There’s a reason that so many of us wind up tired, stressed, burned out and overcommitted. Although we’re taught throughout our lives how to make others happy through our words and actions, that same type of education rarely extends to helping us take care of our own needs.
As a result, we say “Yes” to taking on extra assignments at work – even when we’re swamped with other deadlines. We say “Yes” to volunteering at a PTA event, simply because we can’t bear to disappoint committee organizers. We even say “Yes” to family obligations that do nothing besides tax our limited resources and cause undue stress – all because we haven’t figured out how to say “No” effectively!
Well, I’m putting my foot down! From here on out, I give you permission to say “No” when you need to. In fact, what you’ll usually find is that saying “No” when you need to allows you to say “Yes” to the right things – freeing up your time and energy to fall into alignment with your desired goals.
Of course, it’s not quite as simple as just starting to say “No” after a lifetime of people-pleasing. It can take some practice to figure out how to decline situations and expectations gracefully. So if the thought of saying “No” more often makes you feel more than a little uncomfortable, take the following steps in order to learn how to bow out effectively:
Step #1 – Identify your top values
Before we look at how to say “No” more often, it’s important to understand why this is an issue in the first place, as well as what it indicates about our internal priorities.
The problem with saying “Yes” to everything is that it takes up time that could be better allocated to top priorities. For example, take a situation where you’re repeatedly invited to participate in fundraisers or charity events at your office. If you have a particular cause that you care about supporting, saying “Yes” to these other opportunities means saying “No” to the one mission you truly believe in. As a result, your actions fall out of line with your values, leading to discomfort overall.
Really, any time you commit to something, you’re doing it at the expense of another opportunity. Hanging out with the guys means spending time away from your wife. Choosing to travel with your immediate family over the holidays might mean missing out on celebrations with extended relatives you rarely see. Even taking on new projects at work might mean losing steam on initiatives that are more important to the company’s overall success.
This concept is called the “opportunity cost” of missed experiences, and it’s an important component in understanding why it’s important to say “No” in certain situations in order to free up time for higher priorities.
To do learn how to use opportunity costs to your advantage, start by making a list of your top values and priorities (for example, your career, your financial situation, your relationship with your spouse, your friendships, etc.). Then, choose the top 3-5 values from this list that matter most to you. In the future, weigh any requests for your time or money against these top priorities and consider saying “No” if they don’t support your most important values.
Step #2 – Identify areas where you’re over-stressed
At the same time, try to pinpoint any sources of excess stress in your life, as feelings of stress can often help clue you in to the situations that aren’t serving your top values.
As an example, suppose you take an inventory of your current life and find that the amount of travel required by your job is pulling you away from your friends and family members – two priorities you’ve identified as higher values in your life than your career. The amount of stress you’re feeling because of this scenario is indicative of areas you’ve said “Yes” when you should have said “No.”
Of course, your stress points don’t need to be quite that large. Even something as simple as a cocktail party you feel obligated to attend when you don’t want to could indicate priorities out of whack. Don’t panic about finding these instances of out-of-order values in your life – simply use them as learning opportunities to pursue future activities and events that are closer in-line with the priorities you’ve established for yourself.
Step #3 – Say “No” to low investment situations
Steps #1 and #2 in this process covered ways to identify situations that are causing undue stress in your life as the result of their disproportionate opportunity cost. Unfortunately, this investigative work was the easy part – now you’ve got to actually do something about it!
If the thought of telling your boss that you’d like to travel less (or making other major changes to the things you’ve made priorities in your life) is overwhelming, start by saying “No” in low investment situations in order to build up your confidence in this area.
Saying “No” to a PTA event you don’t want to attend, for example, will be much easier than telling your parents you aren’t coming home for the holidays. Try to rack up at least a couple of “No” wins under your belt before tackling the bigger issues in your life. Over time and with practice, you’ll find it much easier to say “No” to the things that are sucking time away from your top values and to say “Yes” to the priorities you truly care about.