Stop Catching Other Peoples Paperclips

Steven Aitchison
Written by Steven Aitchison

All to often in our lives we are so concerned about what other people think of us, that we kinda get messed up in the head and give all of our power away.

It’s time to regain control of our power and stop leaking it out to others who don’t deserve it.

Catching The Paperclip

I was speaking with a client today. He was telling me about how much other people affected him in his life. He didn’t much care for these people but he was still ‘too nice’ to say no to them. When I spoke about the concept of giving your power away to other people, he didn’t quite get it.

I picked up a paperclip and threw it to him asking him to catch it. He duly caught it.

When I asked why he caught it, he advised it was because I asked him to. I looked at him and didn’t say a word, then about 20 seconds into the silence he suddenly got it. With a big smile on his face he said ‘Ah! So I’m doing things other people want me to do, but not what I want to do?”, he got, in one action, what I had been trying to explain for 15 minutes. It’s an amazing feeling witnessing something like this.

Forever Catching other Peoples Paperclips

We can do what others want us to do a hell of a lot, and pretty soon we can get drained and it can even cause us physical illness, due to stress.

Think about the things you might do that gives away your power to someone else.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Engage in gossip
  • Watch the news
  • Say yes to everything to please everyone else
  • Obsessing about other peoples behaviours
  • Believing someone else has the power to make you happy
  • Trying to be nice to everyone
  • Go against what you believe in
  • Doubting yourself
  • Keeping up with the Jones’s

A lot of us engage in these types of things without even realising it, but once you’ve grasped what you are doing, you have no excuse not to reclaim your power.

Reclaiming your Power

The first step in reclaiming your power is, as mentioned above, realise when it’s happening.

The second step is to get a strategy firmly in your head for saying ‘No’ to giving your power away e.g. If someone tries to engage you in gossip, you politely listen but offer nothing in return, then as you get some more of your power back you might stop the person trying to engage you in gossip and say ‘Listen, I am not really interested.’ And walk away.

You can have different strategies for different scenarios. Once you have the strategies in place, rehearse them in your head and get comfortable with what you are going to say or do.

The third step is implementing your strategy in all the areas where you are leaking power. If someone asks you to do something for them, just say ‘No’. You don’t have to offer any excuses for saying no, you don’t have to explain yourself. If the person prompts you further, you can say ‘I just don’t want to.’

This might be very hard at first, but the first time you say ‘No’, you’ll realise how powerful that can feel, and you’ll also realise how much power you have been giving away.

Whose Paperclips Are You Catching?

As ever leave a comment and share your thoughts on this.

Some Amazing Comments


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  • Hi Steven,

    I find any topics on giving in to other people’s moods and behaviors so interesting. It is amazing how we almost expect others to shape us. I guess that is why people get so angry being stuck in traffic cause they just allow that pain and frustration to take over. Thanks for the great post and great title by the way.

    Take care


  • I love the visual in this post. It’s easy to not be in touch with your feelings when you are responding to others. I have learned that no is an answer. It doesn’t require any explanation. I consult my body instead of my mind when I make a decision. If I feel myself tense up, the answer is no.

  • Love the post and love the metaphor of the paper clip! I often use metaphors
    with my psychotherapy clients to get people “unstuck” just as you have with your client. Helps people more flexible in the way they think and cope with things. I have never used a paper clip before, though! Thanks!

  • Great post, Steve. Loved the paper clip analogy too. Also loved how you paused and let your client come to the realization of its meaning himself. Spontaneous acts like that, that bear such impactful fruit, are just plain cool.

    You provide some great insight into ways we give our power away. I never thought of watching the news that way, but you’re so right. One of the roles of the media is to set the national agenda. By watching the news, we accept their agenda for the content of our thoughts and conversations.

    Once again, great insight here!

  • Oh, wow! That’s great, i’m always obsessing over other people’s behaviours, i end up thinking about it too much, i just deprive those thoughts of interest now though, i think it’s working, not too sure.

