The Power of “No”

Courtesy of iStock/NataliaMills

What are you saying yes to this year? Your health, more quality time with your family, a new hobby, more books in your TBR (to be read) pile, or maybe even all of the above?

This year, I’m saying yes to many of those things by choosing to say no more often. “No” is a powerful little word that is grossly underused. It holds the gift of choice, focus, confidence, and time in its single-syllable hand.

But I have a problem with pushing that syllable out of my mouth. Instead, I find myself saying “yes”: yes to other people’s dreams, yes to other people’s needs, yes to other people’s wants, and yes to other people’s desires. Which is all fine and good until I’m too tired to pop in that exercise DVD … or getting a little too snippy with my family at the dinner table … or (if I’m really honest) feeling too bitter to focus on anything but the energy I’ve lost providing so many things to other people.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Self-care is important, and it starts with prioritizing our own goals, commitments, and needs first.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but for the last two months of 2018, I was slowly sliding into bitterness. I resented the fact that I was pouring my time and energy into a few relationships and not receiving the same returns. My family listened as I chewed over the same injustices over and over, until finally—now drained of the same energy I had sucked out of myself—they nicely, but forcefully, informed me it was time for a change.

And they were right. We need to take care of ourselves mentally, emotionally, and physically. It’s important to our overall health—and the health of those around us.

Take some time to sit down and list five or six things you want for your life this year. You will be amazed at the perspective just 20 or 30 minutes of conscious focus can bring. Then, armored with the clarity of your vision, you can confidently begin nurturing your own dreams and desires by placing boundaries around those dreams and desires in the form of that tiny, big word—NO.

Saying no to one thing means you are saying yes to something better.

No seems so final, doesn’t it? If we choose to say “no,” aren’t we closing off our options instead of opening them up? It sure feels that way at the onset of the no mindset. Especially if it’s a boss or customer on the receiving end of our no, and especially if we fear that boss or customer may never ask for our help our services again. And what about our family and friends—isn’t it wrong to tell them no because they are our obligation and, for them, we can never do enough?

This people-pleasing spiral is exactly why we stay in the overcommitted and exhausting pattern of saying yes to everyone and everything and becoming too tired to give 100% to any of it. Until we get specific about what we want in our lives and then confidently and consistently say no to the people and things that keep our visions out of our reach, this pattern will continue.

Prioritize what matters most to you so, the next time you are teetering on the verge of falling back into an unfulfilling pattern of yes, you can remind yourself of your priorities and where this latest idea should rank.

We always have a choice.

You always have a choice! But because it can still be hard to say no, here are some helpful go-to phrases:

  • “I would love to help you with that, but I’ve already committed to _____. Let’s get a group together so that your project can get the attention it deserves.” It’s okay to divide up projects so you are not carrying the full burden.
    At work, pull on coworkers’ skills to get a project done together. At home, the same principle applies. Make chores like washing clothes or dishes a group project, even if your children are too young to carry a responsibility alone. You can involve everyone, from your spouse to the youngest child, by breaking the chore up. You might assign a color sorter for clothes, a folder, and someone to take the clothes to their designated locations, where another family member will put them away.
  • “That sounds like a great idea.” Sometimes we people-pleasing types are too quick to jump in and take on other people’s ideas because we want to help. (Remember the people-pleasing spiral we just discussed.) We can lighten our own loads by sharing interest in other’s projects but not offering to do the work for them. Instead, offer suggestions and give feedback on their progress; stay clear of carrying other people’s loads so you are free to focus on your own.
  • “Let’s plan out how this is going to work.” Communication is key to solving so many of our problems. Taking charge of our own problems and even asking for help is a positive step toward meeting our goals. With aging parents that need care or activities that overlap within the family but still need time and attention, don’t give in to the temptation to carry the full load. Let go of the idea that it’s just easier for you to complete the task or (heaven forbid) that you will do it better. Put your mind together with all parties involved and come up with a solution that allows everyone time and attention for self-care.

Saying no is going to come with some pushback. You can handle it.

You’re bound to face some pushback, especially if you have been everyone’s savior before. But this is where the magic happens. This is where we invest in ourselves and nourish our dreams. This—if we stick to the process and work through the pushback—is where we find the energy, confidence, and focus to fully realize our transformation to a well-balanced life. And this is where we give our loved ones the opportunity to grow, too. I think it’s time for us to strive for something better by saying “no” more.

What goals are you saying yes to this year? And where are you saying no in order to make room for your goals to happen?