Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Brownies and Unicorns

I have a friend who is compelled to please. He can't make a decision because no matter what he decides, someone is going to be unhappy with him. He is facing a major crossroad and he is completely paralyzed. 


Of course he's paralyzed. He's never developed his decision muscles.


Consider decision-making a physical activity. Ideally, we start making small decisions as children because small decisions have small consequences. I imagine no adult still feels the crushing sting of regret at having chosen to cash in arcade tickets for the Tweety Bird slap bracelet instead of the Lisa Frank unicorn pencil eraser. We all have to move on at some point. We build our tolerance and our endurance.


Now, imagine that instead of building upon those small decisions, your friend allowed other people to make the harder decisions for him. It probably wasn't overt. It could have been as harmless as a parent saying, "Oh, is that what you've decided to do?" Well, not anymore, Ma. Let's play 20 questions so I can guess what you've already decided is best for me. Maybe Ma Kettle didn't mean it that way, or maybe she did, but the satisfaction of figuring out what she (or anybody else) wanted replaced the satisfaction of making a decision.


Over time, your friend got better at decipher other people's social clues than he did at actually making choices. Although this skill will serve him well if he becomes a spy or serial killer, he probably doesn't have much sense of self awareness. He is so invested in what other people want that he can't separate out his own preferences.  


Your friend needs to stop trying to please. I'm sure a legitimate advice columnist would wax on about the roots of self-esteem and confidence, but I'm not legitimate and I'm going to assume your friend is under 30. In that case, he's got all the self-esteem and confidence that decades of positive reinforcement and awards ceremonies can provide. Therein lies the problem. He thinks people care what he decides, and, because he wants people to be happy with him and give him gold stars and Lisa Frank unicorn pencil erasers, he cares what people think.


In general, no one cares what your friend does, unless it directly affects them. (For example, it will cause them to do more work or have an unusually expensive and embarrassing cable bill. Everything else will be forgotten the moment someone else does something that they think is foolish.) Assuming your friend is not the six-fingered man that killed their father, most people judge character based on a nebulous amalgamation of past events and successful hairstyles. One decision shouldn't send any rational individual over the edge.


This is not to say that people won't express disappointment, which may be momentarily uncomfortable. However, it isn't affecting the other people nearly as much as it is affecting your friend. He'll never admit it, but your friend is afraid to upset other people because he likes the feeling he gets when he makes people happy. He is pleasing himself. If he figured out what he really wanted and had to tell people things they didn't want to hear, he might lose that warm, gooey brownie feeling. He might be responsible for his own success or failure. That's scary and it's a lot easier to convince flabby decision muscles to wrap themselves in a Snuggie and retreat to the people-pleasing couch.


Your friend needs to lay off the emotional junk food and start making little decisions to build up his muscle tone. Call it the "Couch-2-My Way" program. Try to disappoint at least one person a day. Once he gets the hang of it, I think your friend might find disappointing people quite addictive. He might even make a career out it, which is what professional writing is all about.


Of course, the position of snarky, fake-advice blog writer is taken.


What's with the graphic?


This is my first week linking up with...anyone. I still don't understand what that means, but yeah write has a lot of great bloggers on it and you should read their stuff. Then explain to me what linking up means. Thank you.











31 comments:

  1. I do believe you hit the nail on the head. Why should your friend make any decisions when others do it for him? It's easier just to sit back and let others do all the hard work, or just easier than letting the emotional aspect come into play.

    Welcome to the club!

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    1. Thanks! I'm having a lot of fun reading the other blogs!

      Exactly. It may look like he's acting for the benefit of others, but he is benefiting himself as well.

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  2. I don't think it's so much the disappointing at least one person a day as it is to make a decision for yourself that you would be happy with even if you were alone and stranded on a desert island.

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    1. I completely agree, if you know what you would want on that island. But for someone that is sensitive to disappointing others, that's not always clear because they have defined themselves based on what other's want. Forcing that person to "disappoint" someone (keeping in mind that the other person probably isn't going to be as disappointed as the people-pleaser fears) is a quick and dirty way to get used to not immediately choosing whatever the other person wants and becoming "ok" with the other person's response. When the other person's response stops mattering, it's easier to determine which option the former people-pleaser truly prefers.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Such a great post! I know more than one person like that. In fact, my husband's parents conditioned him from a young age to only do as they said and to feel intense pressure to please them - resulting in his becoming a procrastinator and feeling incredible guilt whenever he opposed them. He's over it now, but then again he's pushing 40 ;)

    You were really insightful here! Welcome to Yeah Write!

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    1. Thanks so much!

      I didn't want to blame parents completely for causing chronic decision paralysis, but usually that's where it starts. I can say that now that I'm a parent and know that inevitably something I do will cause my children to spend years in therapy.

