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Image / Advice

The unexpected joy of just saying no


By Amanda Cassidy
23rd Oct 2022
The unexpected joy of just saying no

I’m a yes person. I’ve been a yes person ever since I was young and my parents told me to say yes to everything and then I could always change my mind afterwards.

It was good advice insofar as I would probably never miss a good opportunity, but the problem was that it created the habit of agreeing to things. It became a reflex to say yes even to the things I absolutely didn’t want to do. And the suffocation when you feel the pressure of acquiescing means you end up pleasing nobody.

I find myself saying yes to taking a friends child to a party I wasn’t even going to send my daughter to. I say yes to meeting friends when I am under pressure with work. I say yes to a walk with another friend because I’m afraid she’ll stop asking me if I don’t. I say yes to the two extra work articles though I’m at capacity. I say yes to helping at the cake sale at school and yes to the last minute smear test and yes and yes and how in God’s name am I going to juggle it all?

Extra mile

You can’t say yes to everyone and everything and do all of it well. Well, maybe you can’t and nobody has yet sent me the memo.

Dawn* has a particularly demanding mother in law who has no qualms asking her for help in the charity she runs. Dawn says it’s getting to the point where she’s at breaking point.

“My work is in event management so I absolutely understand why she wants my help. And it’s for charity. The thing is that I’ve given so much of my time to her projects and it never seems enough. It’s so easy to guilt me into it because it’s for those in need but I am increasingly finding myself run ragged because I have to balance my own work for my boss, the schedule of my two kids and then I’ve no time for myself because I’m always working on the charity balls for my MIL. My husband tells me to just say no, but it’s awkward, it’s my mother in law and I just want to please her”.

I get where Dawn is coming from. I’m a classic people pleaser. I say yes and immediately regret it afterwords. The thing is, I want to actually help, the problem is the execution of the favour because I’m not only at capacity, but I’m beyond it.

Psychologist Laurie Lewland says that crafting a helpful strategy can give you clarity around the kinds of things to which you want to say yes or no to.

“Make a list of your top three priorities (and understand that they may change). Post these priorities where you will see them all the time: your bathroom mirror, your nightstand, your laptop, your car’s dashboard. When someone asks something of you, check to see if it will serve any of the things you declared you wanted to put your time and energy toward. If the answer is yes, feel free to answer the inquiry affirmatively. If it is not in line with your objectives, say no.”

When we take on too many or the wrong things, we waste time, energy, and money and distract ourselves from what’s really important. Still, no one wants to disappoint colleagues or friends—or, worse, turn down key career and life opportunities.

Clear

So I have started to learn when and how to say both no and yes. I’m starting to learn that a considered no protects me. The right yes means I can make a difference, collaborate successfully, and increase my enjoyable moments.

I’m learning that being clear, confident and consistent isn’t as scary as I thought. It also means that instead of bending over backwards to accommodate everyone else, I’m finding myself with the time I need for myself to unwind, to be creative or even just snuggle with the children and take some time just to be.

It’s been an unexpected joy in our very busy family schedule. It took a while for me to understand that you don’t always have to give detailed explanations why you can’t commit to something. It took a while for me to understand that people enjoy the clarity of a simple yes or no. I don’t have to agonise over every decision anymore. I simply ask myself if it suits or if it doesn’t.

My family, my wellbeing and my work have to come first. Perhaps in the future I’ll have the luxury of taking on all the extra tasks that are asked of me. But for now, I’ll relish the boundaries I’ve had to create.