Approval seeking. An online dictionary says this about approval seeking:
Seeking is defined as looking for something, or trying to achieve something. If you become a doctor because your parents want you to and you try desperately your whole life to get your parents to approve of you, this is an example of seeking approval.
This (above) is a common and fairly simple example, here are some other really common approval seeking behaviours:
– Changing or softening a stance because someone appears to disapprove.
– Taking it personally and feeling upset or insulted if someone ever disagrees with you.
– Outwardly agreeing with someone (verbally or non-verbally) when you do not actually agree with them.
– Doing something which you do not want to do because you are afraid to say ‘No’
– Failing to stand up for your own rights.
– Engaging in gossip to gain attention or gain acceptance.
– Seeking permission when it is not required.
– Consistently apologising for your words and actions even in the absence of others’ disapproval e.g. ‘I’m sorry but..’
– Being afraid to admit that you lack understanding, expertise or that there is something you do not know.
– Fishing for or expecting compliments and/or getting upset if someone fails to do so.
You see, any behaviour which is contrary to your identity and purpose, or conflicts with your core beliefs, could be said to be done to gain the approval of someone else. Today is about how to stop approval seeking then.
“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, being nothing” – Aristotle
We cannot really avoid criticism if we plan on making any waves in life. Yet we constantly worry about what others will say and portray situations of disaster and chaos.
Here are a couple of articles about how to deal with criticism by the way:
a) How to Deal with Criticism Effectively.
b) How to Effectively Deal With Criticism.
This sensitivity to criticism is often due to the personal approval-seeking behaviours we established in the earlier years of life. When Mum and Dad punished us or were disappointed in us because we didn’t accomplish a task or achieve a goal of some sort, we developed a habit telling us that we had to do it right next time to get approval.
However, we can get rid of those outdated feelings that can overwhelm our lives sometimes. The trick is to accept our approval-seeking mindset and began working on a solution.
Overcoming our fears are just part of everyone’s growth that needs full attention and commitment, and once detected and fixed, you open the dam to a bunch of positive experiences. Remember, your thoughts are the motor of your actions, so every time you get in trouble, an incorrect management of your emotions might create a thought hangover for years.
A good starting point is to write about what you are afraid of the most. Being aware of and downloading your biggest anxieties in this regard is the first step to a clearer and more peaceful mind that is not constantly approval seeking.
Here are a few things you can do to loosen your grip on approval seeking:
Step 1: Ask Where Your Need for Approval Comes From.
In many cases, a tendency to seek approval at work stems from something in your past. For example, were you taught to respect authority growing up? If so, you may feel uncomfortable expressing disagreement in work contexts. Did you struggle to make friends in school and develop a fear of being rejected? This may now be driving you to do whatever if takes to feel included and liked by your co-workers.
Reflect on how your childhood or early development may be contributing to your current approval-seeking behaviour. Put it into some context and perspective and normalise this behaviour.
Step 2: Make Friends With Rejection, Be OK With It.
Think back to a time when you failed to meet expectations or disappointed someone. Maybe your boss asked you to completely re-do a project, or perhaps you missed an important deadline. How did you recover from that slip-up? What did you learn as a result? In most cases, you were probably able to turn the situation around—and it likely helped you grow as a professional.
“The people who receive the most approval in life are the ones who care the least about it–so technically, if you want the approval of others, you need to stop caring about it.”- Wayne W. Dyer
When you break it down, disapproval is a form of feedback—information you can use to improve and make your next performance even stronger. It also helps to also re-frame rejection as something positive. It means you’re moving forward and pushing limits, rather than just staying in your comfort zone.
Step 3. Embrace a Growth Mindset.
When you prioritise learning and constant improvement, you free yourself from needing approval from others. Psychologist Carol Dweck (in her brilliant book Mindset, 2006) found that individuals who viewed skill and ability as something to be developed over time, rather than innate and unchangeable, were most likely to achieve their full potential. Those with this “growth mindset” were more likely to challenge themselves than those with “fixed mindsets,” who took feedback as a sign of disapproval and failure.
By understanding that there is abundant room for growth, improvement, and success, you can wean yourself from the constant need for validation.
In relation to both step 2 and 3, here are a couple of articles on the notion of failure (perceived failure perhaps) and how to learn from it and grow out of it:
a) How To Learn From Failure.
b) Using Self-Hypnosis To Discover How You Attribute Success and Failure.
Step 4: Focus on the Process, Not Just Outcomes.
If you’re prone to approval-seeking, focus on improving processes, rather than achieving a particular outcome. When you focus too narrowly on one singular result, such as getting a promotion or raise, you attach your self-worth to external standards—which may be outside of your control.
For example, even if you’re performing well and hitting all your benchmarks, your company might not be doing as well and decide to put a salary freeze into effect. While this is completely outside of your control and doesn’t reflect on your value as an employee, if you’ve been banking on that raise, you’re bound to be disappointed.
However, if you instead concentrate on a process that you can control, you can reduce the power that approval has over you. For example, maybe you strive to become more organised, so you’re seen as more effective—and therefore, more deserving of a promotion.
Here are a couple of great articles to help you enjoy the challenge of problems, and seek out the processes underpinning them:
a) Learn To Enjoy Life’s Problems.
b) Apply Problem Solving To Yourself and Solve Your Own Problems.
Of course there are no real shortcuts with this, the best way to take apprehensions out is to commit to a daily practice on how to focus on the moment. There is much more literature and resource available on these subjects now, and there is no excuse to not do what it takes to conquer your focus and tame those compliancy cravings. Besides, there are lots of qualified professionals out there dedicated to support people in their endeavours to achieve happiness.
Step 5: Defend Your Rights – Including Your Right To Be You!
The world and your life within it is not black and white. You are entitled to your own thoughts, beliefs and opinions. Just because you think differently to someone else does not mean that one of you is right and one of you is wrong. It is important to be able to respect the right of others to have their own opinion but to do so; you must first be able to respect your right to have your own opinion. If someone makes a convincing argument, it is perfectly acceptable to change your opinion; however, if they fail to make a convincing argument, you are just as entitled to stick to your own opinion and agree to disagree. Respecting your own views requires you to avoid approval seeking behaviours.
On my hypnotherapy practitioner diploma training course, when we teach assertiveness training, we often learn how to establish a personal ‘bill of rights’ which help us to assert ourselves correctly and effectively. I often share the gestalt prayer with my clients who are looking to develop assertiveness too, here it is:
I do my thing, and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
And if by chance, we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’ t be helped.
by Fritz Perls
One of the most ironic things about approval-seeking behaviour is that it usually creates the opposite results to those which you want. If you take a moment to consider the people for whom you have the most respect, you’ll usually discover that one of their strongest traits is their ability to be true to who they are. They are likely to stand up for themselves, what they believe in and live by their own values. Approval seeking behaviour is intended to get more approval and respect from others, yet what people generally respect is the very opposite i.e. people who are true to themselves. It is nice to have the approval of others but the way to get it is to have self-approval and self-respect. While modern life often conditions people to seek approval; familiarising yourself with the steps above for dismantling approval seeking, is going to help provide an antidote to that.
At the end of the day, the only person you need to answer to is yourself. Your own self-approval is a crucial aspect of your integrity and will keep you happy and fulfilled in the long run. By working to free yourself from approval-seeking behaviours, you’re honouring yourself and your own needs – and setting yourself up for long-term happiness. I’ll leave you with the words of a very sage and wise woman who I’m surprised I’ve not quoted more often:
“Eventually you just have to realize that you’re living for an audience of one. I’m not here for anyone else’s approval.” – Pamela Anderson.