      Glad your husband got past it!

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  5. Oh you are so funny: "this is my first week of linking up with...anyone." Ha!
    I'm wondering if you indecisive friend is, like my husband, a Pisces?

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    1. I don't know exactly who "the friend" is because the question submitter didn't say...so I assumed it was him. Funny enough, I'm a Pisces and I have definitely struggled with this issue myself. I think it's because we crave harmony.

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  6. Hey! Welcome to the club. I'm pretty new myself, but you are going to love it. Great peeps, awesome atmosphere.

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    1. Thanks! I'm going to be lurking over at your blog a bit. I've been to Italy once to visit family and all I could think of was, "Why did we leave?!" Can't wait to go back...

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  7. welcome to the yeah write club...this is only my 4th time, but I already love it :) great advice here!! can't wait to read more :)

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    1. Thanks! This has been a great experience.

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  8. "In general, no one cares what your friend does, unless it directly affects them." I am going to tape that quote to my wall...maybe I will decide to get out more often because of it.

    :) Welcome to yeah write. The reading part is great too, and your space is no exception.

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    1. Thanks! I loved your post for yeah write this week!

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  9. First of all, welcome. When I first began to explore blogging as a "community," Yeah Write was called Lovelinks and I met (some IRL, actually) a pretty kick ass group of people there. So enjoy that.

    Second, I have no idea what it's like to not make most of the decisions, so leaving them up to others sounds kind of like a nice vacation. Are you sure he's not just extremely lazy, your friend?

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    1. It's definitely laziness of a sort. I'm actually working on another post about decision fatigue, which is why it takes my husband and I two hours to decide what to have for dinner.

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  10. Yep, I find that incredibly frustrating. Just make a decision! Do something! Anything!

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    1. Exactly! Do the absolute wrong thing, do it repeatedly, but do it with gusto.

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  11. I love how you compare decision making to a muscle. That is so true!

    P.S. Welcome to your 1st link up... ever! :)

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    1. Thanks! It was less scary then I anticipated. Everyone is so supportive.

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  12. I can't decide what to comment here.

    Haha! Sorry, I'm in a funny mood. That's what happens when you've read 200 blogs in 3 days.

    Welcome to yeah write - I started linking (yeah it's kinda bewildering when you haven't done it before) when YW was lovelinks. I think it was #6 or #7 when I first started linking. Amazing isn't it? Enjoy the community, it's fab!

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    1. Haha! The important thing is that you wrote something!

      Thanks!

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  13. You could have been talking about me. Seriously. When I was younger I was a great decision maker, knew exactly who I was, and if other people didn't like it? Well too bad. But now I'm all about how other people feel. While I suppose it's nice that I care about others, it's also annoying. Like you said, most of the time other people could care less what I do. And you are totally right, I like the way I feel when I make other people happy. Excellent advice! And welcome to Yeah Write. A linky is like joining the cool kids club, except we're not mean and we don't talk about you behind your back.

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    1. Haha! Thanks for explaining it!

      I had the same unfortunate "transformation" when I hit puberty. I think it is pretty normal for teenagers to make decisions on the whims of their peers (that's why their decisions always make so much sense!) but the question is how to break free of that pattern. I still struggle with it.

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  14. Great advice! I'm all about people taking responsibility for their choices, and I work really hard to let my kids start making decisions now. Like you said, if you dn't get the chance to make poor decisions when you're young and the consequences are small, you don't know how to make them as an adult, when it's really important.

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    1. Exactly! Sometimes it is easier to just make the choice for kids, but then they miss the opportunity. And eventually, they are going to rebel, so they have to have the right tools and experiences.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  15. I like this, if for no other reason than I think you're talking about me! I can't make decisions. Not because I worry about what other people thing, but because I worry what I will think after I make it. Also I like to do things for others, so if they wanted to make the decision (like where to have dinner) I let them do it. But that's sort of dumb when you think about it. :) Fun post!

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    1. Thanks!

      I have a few people in my life who can't make decisions because they are worried about whether they will regret it. And you are right, it's a whole different issue. Sometimes it is nice to let other people decide, but when I do that I usually secretly resent whatever they choose. I'm evil that way!

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  16. Welcome to Yeah Write. I capitalize it even though no one else does because I'm an English teacher, and if I don't, my brain short circuits, and nothing good can come of that. I like your post; it's very level-headed and reasonable. I like advice like that. I'm looking forward to reading more of your stuff.

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    1. Thank you! I hope you will return, although I must warn you that I am not a good editor, so I hope I don't offend your English teacher sensibilities. I am always willing to edit my mistakes, though, so feel free to point out anything that bugs you.

      I'm glad you liked the post.

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I love comments. They make me feel like I'm not talking to myself. I try to reply to all of them, eventually.