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Is Your Inner Pleaser Wreaking Havoc on Your Health & Fitness?

Updated: Jul 5, 2020

What does this guy have to do with being a people pleaser, you ask? Let's see what the Greek Gods can teach us.

Atlas was punished with the task of carrying the heavens on his shoulders for siding against the Olympians in the Titan Wars - thus the expression, "carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders." But Atlas had an opportunity to change his fate when Heracles told him he would take the load. Atlas would just need to steal some golden apples which were guarded by a hundred-headed dragon, but no worries. Atlas said, "Sounds like a good deal!" When he returned from his quest with said apples, Heracles complained bitterly that the heavens were SOOOO heavy. He pleaded with Atlas to take back the heavens, just for a sec, while he ran out to get some cushions to help him bear the weight - apparently he didn't have Amazon Prime. Atlas, being a compassionate God, agreed. Heracles took off with the apples, and if this was a cartoon, the speech bubble would read, "So long, suckah!"

Can you relate to Atlas? I know I can. At one point, I volunteered in both my children's classrooms, chaired PTA membership, co-lead a Girl Scout troop, and mentored an adolescent youth group - all while working part time and taking care of my family. Worthy causes? No doubt, but I sacrificed sleep and was less than a joy to be around, which took a toll on my health and family relationships.

I see this play out a lot with female clients, too. They miss their scheduled workouts or are just completely exhausted for their training sessions. They keep loads of junk food at home for the family, volunteer during much of their free time, and have no time* to plan healthy meals. They get back on the computer after the second shift, and plug away for hours. They work their way up to positions with more power, only to be bombarded with texts & emails at all hours of the day, night, and weekend. Whatever their specific demands, they continually push their own needs to the bottom of the to-do list, thinking that at some point, things will ease up and then they'll have a chance. If only that were true. I learned the hard way, as Thoreau brilliantly put it, "Things do not change, we change."

Women are conditioned from an early age to be accommodating, often putting others' needs and wants ahead of our own. Many of us witnessed this in our own families when we were growing up. Practice this behavior over many years, and it becomes a habit. The more you groove that habit, the harder it is to change course. So, what can be done to bring some balance between being a good partner, parent, employee, and citizen and taking care of yourself? Let's look at a hypothetical example with two different outcomes:

The PTA calls and asks if you'd be willing to volunteer at school once a week. They know how great you are at stepping up, and that you're only working part time right now. An internal debate erupts, at lightning speed:

Scenario A:

The Pleaser in your brain shouts, "YES! Absolutely! The teachers need your support so they can focus on teaching. Everyone knows how reliable you are, you upstanding citizen, you!" The Pragmatist tries to get in a word, reminding you, "Ahem, you'll be picking up the slack for your boss when she goes on maternity leave soon, you already coordinate the school's reading program, and you've just restarted exercising with a friend twice a week." The Pleaser butts in and says, "Never mind her, this is important. If you don't do this, who will? And will people even like/respect you if you don't?"

Before you can give it another thought, you blurt out, "Yes, of course." You can hear your Inner Critic saying, "You fool, you just bit off more than you can chew. You're barely on top of things now." Immediately you start to feel dread in the pit of your stomach, which you ignore.

Fast forward to next week: your boss is on bed rest, your in-laws will be visiting, and the house isn't going to clean itself. You abandon meal planning and cancel your workouts. You stay up late getting things done, become impatient with your co-workers and short-tempered with your loved ones. When you arrive at school to volunteer, you feel your resentment building as your look for a place to park. Next week comes and the kids have dentist appointments and your washing machine goes on the fritz. And life happens, week after week, but exercising and meal planning (and time just to breathe) move further down on the priority list.

Scenario B:

The Pleaser in your brain shouts, "YES! Absolutely! They need you! You don't want to let them down, do you?" The Ref throws up the red flag with Atlas on it. The Staller hits the pause button and says, "Hold up, girl. This is not an emergency. Stall for time and tell them you'll get back to them."

So, you do just that, and buy yourself some time.

Now that you've had a minute, the Big Picture Thinker asks, "Do you really have time* for this given your current load (paid & non-paid)? Would it eliminate flexibility to deal with the unexpected and all downtime? If you do say yes, what might you be saying no to?" The Pleaser says,"What will the PTA and the teachers think of you, if you don't? You should do this." The Inner Critic says, "They'll think you're selfish and decide they can't count on you. I guess you're not as wonderful as you thought." The Pragmatist counters, "There is no should. You could do it. But you're already doing something for this community, and they can ask someone else."

You call them back the next day and say, "Unfortunately, I can't take this on right now."

Wow! There are SO many characters lurking in our brains, LOL. Here are the take aways to remember the next time you face a similar situation:

1. When that red flag goes up in your gut or head, pay attention.

2. Hit the PAUSE button before you reply and stall for time.

3. Ask yourself the practical questions, most importantly:

  • "If I say yes to this, what will I be saying no to?"

  • "Will saying yes eliminate all flexibility and downtime from my schedule*?"

4. It doesn't have to be all-or-none. Perhaps you can contribute in some way without throwing yourself under the bus. If this opportunity is something that is important to you, circle back when you have more flexibility, and offer to help.

5. Sometimes it's going to be a NO. This can be tough if you're a people pleaser, but, like any muscle, it gets stronger with practice. If you need a bit more help with the specifics, check out The Ultimate Guide to Saying No: 19 Word-for-Word Scripts to Help You Say No with Grace and Compassion.

It can feel uncomfortable to say no when you're in the habit of pleasing, but other people are not going to be thinking about this as much as you think they are. If the worse case scenario is that some people won't like you, well, not everyone is going to like you, and that's OK. Respecting your own needs often results in others respecting your boundaries. Next time you're asked to take on more, think about Atlas and hit the pause button.

And, If you have trouble remembering to pause, download this image and use it as your wallpaper on your phone:

* It's easy for our schedules to become muddled with things that are not actually listed on the calendar. If you'd like a worksheet that helps you track how you actually use your time, e-mail me at with the subject line: I want a clear view of my time.

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