While teaching thousands of women around the country, I have found most have this in common: We don’t go after what we want. We have a lot of reasons for this but the results are the same—frustration, dissatisfaction, and stress!

Let’s talk about little things first. Not so long ago, on one of my speaking trips, I saw a man on the plane sitting in the seat that I wanted. I offered him my seat. “Hi. Would you like the window seat?” He immediately said “Yes!” almost childlike, he was so excited. Bam! I got the aisle seat I wanted, and he got what he wanted. The old Susan would have just sat in my seat and wished I would have at least asked.

On a different trip, a rental car agency had a couple of mishaps regarding my reservation. They apologized but I still nicely said, “What can you do for me?” If I had been a jerk, the story may have stopped here because they had no obligation. But instead the gentleman said, “I can offer you 15 percent off.” The old Susan would never have even asked.

I mention the little things first because if you are not assertive, that’s exactly where you need to start.

Maybe you ask for extra time off at work, seek help with a project so you can meet a deadline, or get ahead of someone in line at the grocery store when you are in a big hurry or just have one item. Look for opportunities to practice.

The most important thing is that you ask or state what you need. However, a very close second is that you are nice. Only then are you actually closer to getting what you want. Being assertive means confidently and politely going for what you want. That doesn’t mean everyone will always see you as nice, but you must do your part.

The third most important thing is to appear confident. Yes, I said “appear” because you may not always feel it, but others need to see it. Your confidence says that you mean business and are not about to get run over.

Once you are more confident (or sooner, I’m not the assertive police) then move onto things more difficult. That could mean requesting a promotion, asking a problematic coworker for a specific different behavior, letting your boss know that certain forms of communication are unacceptable, or dealing with anything else that scares you a bit.

Speak up for yourself and your stress will lower. You won’t always get what you want but you will get more of what you want simply by being assertive. It’s time to change things and make your life better.

(Excerpt from A Delightfully Short Stress Relief Guide for the Busiest Women by Dr. Susan Harrison, available in ebook or print formats.)