Recently on the Art of Manliness blog, there was an excellent post on the topic of Assertiveness. It referenced one of the books that has made a monumental difference in my view of the world and how I cope in it - No More Mr Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover.
In the article the author provided excellent information about what assertiveness is, how it benefits your life and relationships, and ways you could begin to practice a more assertive and authentic way of dealing with people and situations.
What the article DIDN'T cover in great detail was the pitfalls of being a Former Nice Guy (FNG) who is beginning his practice of assertive behavior.
Concept: The Crab Box
If you haven't heard of this analogy, I hope you find it as enlightening, useful and freeing as I did when I first learned it. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I first learned it so I can't give proper appreciation.
The concept goes like this: When fishing for crab, crab fishermen are able to put the captured crab into very low-lipped boxes, and the crabs don't get out of the box and escape.
If you looked at the box and the crab, you'd wonder why the crabs bothered to stay in the box - the lip is low enough that they can get out, but still they stay together. Why?
If you watched long enough, you'd see why. You'd see one crab attempt to make an escape, and then see something astonishing - the other crabs grab the first one, and pull him back inside the box! No escape for you!
This repeats itself over and over. And it's an analogy for the people in your life who are used to you behaving a certain way. If you decide to move outside of that box they're used to and comfortable in, people around you will often try to reel you back in to your old behaviors.
Not out of spite, just out of the fact that we humans tend to like consistency, and change scares us. When someone around us changes, we too are forced to change to accommodate them - even just a little bit - and that can be scary.
Especially when you're standing up for yourself for the first time in ... ever.
Three Antidotes To The Crab Box
Here are three things you can do to make your transition time from wimpy and weak-spined to assertive and confident less painful and more rewarding, and done properly and with attention, these ideas can even make your journey move along faster:
- Realize that people doing "the crab box thing" aren't doing it as a personal attack, even if it FEELS like it's a personal attack at the time. Repeat to yourself: "Change is difficult on people, but if I'm consistent in my change, soon they will get used to the new behavior and stop trying to pull me back down."
- Review your day EVERY DAY and own (to yourself only) the mistakes you've made on your journey. When you overreact, forgive yourself first before worrying about apologizing to another. Know that this process is going to take time, and you'll bumble along for some of it. Be good to yourself.
- Keep your eyes open for people who truly encourage your efforts, and increase the amount you engage with them. Turn your eyes and attention AWAY from the people who are trying to drag you back down with them.
If you can keep these things in mind, your frustration and resentment will dissapate much more quickly.
Remember, other people are allowed to have whatever feelings they want about whatever topic they want. And so are you. Choose the feelings you want, vs letting others' feelings dictate yours, and life will be much happier.