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Feel like you always need to ask for permission to do the things you want to do (and skip the things you don’t want to do)? You’re not alone. Learn why this is such a problem and what you can do to take charge of your own life.
Listen to the audio version of this piece below or on The Optimized Mom Podcast.
Recently, I spoke at a homeschool conference about how taking a more minimalist approach with your homeschool could help you save you money and space in your home, save you time, and save your sanity.
I got lots of lovely comments after the presentation, but one in particular stuck out:
“Anissa Hartline Orsino gave me permission to pull back and minimalize my homeschool while I work on minimalizing the rest of our home!”
The next day I saw this comment when I asked a reader what she found most challenging about being a mom:
“Being given the time to pursue things for just me.”
Did you catch what both of those fully grown, totally capable matriarchs of their families said? They were waiting for someone else to give them permission to do something that they wanted to do. I point this out not to shame these women, but to say, “me, too”, and “that’s messed up”.
Are you finding motherhood a little chaotic at the moment? Check out this simple (and free!) 5-step plan to help get your home less cluttered, your life more organized, and your head in the right place!
Where does our need to ask for permission come from?
Listen, if you’re a woman who’s constantly asking for permission, realize that you are not alone. Society has conditioned us this way.
Historically, women didn’t have a lot of power. Even today, in many places worldwide women’s rights are shockingly limited.
We have millennia of history where we did actually need permission to do things. Add to that the fact that we evolved to live in tribes and that to be exiled from your tribe because you failed to uphold the social norms probably meant that you died. Asking for permission is practically bred into us.
And even today, in our relatively free western society, this need to ask for permission is reinforced. As children, most of us have to ask our parents before we can do much of anything. Then we go to school, where we have to ask our teachers if we want to speak or use the bathroom. By the time we’re adults, we know well how to put our own needs and desires on the back burner if they conflict with what an authority figure wants us to do.
And if our needs ever pop up begging to be expressed, they’re competing with our desire to be “ladylike”. This requires us to be timid, polite, humble, helpful, selfless, and accommodating.
So, we’re trained to think that others know what’s best for us, and consciously or unconsciously we worry that we’ll be judged or looked down upon for being the wrong kind of lady if we assert ourselves. We want people to like us and think that we’re “good”.
Is it any wonder that a woman feels hesitant to take charge and make decisions for herself?
Why is conforming especially hard now?
Adapting society’s standards and “gaining permission” was hard enough when we lived in little villages where pretty much everyone had the same ideas about life. These days, you don’t just have what your dad, your neighbor, or your best friend thinks to contend with.
You have the opinions and examples of people all over the world. There’s that lady who looks like she’s got it totally together on Instagram, and that blogger that always gives good advice, and that expert on that podcast you like. And because you have been socialized to not trust yourself, to fit in, to adapt to your surroundings, you now try to accomplish the impossible task of fitting in with all of those people.
Which, of course, is impossible because those people wouldn’t even agree.
We have noise coming from everywhere. We could literally consult people all around the world looking for what to do next. I remember when I was a new mom with a baby who wouldn’t sleep. I just knew someone had the “right” answer for what I needed to do. So, I checked out every book the library had about babies and sleep, and I tried to put all of their conflicting advice into practice.
I didn’t trust mother’s intuition. I didn’t ask myself what I needed. I abdicated responsibility and looked for an expert. And I ended up more confused than I’d been since I started.
And I know I’m not the only one who has found myself lost—not knowing what to do as I search for the “right” answer and permission to put it into practice.
The truth about the permission that we’re seeking
The truth is you’re in charge of your life and you’ve always been in charge. You already know what’s best for you. You already know what you like and don’t like. Your opinion is the only one that truly matters.
Others don’t know how you “should” think, or feel, or believe.
There are consequences to granting yourself permission. Other people might disagree with you, be disappointed or confused by your choices, or even openly criticize you. If you’re not following someone else’s directive, you don’t have a scapegoat—someone you can blame when things didn’t go the way you want.
But even worse are the consequences to always looking to somebody else:
- It erodes your self-esteem and self-trust.
- It silences your inner voice.
- It gives away your power.
- It keeps you from reaching your goals and doing the things you want to do.
- It leads to a sense of powerlessness and feelings of resentment, frustration, and guilt.
