People-pleasing is noble and great…until it’s not

If I kept track of which Optimize podcast episodes I recommend the most to friends, colleagues, and listeners, I’m about 95% sure the #1 episode I’ve recommended over the last few years has been my interview with NYT bestselling author Gretchen Rubin discussing The Four Tendencies.

Not only is this the most recommended conversation, it’s also a cornerstone piece of curriculum in my Optimizer coaching & mentorship program to help my students better understand themselves and how to create the proper forms of accountability to achieve their goals…while also setting healthier boundaries in the process.

News flash → You will not achieve your definition of success if you don’t learn to judiciously use the word “no” in the face of opportunities that aren’t really opportunities for you.

If you haven’t read Gretchen’s book or listened to the podcast yet , these are her “Four Tendencies”:

  • The Upholder
  • The Questioner
  • The Obliger
  • The Rebel

To be clear: These are not personality “types” (I hate that crap, putting people in buckets and defining them by simple acronyms), these are “tendencies” specific to how we respond to expectations.

If you consider yourself a “people pleaser, “meaning you always put the needs of others ahead of your own, if you over commit to too many projects simultaneously, and if you find all of the above leading towards burnout – or even worse uncharacteristically lashing out at others for no good reason – the likelihood is that you’re primarily an “Obliger.”

Being an obliger is incredibly noble. Teachers, doctors, nurses, caregivers, coaches, and many other professions are dominated by the obliger tendency. These are the people that inspire us and literally keep us alive!

But as the last few years of the pandemic have demonstrated – specifically those working in hospitality and caregiving – being a people pleaser and putting the needs of others ahead of your own can ultimately lead to massive burnout, mental health issues, depression, or even worse.

So if you find yourself constantly meeting the needs of others to your own detriment (and potential demise), what’s the solution? And is there a solution at all?

Let me first address the most common question I get from my students when they consider they might be an “Obliger”:

“How can I fix this?”

You can’t “fix it” because being an obliger doesn’t mean you’re broken at all! It just means you need to be more conscious of setting boundaries (more on that below) and protecting your own well-being.

While each person’s situation and obligations are unique and require their own set of solutions, I do think there are some basic strategies all of us can use – obligers, non-obligers, and otherwise – to cultivate a more sustainable approach to balancing the needs of others with our own.

Here are a few simple suggestions if you struggle with setting boundaries.

When setting boundaries with others…start small

If your default setting has always been people pleasing (to a fault), you aren’t going to set uncrossable boundaries overnight. Sticking up for yourself and setting proper boundaries is like a muscle, and if it hasn’t been used in a long time (or ever), you need to slowly build up that muscle.

If you’ve been working unpaid overtime every weekend for a year because “the schedule is the schedule,” you can’t magically summon the strength to tell your boss to eff off and find someone else to work on Saturdays. But the next time a waiter gets your lunch order wrong, it’s okay to tell them you asked for a burger with no cheese. (no really…it’s okay!)

Prioritize your own self care

As an extension of the first suggestion above, this isn’t going to be easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight. You need to start small. But if you’ve spent your entire life prioritizing the needs of others, you may not even be aware of your own needs (and yes you have needs!). Think of one simple thing you’ve avoided or constantly rescheduled to accommodate others and get it on your calendar.

Whether it’s a facial, a salon appointment, a massage, a hike, rock climbing with friends, or simply having time to yourself to read a book or catch up on a show that YOU want to watch…literally put a block on your calendar that’s all about you.

Clarify your goals

When it comes to people pleasing and taking endless opportunities as they come along, I often find the biggest stumbling block to saying “no” is that most people don’t know what they should be saying “yes” to because they don’t have clear goals.

If you take the time to better understand what your goals are – especially in the next 3-6 months – it’s so much easier to set boundaries and say “no” to the wrong opportunities because you know what you’d have to sacrifice by saying “yes.”

Whether it’s your boss, your family, your friends, or ultimately yourself, you will ALWAYS have to say “no” to someone. The clearer your goals, the easier it is to define an opportunity versus a distraction.

You Are Definitely Not Alone

If after reading today’s newsletter you’ve come to the realization that obliging others and being a people pleaser might not always be the best thing for your well-being, then you’ll love tomorrow’s podcast interview with camera operator turned award-winning editor Lisa Robison, CCE (click here to subscribe so you don’t miss the episode when it drops).

It literally took a near-death experience for Lisa to figure out the best career path for herself, and to this day she’s still learning more sustainable ways to set healthy boundaries around her work. So if you think once you become successful all these problems will magically disappear…I promise the problems only get more complex.

I’m curious friend…

What is one area of your life where you could benefit from setting stronger boundaries? And how would doing so positively affect your well-being?

BTW, if you didn’t know already, I read every message I receive personally. Pinky-promise. 😜

Be well.
Zack Arnold
Creator, Optimize Yourself

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”