I will never forget the moment when a client was complaining about how many things that she had on her plate and I simply said “Why don’t you just say no to some of those things?” And she looked at me like I was crazy and then her expression changed and a tear came to her eye and she simply said “I can say no? Oh my goodness, I can say no to things. This is life changing.”. It was a huge moment for her and at first I didn’t understand why. I find it easy to say no but as I thought about it it dawned on me that I have a hard time saying yes to new experiences.
For me it was that I was afraid to over extend myself, that I could not get the time off work, maybe it was that I was not sure if I could afford it or I was just anxious. It felt like my life was on hold most of the time when other people said yes to everything and then were far too busy, over taxed or double booking and feeling bad about not following through.
Learning to say yes or no can take a bit of time and it may be an adjustment. If we are used to saying yes all the time it may be jarring to just say no. Or if you say no all of the time it might be scary to start saying yes to things. The best tool I have found for this is simply practicing “I’m not sure right now, can I get back to you (tonight, tomorrow, in an hour) once I look at my schedule?”. It gives you some time to decide if you can or if you want to do the thing while taking the pressure off in the moment. The next part is a bit more difficult, you have to decide and consciously be aware if you want or can do the thing. Doing things in a conscious manner instead of by your default may take some practice and it’s worth it.
Some people may find this easy to apply and others may struggle and why is that? To find out you may have to ask yourself some tough questions.
If you say yes all of the time what’s your fear if you say no? Are you a people pleaser? Did you get a gold star in school for doing all of the things? Did it make you popular to do all of the activities growing up? Did your parents expect you to do all of the things? Did your parents or friends never offer to do things with you so when they did you just jumped to yes? There are a lot of possibilities and somewhere you may find that you found approval, acceptance or you felt loved in some way when you said yes.
If you say no all of the time it usually comes from some form of fear and anxiety. Fear of being seen; of not following through; being overwhelmed; being let down; being vulnerable or any number of beliefs that may or may not be true. Don’t be fooled and say “I’m just anxious, nervous or stressed about it.” All of those feelings are based in fear and that’s OK. It’s indicating that you are not comfortable and that you may need to take some time with the decision. You may then have to look at yourself and ask if those fears are grounded in reality. Sometimes they are, maybe you have lower stamina or a health issue and need to ease into things. The thing is that I would like to see you saying no because you consciously choose to and not simply because it is a habit. There may also be something in your past that happened and now you are stuck in the story of it. Identifying that story can help you work through the fear as you become more aware of it.
At the end of the day we should all be able to check in with ourselves in the moment and make the best decision for us right then and there, however we may not be there yet. If you are ever in doubt start with “I’m not sure right now, Can I get back to you (tonight, tomorrow, in an hour) once I look at my schedule?” And see where that takes you. This is an amazing practice of self love as you will then be doing things in your best interest and not because it’s a habit.