Saying what you really think is, in my experience, much easier said than done. I have amazing women in my professional and personal circles who don’t seem to struggle with this, and I am in awe of them. If a thought enters their head, they say it. This doesn’t mean they are rude or abrupt; quite the opposite. They are kind and diplomatic and powerful. But they don’t hold their own opinion to be any less valuable than anyone else’s, and they share it when needed.
A few weeks ago, I shared my personal story online of what I have come to think of as my Good Girl Complex. The Good Girl Complex is the seemingly insurmountable impulse to squash my own thoughts and feelings in the interest of always pleasing others. But it’s not as selfless as it seems. It is in fact, at it’s core a pretty selfish phenomenon, because it is driven by the deep-seated fear of rejection by others. To keep others’ love and approval, I mold myself to what I think they want from me. And in the process, I leave the real me squashed inside, hidden from everyone. Over time, the real me becomes nothing but a barely audible whimper, screaming to get out but completely silenced by my own fears and perceptions.
The problem with this is that I am keeping my authentic self from the people I love the most. It makes my friendships less real, keeps my employees from knowing where they really stand with me, and prevents me from powerfully connecting with the clients I seek to serve.
The Good Girl Complex blog post received an astounding response. Men and women alike reached out to say this is something they struggle with, too — that they were plagued with not being able to express their true opinions in every part of their life. Seeing my own struggles reflected in others made the whole thing seem even more ridiculous. We’re all keeping our true selves from each other, all fueled by the same fear of rejection. A fear that isn’t real, but a story constructed in our own powerful minds.
If you, like me, struggle with voicing your true thoughts and feelings, I invite you to try a different way. The impact will shock you. Here are three ways to start:
1. Evaluate What It is Costing You
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that everywhere there is a benefit, there is a cost. For me, the benefit of suppressing my true opinions is getting to always be in favor with the people I’m communicating with. But what is it costing me? True and authentic relationships for one, not to mention the resentment that builds inside me when my true opinion isn’t taken into account (even though I am the one opting to keep it to myself).
To motivate your transformation toward being someone who says what they really think, consider what your current way of being is costing you. What is it costing you at home, at work, and in other areas of your life? Write down in two columns – what are the benefits and what are the costs of not saying what you really think? And then you have to pick — do you want to keep the benefits, or do you want to remove the costs from your life? It’s your choice, but you can’t have both.
2. Take Little Risks
Once you’ve made the decision to be authentic with the people that matter in your life, you get to start practicing. Start in areas that are scary for you, and start small. For example, if you’re the person that always says “whatever” when asked where the group should go for lunch, tomorrow, try expressing an opinion. Think where you’d go for lunch if you were going alone and share that preference with the group.
If you have a friend or coworker that you rarely express an opinion to, the next time they ask you a question, say what you really think. If you say yes to things you want to say no to, try saying no next time. Take one little risk a day, every day for a week. And observe what happens. Watch how many people die (my guess is zero). See how many people reject your love (again, zero). And see how it feels when you say what you really think, and how only good things happen. It’s addictive.
3. Build the Muscle
Just like you wouldn’t walk into a gym for the first time ever and start lifting 100 lbs, I don’t expect you to start spewing your deepest opinions all over everyone and not worrying about the consequences. This is about building your confidence over time. Keep taking your little risks every day, and observe all the good things that happen in your life. Keep doing it every day, and over time you will build your saying-what-you-really-think muscle. Before you know it, you’ll be far more comfortable expressing yourself in business negotiations, conversations at home, with your coworkers, and your friends. You’ll realize that shedding the costs of your silence is life changing, and that the benefits are so much better than the old ones.
Have you ever had the experience of making a shift in your daily habits that truly transforms life for you, and yet no one around you notices much of anything? This is what following this practice has been like for me. My business is stronger, my relationships are closer, and my heart is happier, and yet not a single person has commented on how different I seem, or how I am like a changed individual. It just goes to show how powerful the stories that run in our heads are. The good news? It’s your story to change. Don’t wait another second.