  • I really enjoyed reading this. It was a revelation for me when I realized that not only did I care what people thought of me, but it was ruling my whole life! We get so caught up in what people think, that it determines what jobs we take, what we eat, where we go – every life choice can be taken away from us if we are too concerned that the people in our lives won’t approve, or will think we’re bad people. Just becoming aware of this initiated a major transformation in my life. Thanks for the perspective and the reminder.

  • rigth on Steve , I really needed to read this. Iam one of those people who wants to keep everybody happy. that leaves me stressed, tired and uptigth. I would need to heard this a million times, it would be a great idea if you made a video out of his subject, thanks a million

  • Thanks Steve, but i think i agree only partially. I stand to be corrected but i think sometimes, you have to dispiease yourself to please others especially when you need those people to feel okay, maybe because of a sad experience they had.

    • Hi Osas, totally af=gree with you. If you are helping someone in need that is a different story, it’s when you are doing it to please them and be in their favour that you need to stop catching their paperclips :)

  • That’s a powerful analogy Steven. Often we don’t realize how helping others can hurt us. We’re just so used to doing without qualifying whether those activities are aligned with where we desire to go.

  • It’s amazing just how much that is instilled in you as a child can stay with you for life without you totally realising it. I had an extremely strict upbringing, I always had to do what I was told and never allowed to question anything. I find your blogs very helpful, thankyou !

  • It’s a coincidence, Steven. This is quite similar to what my counselor said that day. My friend often gets irritated easily by other people’s opinion. So she was advised not to ‘catch the ball’ kicked by the others. Instead, remember the ball is always at our leg and we have the power to make any decision and react.
    Anyway, it’s nice to read this post. Thanks Steven~

  • I love this and it is so true, but so difficult to implement, isn’t it? We all want to make others happy and we don’t want to disappoint or reject others. I am facing one of those situations right now and it causes me sleepless nights. I don’t want to hurt a friend, but I also have to listen to my inner voice.

    • Hi Anne-Sophie. I wouldn’t say it was difficult, but I would say it is hard to let go if we are in the habit of always saying yes. I don’t think it’s about rejecting others, it’s more about doing what we truly want to do. There’s going to be occasions when you do things to help others, but not necessarily to please them, and that’s perfectly okay. However doing things to please others is what I am talking about in this article. Hope that made sense :)

  • Steven, what a perfect metaphor. For me, we cannot and should not be a “people pleaser”. I was reading through this article and just totally agreeing with the way you spoke about doing something because someone asked you to.

    We cannot develop our own personal view on life if we continue to let others dictate how we live our life.

    Thanks for the great blog post!

  • Hi Steve! I’m with you on not having to defend/justify/explain regarding taking back your power. I think a better way to “explain” when asked why you can’t do something is to say “I’m not able to at the moment” instead of I just don’t want to. Less of an opening for the other person to come back at you. Great post and appreciate your insights!

  • You have a beautiful way of telling the story in such a way that may make us take action. I do like to watch the news and have to catch myself from watching too much (even though I know it doesn’t help anything)

    • Hi Sherri. I honestly think the news is the most destructive force on our psyche and it should be avoided at all costs. If we ask ourself if we are better off by learning a piece of news i.e. who’s been murdered, what countries are warring, the stockmarket, the economy etc we would realise just how little the News really gives us in life. This is a hot topic for me :)

      • Hey Steve,

        I’m with you on the “destructive news” part.

        personal experience: Most of my older family would listen to the news non stop. Every day something new for them to worry about. They would live in fear, and be reactionary instead of proactive and self reflective. They lived in poverty, and had lost self esteem. because they dominated they thinking with negativity all day, every day.

        I understand the need to be aware of what is going on in the world but,

        like yourself, I think that (main stream) news is distracting in that they can do top-story news about a little child whom died a horrible death but yet they don’t cover other stories about multiply children whom die horrible deaths based on corporate greed, ect.

        I myself can go on and on about this but I just wanted to comment based on what was said :-)

        Nice post about the story, I just looked over and saw my package of paper clips. :-) I think you may have started something.

