Try to do anything new and you’ll probably run into some sort of resistance in the form of peer pressure. For example, let’s say after a particularly nasty hangover you decide to quit drinking alcohol. All your friends and family will immediately praise your maturity and willpower, and forever only offer you non-alcoholic beverages, right? Well, maybe not…
Them: Hey, you want a drink?
You: Yea, I’ll take a glass of water, thanks.
Them: Don’t you want a beer or something?
You: No thanks, I’m trying to quit.
Them: Come on, it’s just one drink…
Now here’s where most personal development writers will say “you should stay away from such negative people—they are only trying to bring you down.” I think it’s exactly the opposite.
Most people who try to pressure you to engage in a behavior you are avoiding have a positive intention for doing so, even though their behavior can be really annoying. For instance, they may want to have fun together, to share in some experience, or just to feel better about their own indulgences. These aren’t negative intentions of harm and ill will, but positive intentions of shared humanity (except perhaps the last one, but wanting to feel better isn’t necessarily a bad thing either).
When people gently pressure you to indulge in a behavior you are abstaining from, you shouldn’t necessarily avoid them but learn how to deal with their comments first. The easiest way is to avoid justifying, arguing, defending, or explaining your decision…unless you are really close to this person and have the time and space to really get into the reasons, and think this person will listen and empathize with you at this time. This strategy can be summarized as JADE*, which is what you don’t do—justify, argue, defend, or explain—when you want to deal with this kind of peer pressure, or otherwise avoid unnecessary drama. Basically it’s a way to end the conversation about your personal decision and force the conversation to move on to some other topic without being a jerk.
Note in the above example the speaker says “no thanks, I’m trying to quit.” Big mistake! Now the conversation becomes about the reasons you’ve decided to make a personal choice for yourself. By saying “I’m trying to quit,” you open a door for the other person to elicit your reasons for wanting to quit and argue with them.
Here’s a great strategy for responding to such peer pressure that I recently learned from Andrew T. Austin on his excellent Weight Loss: A Neurolinguistic Perspective audio program:
- Have a catchy phrase/affirmation to describe your decision. Example: “I choose what goes inside my body.” What I like about this one in particular is that to challenge it, someone would have to argue that they choose what goes inside your body! Most people will not be that rude. Whatever your phrase is, own it!
- Respond kindly and politely three times to anyone who pressures you to do something you don’t want to do. It’s best to keep it very simple like “no, thanks!” with a smile, really assuming they have a positive intent while maintaining your decision. DO NOT JUSTIFY, ARGUE, DEFEND, OR EXPLAIN. Good: “I just want water.” Bad: “I’m trying to lose weight.” Good: “I appreciate the offer, just water please.” Bad: “I said I just wanted water, you jerk! Why do you always have to be like this?” Good: “I don’t want any, thank you.” Bad: “Did you know alcohol is a known nervous system toxin? You should really quit too.”
- If the person pressures a fourth time, don’t be nice. Say something like, “I’ve said ‘no thanks’ three times, and yet you’ve pressured me a fourth time. Now, are you going to knock it off, or do we need to have a larger conversation about treating people with respect?” Note that saying it this way keeps the focus on the real issue—having your decision be respected, rather than defending your personal choices as in whether or not to drink alcohol. Very few people will push it this far. If someone is pushing you this far and they are a friend, you may want to ask yourself whether you want to be friends with someone like this. If they are family, well you probably have to deal with them—having a deeper conversation may help. If they are a stranger, you might consider leaving the situation. In any case, you should prepare for this to happen once in a while and be willing to say something like the above which does not justify, argue, defend, or explain your decision.
- Practice the above before it happens. Play act various scenarios with a supportive friend, therapist, or coach, or just rehearse in your head or out loud until you get it down. Try it out in the real world, and repeat your practice as necessary.
Here are some times to not JADE:
- when facing peer pressure to put something inside your body that you don’t want to (alcohol, sweets, drugs, gluten, etc.)
