Stop Asking for Permission

stop asking for permission. Jump!
When’s the last time you jumped into new waters without support? (photo by Hiddenpower)

Take charge of your life and stop asking for permission. Nobody can give it to you. Do you know why?

It’s not theirs to give!

Many of us, myself included, let fear control our behavior more than it should. This is not news to any of you, but have you thought much about the role of permission in that? How often and to what extent do you seek permission to do things? How fearful are you of stepping out and doing something without a hint of validation? 

When Is It OK For Us To Do Something Extreme?

Many of my crazy ideas are like water pushed aside of a massive ship. The ship is my expectation for how everything in my life is “supposed to” go. Not all of these expectations are positive either! Many of them are boring because they’re expected and because they’re what I’ve always done.

We all have unique, weird, and risky ideas. Just because an idea is unexpected or different, does not mean they’re also wrong. That assumption is wrong.

Do you know why we seek validation for our ideas?

  1. Comfort: When you base a decision off of something outside of yourself, you feel less accountable for the result. In reality, you’re fully responsible for all choices you (don’t) make and the good or bad things that come from them.
  2. Fear: Pioneers have the scariest jobs because the result of an unprecedented action is a huge question mark. For example, what if you knocked on every neighbor’s door in your apartment complex and asked if they wanted to watch a movie? Nobody does that, and it seems crazy, and it’s hard to say what would happen. You might have 30 people watching a movie with you, a few people, or nobody.
  3. Safety: Charted waters are a known quantity. If you see three ships pass through ahead of you unscathed, that does a lot to make you feel safe passing through. If you’re the first ship, you take on all of the risk.

The Good News: There Is Freedom In Taking Responsibility

We think of responsibility as a burden, and we seek permission and validation to share this burden of responsibility (“they told me I could!”). But when you aggressively take responsibility for your choices and actions, it’s absolutely empowering and freeing! Why?

When you no longer seek validation, you instantly become a better, more confident decision-maker.

I’ve seen an interviewer asking women what they think of guys who wear pink, and the most common response was that it’s fine, and even a positive, because a guy who wears pink has the confidence to do it. And that’s the same thing with validation—it’s better to own your decisions confidently even if they’re not perfect. People don’t only judge your decisions, they also judge how confidently you make them. Validation-seekers would benefit to think more about their portrayal of confidence instead of trying to say and do the perfect things.

Poor Decisions Can Be Better Than Passivity

The problem people have is rarely that they make poor decisions, but that they are passive and don’t make enough decisions. When you don’t make decisions, it’s like floating on your back in the ocean. The current will pull you out to sea and you’ll end up in a situation you really don’t want to be in! Life always has a current—pushing, pulling, or sinking us—and it’s up to us to decide the direction we want to go, regardless of where we’re currently being taken.

If you were in the ocean and a rip tide began taking you out to sea, accepting that fate would mean death. In the same way, when you’re passive and don’t decide your path, you die inside. Life’s currents are rarely going to take you to where you want to be, and it’s important to recognize this (just as it’s important to recognize when a rip tide is pulling you out to sea). 

See what happens when I move to the beach? Beach metaphors!

Who Is Looking Over Your Shoulder? 

In some cases, it’s not a general feeling that you need validation from others, but a specific person who causes you to doubt yourself. This is not a healthy relationship dynamic, with the only minor exception being kids being raised by their parents (but even then, there is a line). 

If someone in your life makes you second guess everything you do:

  • Find a way to stop caring what they think about what you do
  • Talk to them nicely about it and explain how they make you feel
  • Move on from the relationship

There’s no best answer, because it completely depends on your relationship, living situation, and other factors. But there is always something you can do because you control you. If you must live with this person, at least practice making decisions independent of his/her influence.

Influence Can Linger

In other cases, this person isn’t even a part of your life anymore, but their influence remains. If you’re used to worrying about what someone thinks of your decisions for 10 years and then leave, you’ll worry about decisions just from habit.

Personally, I have been fortunate enough to avoid this sort of controlling person in my life (thanks parents!), but I still feel a general pressure from society and slight pressure from other sources. Since we all want to belong, we all feel the influence of others. This idea of permission and approval is still something I struggle with—it still feels weird sometimes to break the rules.

Break Free With Action

Like with many things in life, the way to break free is with action. You cannot wait until it “feels right,” because it won’t feel right to take action without permission when you’ve rarely done it.

If something feels uncomfortable, but it isn’t dangerous, it’s almost always good for you to do it. Discomfort is the way to new horizons and exciting changes in your life. Think about this:

[Tweet “If you could reach your dreams through comfortable means, you’d already be there.”]

If you always choose the safest, coziest path, you’ll never discover new things. The basis of having a fun and adventurous life is exploration, and that requires you to move forward without approval or assurance.

When You No Longer Seek Approval

When you can get to the point where approval isn’t a factor in your decisions, life becomes more exciting, your boundaries expand, and you’ll see an unlimited number of things to explore before you die. Boredom, it turns out, is the surest sign that you’re letting external influence control your behavior. The next time you’re bored, think about the boundaries that are preventing you from making the most of that moment:

  • Are you too afraid to use your imagination like a child would?
  • Are you worried what people will think if you show your “dance moves?”
  • Are you too self-conscious to strike up a conversation with a stranger?

In each of these cases, the way to act anyway and start practicing genuine freedom of choice is to focus on the process. Commit to dance for 5 seconds and see what happens. Lean over to the kid next to you and say, “what if that log over there was a dinosaur?”

Already, you’re probably thinking about how even the kid would make fun of you for saying that, but don’t you see? That’s the point! I’m pretty sure saying that line to anyone would eventually result in a few laughs, and a few laughs is nothing to be afraid of, even if it was because you’re weird.

I think it’s healthy to do things like lie down on your back in the middle of a store or dance without music in public. It exercises your “I don’t need approval” muscle, forces you to take yourself less seriously, and makes life a bit more fun.

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