  • Thankyou Steve,
    We are in charge of our own power….don’t let others drain it from you …and more importantly, don’t drain yourself…this article highlights the ease of giving our power away, often without knowing.
    be good to yourself

  • Hello Steven,

    Thank you so much for your post. I agree with you completely. I would like to add that in my opinion it is important to ‘take care of yourself first’ before you take care of others. What I mean is that only when I am well, balanced, happy and content with myself, only when I am authentic, honest, truthful and sincere, only then is it possible for me to be really of help and of service to others. That has been my experience and a very rewarding one at that; because people notice whether you are really coming from a place of “I really want to help you” rather than from that place of “I don’t really want to help, but I want to please you.”



  • Unfortunately in reality we need to play the game of diplomacy. Social role playing is an important asset in our survival kit. It is the art of not avoiding rejection of others’ paper clips but rejecting them without loosing our social credit.

    • Hi Ergun.

      Thanks for your thought provoking comment.

      I would have to disagree and say that having social credit is a form of ‘catching other peoples paperclips’, we don’t need social credit, but certainly want it to feel better about ourselves. However if we feel good about ourselves, deep down, we won’t even think about having social credit.

  • Paper clips what a great analogy…

    Next time I catch myself doing something that gives others power, I will remember this. And just how pointless it is to go about catching other peoples’ paper clips. Thanks.


  • First time visiting your blog – Good article! I think that ‘engaging in gossip’ is a prime example of giving away your power. I will be revisiting this article in the future? :)

  • yes thats true, and i am happy to get these things from the blog, which are so important for the life. because we are not a joker, who can entertain to all.

  • I don´t see things like this, OPINION OF OTHERS ARE IMPORTANT, AND WE NEED try to don´t do what the law says, what your boss says, what your women says, all those people have control on us really and don´t try to pretend, I prefer BE CALM AND DO ANYWAY TO BE FREE FAST.i DON´T FEEL MYSLEF BAD OR LOSING CONTROL, IN FACT I FEEL I AM IN CONTROL, BECAUSE DOING THINGS FOR OTHERS I HAVE MORE TIME TO BE CALM, AND DON´PT NEED TO HEAR YELLINGS AGAIN AND AGAIN

    • Each to their own Joao. With significant others in our lives we sometimes have to suck it up, but what I am talking about here is when we have a choice. Doing work we don’t want to do, but are getting paid for it is a different scenario altogether.

  • Thinking about what others think of you is just a waste of time. We must do what we want and not what people want us to do.

    Thanks Steve I’m gradually building a positive attitude……..Thanks to your posts.

  • Steve,

    I totally agree with you. Perhaps the yearning to get good certificates from everyone drives us to catch all that is thrown at us.

    I will certainly drop a few that is thrown at me and will get used to it.


  • I spent a lot of my life doing things that I thought I had to do and not what I wanted. I believe a lot of it came from my upbringing where I couldn’t question my father but had to obey. It took me many years to get through all of that and I am much happier for it today. No more paper clips for me…

  • Ha! Okay, really well timed. I just finished going through the lengthy daily list of notices of new people following me on Pinterest – and of course I reciprocated and followed each one of them because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or appear petty. What’s bothering me is half of the people I’ve followed have yet to pin one single photo and I just know one of these days I’m going to end up spending an afternoon going through the list and cleaning out all the people I followed “to be nice” who STILL have no photos. Time for a new strategy … I just taped a paperclip on the shelf next to my computer :-)

  • You are so right about this. The part of me that likes to think of myself as a positive gracious person likes seeing the people around me happy. That part of me will always be there.

    But it can be a trap if there is no balance. I find, to be honest, that I have to work at it. There are so many claims on my attention that I am continually having to push distractions away. After awhile you become aware of how much is just a distraction and it becomes easier. Personally I think it is a process to become strong in saying no.

    • Hi Maria, it is a process and sometimes can be a slow process if you are not used to saying No. It certainly won’t happen overnight, as most habits take a while to break.

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