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Stop people pleasing: 3 lessons learned from watering plants

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

For many years I had been fearing to say "no", especially to innocuous requests. I felt like "sure" was the default response that I cultivated in my childhood.

Maybe you also had those times when you were playing on a playground and suddenly another kid wanted to have your toy? I was taught that not sharing was rude, impolite and that people won't like me. So this habit of accepting someone's request without considering myself first stuck around for a longer time.

So what is it to do with watering plants?

Once I was approached by a coworker who asked me if I could take care of his plants while he was on vacation for a few weeks. I was relatively new to the company and was eager to get to know coworkers better. I also thought of it as a gesture of trust - someone asked me for help.

Without any additional questions, I happily reacted with my default “Sure!”.

Later on, I found myself in the apartment surrounded by at least 50-60 plants. They were everywhere: on the floor, on the walls, on the balcony, outside on the windowsill. They were of different sizes and types.

After receiving instructions on how to take care of that garden (quite beautiful, I need to say), I also kindly agreed to take care of some other errands while my colleague was absent.

This is how I organised quite a busy month that summer. Sometimes I sacrificed my yoga classes or morning runs because I had to be there early in the morning. And at some point I asked myself why I actually agreed to do it - I never was a plant person. And I knew I had other things to do.

A few months later, I asked the same colleague for help. And I heard "Ah, sorry, I can’t". So simple. And yet it hurt.

And here came the learnings.

You can't pour from an empty cup.

When you say "yes" to something without thinking about it, you are saying "no" to other things that may be more important to you. When people ask you for a favour, ask yourself: am I really willing to do it?

Also, if your agreeableness is led by the desire to be liked, perceived in a certain way or you want to avoid the feeling of guilt - then I must warn you. You might get very upset when you will not see the same attitude from the other person in return. Which is normal - everyone has their own boundaries.

When we share from a state where we have enough to give, the benefits are so much greater. Don't sacrifice your own needs.

You don’t have to give the answer right away.

If you feel uncomfortable saying that confident and calm "No," pause before you answer. Just say, "Thank you, I'll think about it and get back to you," or "I'll check my schedule and let you know".

Then check in with yourself: how do you feel about it? Do you have enough energy or time to do it? What will happen if you do not do it?

Once you honestly answer yourself, it becomes much easier to communicate your decision to the other person. We do not need to over-explain or justify ourselves. A simple and polite "I'm sorry, I have other commitments, I won't be able to join" is more than enough.

Are you worried about what the other person will think when you say it? What if they get mad at you? You may be surprised at how fine it is to tell people what you want. Think back to previous experiences - many people simply reply "okay" in response to your rejection and forget about it.

In any case, don't forget that we can't control other people's feelings and emotions.

Respect the rules you set for yourself.

Some people can try to check how strong your “no” is - they ask for an explanation or try to manipulate your emotions.

And it is important to understand that if you give in and change your decision, they will learn that this is the way how to influence you - by putting some pressure on you or getting emotional about your reply.

Remind yourself that you are responsible for what you want to don’t want to have in your life. Creating this healthy relationship with yourself tremendously helps create healthy relationships with others.

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