One thing I’m working on in my life right now is being more assertive. From the time I was a little kid, I struggled with assertiveness. I would feel nervous about putting my opinion or position out there, especially if it caused conflict with someone else.
As I grew older, my “just get along” attitude caused problems. Sometimes conflict is healthy and necessary. It’s good to be able to stand up to someone if what they are doing isn’t right. Also, if you don’t stand up for yourself, you are less likely to get what you want. There are times where I held back from applying for a job, asking for a raise, or asking a girl out on a date because I was scared of putting myself out there.
Part of my issue has to do with how we are raised in society. From the time we are little, we learn that certain things are good and certain things are bad. We pick up hundreds of little rules that our culture and society put upon us. Sometimes it feels scary to color outside the lines, or stand up for what we really want or believe in, especially if it goes against the status quo.
3-Step Intervention to Increase Assertiveness
Here’s a simple intervention I have been using in my life to increase my assertiveness and throw off the societal rules that sometimes hold me back from acting in my best interests.
- Notice when you hold back or conform. The first step is to become aware of situations where you are struggling to assert yourself and say what you think, want, or need. Try to tune into those times where you feel an urge to do or say something, but then you hold back because of social convention. For me, when this happens inside me, I notice feelings of anxiety or tension. What comes up for you?
- What are the consequences of breaking the rule? Some rules are really important. For example, stealing isn’t allowed because it violates a person’s right to own possessions. Stop lights exist to help people drive safely. But other rules are just there to help people feel comfortable, or to try to force people to conform. If the consequences of breaking the rule or convention are minimal, move forward to Step #3.
- Act in the direction of your discomfort. The final step is to assert yourself by saying or doing what you want or need. If the action is in your best interest and is true to yourself, don’t worry too much if it makes someone else uncomfortable. By learning to blow past social conventions (and realizing that you’re okay), you can help build your assertiveness muscle.
Going to the Bank a Sweaty Mess
Here’s an example from my own life. I finished my CrossFit workout and was a sweaty mess. I needed to run to the bank to get something notarized. The bank was on my way home, so it was convenient to run the errand after my workout.
But I hesitated (Step 1). I had this rule in my head that I shouldn’t go into the bank to get my document notarized because I was so sweaty and gross. I felt like I should go home and take a shower first, and then go to the bank.
When I stopped to think about it, the consequences of breaking the rule were minimal (Step 2). There were no actual consequences besides my own feelings of discomfort.
So, I went to the bank (Step 3). I was fine, and I got my document notarized without any problem. This seems like a very small thing (and it was). But little by little, by acting in the direction of my discomfort, I’m getting more comfortable with doing and saying what I need and want.
Discussion: How are you with assertiveness? How comfortable do you feel saying and doing what you need and want? What do you think of the 3-step intervention to improve your assertiveness?