- after setting a reasonable limit with a child you are parenting (consider explaining later though when things cool down, away from the candy aisle, etc.)
- when dealing with annoying relatives
- when talking with people who regularly push boundaries or play power games: narcissists, psychopaths, 2-year-olds, etc.
- when talking with an addict about their addiction to alcohol, drugs, etc.
- when someone is being verbally abusive—a spouse, a boss, a pushy salesman, a manipulative “pick-up-artist,” etc.
- when you’ve done something wrong and someone is confronting you about it. In this case, simply admit wrongdoing, genuinely empathize if you’ve hurt the person, and only if you are absolutely sure you will follow through, state what you will do differently or to make up for it. If you have repeatedly broken promises like this though, don’t make any amends verbally—just change your behavior for the better in secret. Broken promises of better behavior simply compound your problems. (Sometimes a little context can help the other person to understand your behaviors, but it’s best to not to try and explain away the behavior first, providing context only after admitting wrongdoing and harm if the other person cares to hear it. Make sure to emphasize that you providing context is not an attempt to excuse the behavior and that you admit to yourself and the other that it was wrong.)
JADE Gone Wild
There are however times it is appropriate to justify your actions, to engage in an argument, to defend your position, or to explain your behavior. Every principle has it’s limits, and taken to extremes can do the opposite of its intended outcome.
Let’s say you decide to change your name from your given name Robert to Tzechal (I don’t even know how you’d pronounce that) because of a vision you received during an Ayahuasca ceremony. Don’t be a dick about it—if you want people to call you Tzechal it’s reasonable to give at least a sentence describing your reasons, something like, “I had a really powerful experience in Peru and was given this name. I’d like it if you’d call me this from now on.” At this point, explaining further may not be helpful, as people are either going to accept this request or not, and you’ll have to live with the result. If you consistently make these kinds of requests of your friends, or change your name more than once in your adult life however, be prepared for people to roll their eyes and ignore your request.
Or let’s say you have some unusual health problems and think you might be allergic to gluten because your friend is, but you aren’t sure if you are yet. Demanding that your family all stop eating gluten immediately and then refusing to explain why is unreasonable. A little explanation—ideally away from meal times and when people have time to really sit down and listen—can provide the space others need to help meet your needs.
Some people make negative changes in their behavior and then refuse to JADE because they believe they are always in the right! For instance an abusive alcoholic might come home at 4am drunk and refuse to explain where he’s been to his spouse. Usually in these cases though, the person will then argue, but not explain, but sometimes you get people like Tim Ferriss and his “policy on haters” to simply ignore their valid criticisms. Obviously this is a poor use of this principle.
Justifying, arguing, defending, and explaining some of your choices and behaviors can be reasonable when a) you are talking with someone you love/respect (or you are in a court room), b) you both have the time and space to get into the details, c) you feel are being listened to, and d) the conversation is leading towards mutual appreciation and understanding. Avoiding JADE is useful for bypassing excessive drama, dealing with people who are seem like they are never going to back down from their position, or when you sense the conversation isn’t ever going to end up with mutual understanding and appreciation.
A hair-trigger response to all negative feedback such as immediately labeling someone as “a negative person” and cutting them out of your life (or banning them from your forum, etc.) reduces an individual’s intelligence by cutting out feedback that would expand their perspective. This is why I like the strategy of three polite “no thank you”‘s before initiating a deeper confrontation/conversation, and only then considering cutting someone off (with some exceptions for abusive or violent behavior, comment spam, etc.).
There are of course many other possibilities that you can imagine when JADE is reasonable, and when it’s best to avoid. In any case, I hope you’ve found this article useful. Next time you are considering making a positive change in your behavior that may lead to peer pressure from others, I hope you will practice these ways of responding in advance to give more support to your success, while maintaining a balanced approach in your communication.
* Hat tip to @Mjausson on Twitter for posting an article on JADE today that spurred my thoughts.
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