Most of us are generally nice people, despite the comments section of most social media pages. But sometimes our internal problems get compounded because we’re nice. We’re sometimes too accommodating, and we take on a lot more mental RAM by saying yes when we should be saying no.
I do this a lot. Once I accidentally committed myself to be in 5 places in almost the same time period, and I resolved that as long as I put my face in there for a moment to show my support and hang around for a little while, I would be able to fulfill my obligations to all five of these people. It worked in exactly the opposite way; exactly none of these people were satisfied or happy with my showing up for such a small amount of time, and I was worse off. Never mind the fact that the whole evening in question was frantic and tiring for me to criss cross town several times over (isn’t it always the way that if you have two or three events on the same evening, they are literally on the other side of town from where you are? Virginia Beach is gigantic, for the record.)
We should not need to be told this, but we do. We do not need to say no to everything. We literally can’t. Not just for the reason that we’ll basically piss off everyone that we actually care about, but the more we say yes to everybody else, we can’t say yes to US. This leads to stagnation on our part, and if we’re no careful, resentment. I remember thinking in my youth that everyone else seemed to get theirs, but I never ‘got a turn’. Saying yes to everyone else at the expense of your own development means you’re actively passing on your turn. Of course, we don’t see it that way. We have to start seeing it that way.
However, it’s not as simple as saying “I’m going to start saying no more often”. Be honest, this is not the first time you’ve heard someone say this to you, and it’s not the first time you’ve tried. The desire to please and appease people is in many ways just like a drug, and it’s hard to kick the habit. The majority of us to face this problem just aren’t wired to say no easily. So we need to make some gradual changes and build on them. Once we have a foundation in place we can begin to build on that. Let’s start building that foundation with some items we can start saying no to more often.
First, let’s start saying no to those people who put a drain on you. Not everyone in your life is a positive influence, and let’s be honest, some of the people in your life are black holes that suck up your energy and positivity. We must realize that these people aren’t going to support you. In fact, these folks will in many cases be the first people to say “You’ve changed”, and try to drag you back to their sad place. On the other hand, there are people who cheer you, build you up, and inspire you to be better. You know who these people in your life, and you must triage them accordingly. It’s hard, I know. I’ve had to do it. I’ve had a few friends from years past who are no longer a part of my life because I had to make the deceivingly hard choice to cut them out of my life. I say deceivingly hard because it should be easier, but as humans with feelings and empathy we hesitate. We may even say to ourselves, “Maybe if I hang in there and lead by example they will follow?” It’s just as likely you return to where they stay, as opposed to them moving with you. They may choose at some point to join you, but that doesn’t mean you have to hold their hand. In the end, I chose to no hold anyone’s hand. That doesn’t stop anyone from following me, but they do so without my prompting or my help. We have enough to contend with in our own development to
The next thing we need to say no to is other people dictating your agenda. What do I mean by that? I mean social media and email, and I mean more of the latter. We do have an addiction to social media that we need to break (I’ll have more about that in another post), but email is the most disruptive influence on our everyday existence. Especially if your day job relies on email for communication. If you check your email first thing in the morning…you’ve lost. Because while you may have a plan, you’ve got your to do list, you have your Big F’ing Thing of the day to get done, you have a plan…one check of your email first thing in the morning can screw up all of that if someone else’s poor planning becomes your problem to solve. We’ve all been there, right? I check my email twice a day. In fact, my personal email signature tells people when I check my email and that requests are first come-first served, so there’s some transparency there. It’s also a not so subtle hint that if you’re sending me something for me to find first thing in the morning, I’m not going to see it until i’ve been to work for an hour or so. Additionally, there’s a point where it’s very plain that I won’t see it until tomorrow. Additionally, I push people to email so that every request goes in the same channel, and I attack that on a first come first serve basis. If you text me because you’ve realized you’re not going to get me? I send you to my email. If you phone me, I’m sending you to my email. If you stop me in the hall? I’m sending you to my email. By limiting my exposure to email, and communicating exactly the times (and the only times) I look at it daily, I control my agenda. I take care of my priority item of the day first, and then look at email requests for my time. If I know that my priority item of the day is going to take the majority of the day, it makes it easier for me to decline, or delegate, or refer to someone that can help them better than I can.
Thirdly, I never want to be busy for the sake of being busy. Busy is not effective, or productive. It’s busy. Being busy means I’ve let circumstances overtake me, which I just don’t want to have happen ever. The best way to not get overwhelmed is by gaining clarity. That can be clarity on your day, your week, or your WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING IN THIS LIFE? The clearer you are on that, the easier it is to triage against all the stuff incoming, and just ask “Does doing this new incoming request help me get closer to my goal, keep me from it, or move me away from it?” That makes it much more simple to say No and not feel a pang of guilt over it.
Yes, I know, we’re still going to feel a little bad, but not as bad as we might have without that clarity.
Guess what kids, even I know that we’re not going to be perfect at saying no more often, and I even got THAT covered. PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF BOB STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP FOR NOT BEING PERFECT. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams didn’t knock ‘em out of the park every at bat, and no one expects you to either. So you screw up. And? In the end, no one cares, and unless you have the keys or the nuke codes, I think we’ll live. My daughter has this mindset, and she comes by it honestly, because I have this mindset. But listen to me: you’ve heard that perfect is the enemy of the good? It’s because at some point, you have to be ok with good. If you’re a creative, if you work with any kind of deliverable…hell if you’re worried about what kind of parent you are, all the way down to what kind of human you are. Perfect is paralyzing. Be ok with just OK, and kick that perfection crap to the curb. It doesn’t do anyone any good, least of all you. Your non-ulcerated stomach will thank you somewhere down the line.
Finally, we need to talk about that stick you have wedged. When I say that stick you have wedged, I mean we, and by that I mean me. At least, the stick I’ve been slowly extricating for the last few years. No one, including you, likes someone who’s by the book all the time. You’re not Joe Friday. You know what I do every month or so? I go to my favorite karaoke bar, I knock back a shot of tequila and a Dos Equis, I have a burger or something, and I get up and sing a couple of songs. Because that’s how I like to play. I flirt with the waitresses, and make bad jokes with my friends. Or I make bad jokes with the waitresses and flirt with my friends. it’s one of those. OK, it’s both of those. The point is, I make time to play. Work will always be there, and the need to be a professional will always be there. But we can’t be buttoned down all the time. That’s a nervous breakdown waiting to happen. Make time to play. Please don’t forget to have fun in this life. It’s the point of all that work, isn’t it?
All of this gets back to the basic point of what this life is supposed to be about, or at least what I think it’s supposed to be about: Personal growth and evolution. For better or worse, you are not the same person you were 10 years ago. I hope that every one of us can look back to today 10 years from now and say it’s been positive. I hope this gives you just a little push to start working on that today. Don’t be that person that stays still and never moves, and never takes time to work on themselves. Chances are you know someone you think of that way today. You’ll be that person in 10 years and wondering if “they” think of you the same way. Of course they do. You did. Start saying no to the bad stuff, the stupid stuff, the negative stuff, and start saying yes to you and what you need to be the person you want to be.
Whatever that is.