Why not make today the day that you decide to trade one set of consequences for another? Decide that you’ll have your own back and be your own best friend no matter what. That you can own your choices and trust that no one knows better for you than you do.
How to break the habit of asking for permission?
Ok, so you’ve decided you’re tired of asking for permission. How the heck can you overcome millennia of societal norms and decades of your own social conditioning?
If you haven’t listened to your own voice in awhile, it might be hard to hear it. Begin to build in spots in your day where you have zero inputs competing for your attention. (I know this can be tricky with littles in the house, but ask yourself if you’re filling every “quiet” moment with a podcast, TikTok video, or text with a friend.)
In your quiet moments ask yourself, what do I want? Really visualize how you want your life to look. Write it down in a journal or dictate it into a voice recorder.
Here are three of my favorite techniques for getting clarity on a challenging situation:
- Asking myself first thing in the morning after a good night of sleep and maybe after meditating for a bit
- Writing stream-of-consciousness style for as many pages as it takes
- Going on a solo walk outside with nothing to distract me
Get clear on your big picture: your values and your “why” for life
Have you thought recently about the bigger questions of life—why you’re here and what is most important to you, for instance? What values do you prize above all others? Honing in on the answers to these questions can make decision-making easier. When you know who you “are”, what you need to do becomes much clearer.
Approach solutions with curiosity and learn to be your own best friend when you make a mistake:
After years of relying on someone else’s judgement, the thought of choosing for yourself can be paralyzing. To lower the stakes for yourself, begin approaching solutions as experiments. Tell yourself you’ll try something and be genuinely curious about how it will turn out. This step you’re taking is a fascinating opportunity to collect data.
And most importantly, if that experiment doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped, FANTASTIC! You have more information than you had before and you have learned something important. Your approach might have been a failure, but you aren’t. You are kind to yourself no matter what.
Know that you can still consult others
If you’re still unclear, you can absolutely consult someone you trust and admire for guidance or another perspective. Just don’t assume these people know better than you do. You are the authority on your own life and you know best. Always.
For today, just notice the urge to seek an answer from somewhere else: from a spouse, a trusted friend, or an ‘expert’. Get quiet and ask yourself instead. Notice when you want to do something and something inside says, “I can’t”. Ask yourself, “why not?”
Pay attention to the voice in your head that says, “you SHOULD do this” and go ahead and reply “why?” or, “I don’t want to.” Notice the urge to ask for permission and practice giving it to yourself.
You might even speak a little affirmation or schedule it to pop up on your phone’s home screen:
“I know best what is best for me.”
“I give myself permission to…”
Like any other habit you’ve kicked in life, you can kick the habit of asking for permission.
Swap out your giant suitcase for a carry-on
But since you’re new to this granting your own permission game, let’s do a little thought experiment. I like to imagine that we’ve each got this suitcase that we carry through life. It’s one of those giant ones that you’re sorry you packed the minute you get to the airport. It’s full of essentials and also all kinds of things you’re carrying around with you that you don’t need.
Mama, your permission slip for anything and everything you’d like to do in life is already there.
It’s at the bottom of the case. Underneath a bunch of crap like your parents’ opinions, and those people on social media you’re trying to emulate, and those things you think you “should” be doing. It’s the ultimate hall pass, giving you permission to trust yourself and do what you think it’s right. It will fit nicely in a carry-on along with a little courage and self-love.
Do It Now
- Notice whenever you have the urge to ask someone else for advice today. When you notice it, write down your question. Right away, or at the next opportunity, set a timer for 10 minutes. Use this time to listen to your inner voice to decide what YOU think. (You might consult with your inner voice while going on a quiet walk, taking a long shower, or journaling in a notebook.)
- Also notice today when you feel like you “should” do something. Playfully ask yourself “who says?” If it’s something you don’t want to do at all, consider why you’re even doing it–you don’t need anyone’s permission to give it up. If it’s something you actually want to do (for example: “I *should* clean the kitchen because I don’t like to go to bed with dishes in the sink”) try reframing your statement in a more powerful way. (for example: “I am excited to have a clean kitchen” or “I am giving a present to my future self.”)
- Speaking of powerful language, consider putting these affirmations where you can see them regularly:
“I know best what is best for me.“
I give myself permission to…”
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