Everyone likes to be liked. This is a simple, human truth: As mammals, we are driven by a desire to bond with others, feel accepted, and be acknowledged for a job well done. In fact, research from the University of Iowa shows that feeling accepted is more motivating than even financial incentives and improves our productivity and performance. But there’s a difference between wanting and needing others’ approval.
If, for example, you find yourself obsessing over the number of “likes” you get on social media or forever waiting for your supervisor or coworkers to notice that you’ve done something well, you might be caught in a toxic cycle of approval addiction.
Approval addiction is a constant need for acceptance and approval that drives your daily actions to the detriment of your own needs, says Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior & Thrive in Your Job.
Approval addicts usually wind up worn out and disappointed, adds psychologist Linda Sapadin, author of Master Your Fears: How to Triumph Over Your Worries and Get On With Your Life. They spend so much energy seeking positive feedback that they have less energy to take care of themselves or work toward their meaningful goals. And, Taylor says, constantly seeking approval can cause people to become workaholics, suffer health problems, and make choices that result in less-than-ideal consequences.
Ready to kick your approval addiction once and for all? Give these three strategies a try:
1. Take a Personal Audit
The first step is to build awareness and adjust your priorities accordingly. To begin, ask yourself some tough questions. What are your primary goals? What do you want to do? Then evaluate how you spend your time: Are you neglecting your dreams by doing too much for others? With this awareness, you can deliberately choose activities that support your own needs, Taylor says, and step out of the people-pleasing cycle.
2. Make Your Own Rules
Use the insights gleaned from your personal audit to establish some ground rules and boundaries for yourself. Spend more time on the things that leave you feeling positive and focused on your dreams, needs, and values. Say “yes” to the tasks and activities that align with those goals—and don’t be afraid to say, “No, but thanks for thinking of me,” to those that don’t, Sapadin adds. These guidelines will help you manage your time and energy in a way that leaves plenty left over to help others if you choose.
3. Give Yourself a Gold Star
Now that you are living according to your own rules and values, rather than those arbitrary measures and rewards bestowed by others, celebrate yourself. “Give yourself the approval, kindness, respect, and acceptance you seek from others,” Sapadin says. You can do this by keeping track of your wins, from big to small. Every time you make progress, you’re communicating a message to yourself: “I’m capable. I’m productive. I can do this.”
“If your objective is to set your own standards and appreciate your accomplishments and self-worth, you can be 100 percent successful,” Sapadin says. “You can set realistic goals and monitor them based on your own criteria.” And that goes a long way to building not only a sense of self-worth, but a sense of self-efficacy (the belief that you are capable of solving a task or problem), resilience, and even purpose. You can have that right now—and you don’t need anyone’s approval to get it.
Polly Campbell has been speaking and writing about psychology, resilience, and wellness topics for more than 20 years. She is the author of three books: How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well. Do Good. Be Happy; Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People; and How to Reach Enlightenment. Tweet her @PLCampbell.