there are a few factors at play here. Firstly I have a general fear around not being accepted - so I will be nice in order to "fit in" and not rock the boat. Secondly, I was often comparing myself to other people and to other standards of achievement and thinking about the opportunities I could seize to replicate the success of others. Together this just ended up with me saying "yes" to a whole bunch of stuff I really wanted to say "no" to.
One of the solutions I've put into play is obvious - I've started to practice saying "no". It's really awkward at first for someone like me - it feels like putting a left shoe on a right foot! But it's getting easier to define, set and communicate my boundaries with people. The other solution I've been trying on for size is practicing creativity. This one is perhaps less intuitive, but Brene Brown's social sciences research tells us that creativity is the antidote for comparison. So I've been practicing thinking outside the square, problem solving differently, getting my pencils and paints out too and feeling amazed at what it is doing for my sense of authenticity.
I'm not out of the woods yet - but I've come a long way! I'm still probably nicer than I will be a year from now (enjoy it while it lasts people!) but I know breaking any kind of brain habit takes around 18 months of conscious practice before it starts to become automatic. After all, there's years of brain wiring there to re-develop and re-connect - lucky we've all got neuroplasticity to rely on. :)
Bek Smith is the co-founder of Smith & Wellness, the Lead Trainer for SAHMRI's Wellbeing and Resilience Centre, and a flawed-but-generally-alright kind of human being. This February 17-18 she is running a weekend titled "Permanently Inspired Living" for people who want to live more authentically (and maybe practice being less 'nice'!). To find out more go to the events page here or email firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation.