How to Stop Being a Nice Guy: The Ultimate Guide

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "No More Mr. Nice Guy" by Robert Glover. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to know how to stop being a Nice Guy? What effective tips can help you overcome Nice Guy Syndrome?

In the face of struggle, dissatisfied men use the tactic they know best: Be nice. However, according to Dr. Robert Glover, “being nice” rarely yields the desired outcome, and Nice Guys’ insecurities frequently emerge as passive-aggressive or dishonest behavior. In No More Mr. Nice Guy, he offers a step-by-step plan that tells you how to stop being a Nice Guy in your personal life, career, and relationships.

Find out how to stop being a Nice Guy below.

How to Stop Being a Nice Guy

Before we tell you how to stop being a Nice Guy, it’s important to understand what one is. Here, Glover defines the key differences between a so-called Nice Guy and the ideal man:

NICE GUYIdeal Man
Avoids conflict and struggles with boundariesHandles conflict and establishes boundaries
Prioritizes other’s needs and desires over his ownHolds himself accountable for his own needs and desires
Ignores his flaws and mistakesAddresses and learns from his flaws and mistakes
Fixes people and situations without promptingTakes charge and genuinely cares for his loved ones
Withholds his thoughts and emotions out of a fear of disapprovalCommunicates his thoughts and emotions openly and honestly
Isolated and lonely, even among family and friendsBuilds healthy, worthwhile relationships with everyone (women and men)

While the traits of someone with Nice Guy syndrome listed above may be interpreted as passive or even annoying, they’re far from mean. But Nice Guys’ suppression of the self—to avoid disapproval, conflict, or strong emotions—leads them to frequent disappointment. Glover stresses that in their frustration with life, Nice Guys are often far from nice. In fact, their indirect and avoidant nature results in an angry cycle of self-victimization.

The negative traits above show you how damaging this mindset can be for the people around you. Here’s how to stop being a Nice Guy:

1) Identify Your Approval-Seeking Habits

The first way to stop being a Nice Guy is self-approval. This journey begins by looking inward—rather than outward—for approval. Glover notes that to be truly intimate with yourself and others, you must wholeheartedly be yourself. 

Before you can accept yourself, you must look inward and recognize your approval-seeking habits. In order to ID them, ask yourself what you want.

Observe your day-to-day behaviors. Glover suggests you take a minute to acknowledge not only what you do but why you do it, especially in regards to your attachments. Ask yourself:

  • “Does this make me happy?”
  • “Who am I doing this for?”
  • “What do I want? What do I need?”
Ask What, Not Why When Self-Reflecting

The ultimate goal of self-reflection is self-awareness, but does all introspection lead to this outcome? Organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich says not necessarily. Eurich cites multiple studies that show self-reflection isn’t directly correlated to our self-awareness. This doesn’t mean self-reflection is a useless act but that we must do it with intention

Although Glover encourages us to consider why we do the things we do, Eurich urges us to instead ask ourselves what questions when self-reflecting to make that reflection more intentional and productive. For example, instead of asking why you have a specific attachment, you might find it more productive to phrase this question as “What does this behavior do for me?” or “What effect does this behavior have on my self-worth?”

According to Eurich, why questions (“Why do I feel this way”) are more likely to prompt us to think of our past or personal failings or launch us into the victim mentality. Meanwhile, what questions (“What am I feeling right now?”) help us name and understand our current emotions or even imagine our potential. In her own studies, Eurich found those who both practiced self-reflection and developed self-awareness always focused on the what

Are why questions ever appropriate? Eurich says yes, but we should save our whys for problems in our environment (“Why did this experiment fail?”) and our whats for issues of the self (“What do I value?”).

2) Reveal Yourself & Share With Others

As you start to discover the real you, Glover recommends keeping a support system or “safe people” around to help you through ups and downs (he prefers a support group of other men). Exposing your true self can be scary, so do it with people you trust.

According to Glover, our safe people help us combat self-sabotaging beliefs and serve as a reminder that we’re loved, even when we slip up. Although we’ve stressed the importance of internal validation, external affirmations from safe people like “I’m proud of you,” and “We’re here for you no matter what,” help reverse unproductive beliefs.

(Shortform note: In addition to affirmations, your safe people can keep you on track and prevent you from developing tunnel vision. In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves note that in times of distress, we often get bogged down in the details. But outside parties provide an objective perspective and can help us see the bigger picture, decipher our emotions, and figure out a path forward. They suggest explicitly telling those in your life about your personal goals, as they can hold you accountable through related challenges and choices.)

3) Put Yourself First

Another way you can stop being a Nice Guy is by putting yourself first. If Nice Guys are selfishly unselfish when prioritizing others, Ideal Men must be unselfishly selfish by putting themselves first. According to Glover, there’s only one way to become unselfishly selfish: Take responsibility for your needs. When you prioritize yourself, you assert new, more productive beliefs about yourself, your needs, and how to meet these needs. Everyone has needs and prioritizing yourself is the only mature, direct, and honest means of satisfying them. 

(Shortform note: Although Deida agrees that the Superior Man is responsible for himself, his interpretation of what this responsibility is differs from Glover’s. Deida believes that in his intimate relationships, the Superior Man is responsible not necessarily for his needs, but for knowing his purpose in life and using it to set goals to keep himself and his woman on track. As a man, Deida says it’s your responsibility to cut through female moods and emotions—as well as your own preoccupations with your duties—and provide you both with a clear direction.)

Glover suggests you start small: Try putting yourself first for a week. Let those in your life know about your experiment and what you hope to gain from it. At the end of the week, check in with yourself and your loved ones. What changed?

Men in Glover’s support group participated in the same weeklong challenge. In the end, he noticed his patients’ covert contracts and resentment-fueled outbursts began to disappear. They were finally in a position to genuinely care for their loved ones. No longer smothered, their partners were free to prioritize themselves in return.

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty for Prioritizing Yourself
Although, as the example of Glover’s support group shows, prioritizing yourself can have many positive effects, many of us still feel guilty for doing so. If you’re experiencing guilt because you believe prioritizing yourself…
Makes you a narcissist: Science says you can throw this thought away entirely. According to psychotherapist Dr. Jon Belford, if this worry is keeping you from caring for yourself, you’re not a narcissist as this thought wouldn’t even cross a true narcissist’s mind. 
Is all about personal, instant gratification: Define what putting yourself first really means. This isn’t about “feeling good” or “indulging,” it’s about doing what you need to do for your wellbeing. 
Takes time away from something or someone else: There will always be something else you could be doing, but taking care of your needs makes you a more available and present partner, parent, or employee/leader. So you’re not doing it “at the expense” of something else. You’re doing it so you can be a more caring person.

Nice Guys tend to view themselves as helpless, isolated victims on life’s roller coaster. But know that if you can take responsibility for your self-worth and your needs, you can take responsibility for your power as well. 

4) Discover Your Personal Power

To stop being a Nice Guy, Glover says a man must change his relationship with fear, uncertainty, and the general “un-smoothness” of life. In the face of unpredictability, he must cultivate his personal power. Glover defines personal power as the ability to handle life’s challenges with confidence. It’s not defined by a lack of fear, but a capacity to manage and grow from it.

(Shortform note: When it comes to leadership development, personal power is often discussed in opposition to positional power, which refers to the power our position holds in a set hierarchy or organization. Positional power doesn’t come from a place of charisma or respect but from merely pulling rank. In this context, our personal power refers to our ability to command respect and attention no matter our hierarchical position. But whether you’ve tapped into your personal power for your own sake or for the sake of influencing others, it comes from a place of self-acceptance, honest communication, and confidence.)

If recovering Nice Guys embrace Glover’s following strategies, they’ll be better equipped to assert their power while welcoming life’s challenges. 

5) Let It Go

To reclaim your personal power, Glover insists you first surrender. This doesn’t mean giving up completely but instead acknowledging what you can and can’t control. For example, you can’t control the actions and reactions of others, but you can control your own. Surrendering to the unpredictability of the universe lifts a burden from your shoulders: You can only control what you can control. 

(Shortform note: In his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie also urges you to accept what you can’t control as a way to curb anxiety. Instead of giving up entirely or attempting to change the unchangeable, he suggests you cooperate with your circumstances as they are. Say you intend to make an omelet, but it falls apart before you can get it on your plate. Don’t fret that you can’t put the omelet back together—let go of your expectations and enjoy the tasty scramble you just made.) 

Surrendering includes curbing your perfectionism. Glover notes that “perfectionism” doesn’t mean doing everything perfectly—it means obsessing over every mistake or small imperfection to a detrimental degree. No project or undertaking is ever perfect. Once you stop expecting and striving for perfection, you’ll be free to take risks and follow what works for you.

Brené Brown on Perfectionism

Glover isn’t the only author to discuss the perils of perfectionism. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown decries perfectionism, arguing it’s often driven by a desire to control how others perceive you. According to Brown, striving for perfection is less about avoiding mistakes and more about avoiding the judgement and shame of others. We know Nice Guys avoid judgment and shame at all costs, so it’s unsurprising perfectionism is a common coping mechanism among them.Like Glover, Brown agrees that perfection is impossible to attain, but she takes it a step further: Even trying to appear perfect is unrealistic. Thus, the real danger of perfectionism comes from the incredibly high standards we set for ourselves and the negative emotions that arise when we inevitably fail to meet them. With Brown’s framing of perfectionism in mind, we can see how greater self-acceptance and letting go of your high expectations could help to curb perfectionism in Nice Guys.

6) Welcome Fear

Fear is a normal part of life, but Nice Guys have a less-than-healthy relationship with it. Glover says that for a Nice Guy, fear is a constant reminder of every stressful, uncomfortable, and dangerous situation they’ve ever experienced. This fear-response tends to make Nice Guys overly cautious and risk avoidant

Glover asserts the only way to overcome vicious anxiety and fear is to acknowledge it and face what currently scares you. Just as self-care and prioritizing yourself help enforce a new self-concept, you create new beliefs each time you push through fear. 

How the Superior Man Deals With Fear

Facing your fears is easier said than done, but we can to The Way of the Superior Man for advice on how to approach these situations. When you’re feeling uncomfortable, anxious, or afraid, Deida recommends you let go and open yourself to uncertainty by:

Focusing on your breath. Release the tension in your body by standing up straight and breathing deep into your belly. Allow yourself to be physically and mentally open to what you’re experiencing. Speaking your fears. By acknowledging and describing your fears and how they affect you, you allow yourself to be emotionally open to your present feelings. 

Once you’re fully open to whatever life may throw at you, Deida agrees there’s only one thing left to do: Face it head-on.  

7) Set Boundaries

Nice Guys must learn to set boundaries. Glover argues that even if Nice Guys have boundaries in theory, they tend to give in without much force. In keeping the peace, they hope others will stop violating their wishy-washy limits. 

(Shortform note: In Dating Essentials for Men, Glover discusses a type of boundary-crossing that he calls shit tests. This term refers to anything a woman does—whether conscious or unconscious—to test the validity and limits of her man’s boundaries. Although men should never accept mean behavior, Glover says standing firm against a woman’s shit tests in particular is a great way to demonstrate your strength, stability, and capacity to be a man.)  

It’s hard to embrace your personal power if you let others walk all over you. But like taking responsibility for your needs, you must take responsibility for how others treat you. Glover stresses that others have no incentive to change if you reinforce their behavior by giving in. Once you realize this, you’ll find changing your own behavior (by setting firm boundaries) is a simpler, more rewarding path.

Glover’s advice for setting boundaries is as follows: If your partner exhibits behaviors that make you uncomfortable, ask, “Would I still be interested in this person if I experienced this on a second date?” If the answer is no, then you know you need to set a boundary. This rule helps you take a step back and realize when you’re being treated unfairly.

Tips for Setting (Lasting) Boundaries

Glover’s advice on boundary-setting is arguably limited, since it refers only to setting boundaries in romantic relationships. Here are some more tips on how to set boundaries that stick that are applicable to any relationship (be it romantic, familial, or even professional):

Author Mark Manson suggests you have set consequences for others for violating each of your boundaries. This will make you more likely to stick to your guns and follow through no matter the person or the context. But don’t forget to communicate these consequences to the relevant parties. (You wouldn’t want your boundaries to become covert contracts, now would you?)

Psychology scholar Mariana Bockarova encourages you to practice being assertive in all situations to get used to setting boundaries. How can you talk to your partner about being mistreated if you can’t tell a server he got your order wrong? By starting small, you can build your way up to setting limits with your loved ones.

Wellness consultant Alex Elle reminds us that although boundaries should be clearly defined, they’re not set in stone. Just as we change over time, so can our boundaries. Keep asking yourself what you need in the moment and adjust your limits accordingly.

Codependency recovery coach Hailey Magee says we must learn how to accept the boundaries of others while asserting our own. We should thank others for their vulnerability and clear communication when they successfully set a boundary, as we can learn from their example.

8) Develop Integrity

Instead of defaulting to deceit out of fear, Glover says Nice Guys must develop integrity. This can be difficult, as their tenuous grasp on the truth is related to their flimsy grasp on reality. Nice Guys can’t behave truthfully when their actions are based on projection or delusions (like their self-limiting beliefs).

To combat this, Glover encourages you to take a step back and ask yourself if your actions and behaviors are in response to reality. Are you projecting old insecurities onto your current partner? Or maybe you feel your boss is the only thing holding you back when your attitude is part of the problem. Responding to reality allows you to make realistic and productive decisions about the matter actually at hand. The truth isn’t always easy, but responding to reality with integrity is much easier than the stress of being “found out” or tackling each day from a place of fantasy. 

According to Glover, the best way to live with integrity is to ask yourself, “What do I think is right?” Then do it. Integrity gives you the power to approach reality—be it your relationship or job—with clarity, direction, and sincerity. 

(Shortform note: How do you know what’s “right”? In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown stresses the importance of developing strong personal values to guide you through difficult matters of integrity. Without guiding values, we’re more likely to take the easy way out than do what’s right. She recommends choosing two core values that you truly believe in—such as authenticity, compassion, loyalty, and so on—then setting up guidelines for what these values look like in practice. When you ask yourself “What’s right?” you’ll have firm principles to keep you on track. For example, if you value accountability, you could set up a guideline that says you will own up to your mistakes and avoid making excuses when you do so.) 

9) Find Positive Male Role Models

To combat old negative assumptions about men, Glover emphasizes Nice Guys must seek out new, healthy models of masculinity. When they observe healthy masculinity in action, Nice Guys integrate these positive associations into their conception of manhood.

Your role models can be anyone—a coworker, world leader, old friend, or admired community member. Glover suggests you identify the positive masculine traits you would like to embrace, then find men who embody them. And these men don’t need to be real—there are plenty of fictional characters that exemplify the traits of healthy, functioning men. 

(Shortform note: While Glover stresses Nice Guys find male role models to help guide them, Deida asks the Superior Man to turn to the wisdom of older women as well. As women age, they tend to embrace their masculine energy more, which according to Deida, decreases their capacity to tolerate bullshit. This—combined with their ability for deep emotional understanding as a mature female—makes older women worthy companions on your self-improvement journey.)

10) Pass the Torch

As you look to your role models, you must also provide the next generation with healthy models of masculinity.

According to Glover, healthy male role models help young boys transition into manhood without the stressful process of unlearning shame. Instead, they’ll learn to embrace their masculinity outright. And these relationships go both ways—Nice Guys benefit from the vitality and unrestrained energy that young men and boys possess.

A biological relationship isn’t necessary to form these bonds. Yes, spend time with your sons, nephews, and cousins. But if you have no young male relatives of your own, Glover reminds you to get involved with your local scouts, sports teams, or big brother program. 

Tips for Encouraging Healthy Masculinity in Boys

Both Plan International and Promundo are international organizations dedicated to engaging boys and men in the fight for gender equality. In an effort to address questions from the growing number of people interested in raising boys with a healthy understanding of masculinity, they created a list of concrete tips for parental figures:

Use playtime to build empathy. Boys can learn a lot about themselves and the world through play. Roleplaying allows you to demonstrate healthy ways of working through a wide array of emotions, situations, and values. 

Allow boys to express themselves—however that may be. Urge young boys to pick toys or clothing they are drawn to, even when they pick something “meant for girls.” Encouraging honest self-expression will help them define their masculinity apart from harmful stereotypes. 

Teach boys about consent. Teach boys they must ask for permission to touch others, but make sure they understand consent is a two-way street—they’re allowed to say no as well. You can demonstrate this principle by supporting them when they refuse physical contact—like a hug or a kiss—from family members.

Lead by example. Model what you think healthy masculinity looks like for the boys in your life. Children remember what we say and do, so we must address our own behavior if we say something inappropriate or find ourselves slipping into rigid roles. Provide boys with many examples of masculinity by seeking out positive representations in media and additional role models in your community.

11) Shake Things Up in Your Relationships

When entering into new relationships, Glover has one strategy: Shake things up. Instead of falling back on bad habits (like not setting boundaries) or unproductive mindsets (that your needs don’t matter, for example), start from a place of integrity, self-confidence, and vulnerability from the get-go. This will save you from having to “fix” a relationship that’s gone south (or keep you from entering into a toxic one in the first place). 

Starting fresh gives you the unique opportunity to look for a different caliber of partner (one who embodies your values). Glover says if you accept yourself and embrace your power, you’re more likely to seek out (and be sought by) those who exude the same self-confidence and energy as you do.

Just as the unconfident, never-changing mindset compels Nice Guys to remain in toxic environments (be it their romantic relationship or career), this do-something-different approach can also be applied to finding and beginning a new job. 

(Shortform note: When you do leave a toxic work environment, try your best to have some time to recover before jumping into another job. Take this time to reflect—not only on yourself, your skills, and your worth, but also on the negative experiences you had in the toxic environment. Were your former boss or coworkers abusive? Or was your job toxic at a systemic level? Learning from bad experiences can help you better understand what industries or company cultures will support you in the way that you need.)

Starting Over After a Toxic Relationship

Following Glover’s advice and getting a fresh start after a bad relationship can be a bit daunting, but The Good Men Project has some tips for starting things off on the right foot this time around:
Remind yourself you’re worthy.
You deserve happiness and a partner that treats you well as much as anyone else. But you must believe in your own self-worth as an individual person before you can begin a new, healthy relationship.

Write down any green and/or red flags you notice. It’s easy to ignore someone’s flaws when you’re just getting to know them, but do your best to recognize and take note of any concerning behaviors. Don’t forget to look out for the positive signs as well—what makes this person seem like they’ll be trustworthy and supportive? 

Talk to your friends and family. If you find yourself over-romanticizing your new beau, ask your loved ones what they think—do they notice any red flags? Or better yet, ask these safe people to set you up with someone they think highly of. This way, you’re meeting someone who’s already been vetted by someone you trust.

Don’t overthink it. Resist the urge to self-sabotage if your new relationship is running smoothly. Let yourself feel joy and excitement in your new, healthy relationship. Don’t be afraid to lean into someone who is expressing genuine care for you.

12) Ask for Help

No one can do everything alone, so Glover stresses that Nice Guys learn to ask for help. Taking control of your life includes utilizing the people and resources at your disposal. First, you must recognize that others are there for you and want to help. Then, you must ask for help in a clear, direct manner.

How to Effectively Ask for Help

Asking for help can be intimidating, especially if you’re a Nice Guy who’s not used to acknowledging when he needs help in the first place. And there’s nothing more discouraging than asking for help and not receiving it. But according to business professor Wayne Baker, the most effective way to get help is by making a SMART request.

When you ask someone else to help you, make sure what you’re requesting fits the following criteria:

Specific: Vague requests are less likely to be acted upon, so keep it concise and to the point.
Meaningful: Explain to whoever you’re asking why you need the help you do. 
Action: Tell the other person what tasks they can do to help, which will only make your request more specific.
Realistic: Make sure you’re not asking someone to do the impossible. 
Time: Give the other person a deadline or timeframe for your request.
How to Stop Being a Nice Guy: The Ultimate Guide

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Robert Glover's "No More Mr. Nice Guy" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full No More Mr. Nice Guy summary:

  • Why being a "Nice Guy" isn't actually a good thing
  • Why Nice Guys miss out on a life of self-acceptance, empowerment, and satisfaction
  • How to know if you are a Nice Guy and how to become an "Ideal Man" instead

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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