Are you stressed? Do you feel overwhelmed? Are there activities you do or people in your life who you resent? Do you feel like you need to take better care of yourself but can’t seem to find the time? Do you wish life was more fun?
We all know that stress is the root of a host of relationship and health issues, including emotional eating and obesity. Several stress reduction techniques such as belly breathing or exercise are great at helping to reduce stress, but what about preventing it in the first place?
I’m going to suggest something radical. What if instead of giving out of obligation, guilt, or duty, you only gave if it brought you joy in some way?
When you give out of compassion it fills you. Giving out of obligation drains you.
If your schedule is packed with things that you have to do that you don’t enjoy, then you are only emptying your cup and you aren’t filling it back up. You can’t give out of an empty cup, your actions are not as productive, and you aren’t as much fun to be around.
On the flip side, when you only take action out of a desire to bring more joy, you actually get something back in return because it feels good. With an overfilling cup it is easier to give more.
You can still get a lot done if you want! You can go and do a million things, but if you are enjoying yourself and you want to do these things the time will fly by and you will feel good doing so. If you were to do the same tasks out of guilt, obligation, or duty, the same activities would leave you drained and exhausted.
Choosing your activities in this way is linked directly to self-love. Taking action out of obligation, guilt, or duty is linked to self-abandonment. So, it is time to set boundaries with your energy and take back your time so that you can live a life you love!
“Tell me about exhaustion,” I said.
He looked at me with an acute, searching, compassionate ferocity for the briefest of moments, as if trying to sum up the entirety of the situation and without missing a beat, as if he had been waiting all along, to say a life-changing thing to me.
“You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest?”
“What is it, then?”
“The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”
David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity
A lot of people avoid saying ‘no’ because they are afraid. You might already be saying, “But Rachel, I don’t want to let other people down. It is hard for me to say no when I’m actually able to do what people are asking! What will it do to my relationships?”
I want you to know that when you give out of obligation or guilt you aren’t doing yourself a favor and you aren’t doing the other person a favor either.
Think about it.
Have you ever done so much for another person that you ended up feeling resentment? Once resentment sets in it can be extremely hard to reverse. Is that good for either of you?
Have you ever received from someone who you know was just giving to you out of guilt? Didn’t it feel a little less than satisfying? How does it feel knowing you ‘owe’ them?
If you sign up for too many things at work so that you are not meeting your deadlines or delivering quality work, and you are also polluting the work environment with complaints, overwhelm, and burnout, have you done your boss a favor?
We all pay dearly when others respond to our values and needs not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame.
Sooner or later, we will experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a sense of either external or internal coercion.
They, too, pay emotionally, for they are likely to feel resentment and decreased self-esteem when they respond to us out of fear, guilt, or shame.
Furthermore, each time others associate us in their minds with any of those feelings, the likelihood of their responding compassionately to our needs and values in the future decreases.
Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
Take a moment to ask yourself, “In what ways am I over-extending myself?”
I would try saying ‘no’ and see what happens, because I guarantee it won’t be nearly as bad as you think and you have so much to gain (um, happiness and freedom anyone?). You won’t have to forgive yourself and forgive other people because you never let that resentment build in the first place!
When it comes to saying ’no’, short and sweet is best and excuses aren’t necessary. Say ’no’ with love (you can focus on your heart to help you) and leave any guilt out of it. An apology is rarely necessary unless you already said yes and now you are backing out.
Saying no to an invitation
Remember, no excuses! They don’t need to know you will be at home listening to music and painting your nails. 🙂
- “I can’t make it on Friday. Have a wonderful time!”
If you are asked, “Why not?” again, no excuses. Just say again that you can’t make it, or say you have other things going on, and thank them for understanding.
Saying no to your boss
You can’t always tell your boss no, but you still don’t want to put more on your plate than you can handle. You want to deliver quality results on time and part of that is managing everyone’s expectations.
- “I’m working on projects A, B, and C right now. How do you want me to prioritize these?”
- “My deadline for project A is in April, and I have another deadline for project B in June. The earliest I could start on project C is in July. Does that work for you?”
If you are thinking right now that this will never work, I urge you to give it a try! You will come across as professional and responsible, and if anything earn more respect.
A friend came back from a trip to Disney World with her husband and two kids, and I asked her how the trip was. “Exhausting!” she replied. She told me that her two kids were not able to ride the same rides, so keeping track of everyone had been a headache, not to mention planning everything and dealing with the crowds and the lines. Still, she thought that everything had gone well. So she was surprised when, at the end of the trip, she asked her kids what was their favorite part. Their answer? The visit with their cousins in Florida before heading to Disney.
I never forgot her story. My friend had taken her family to Disney not because it sounded like fun to her, but because she felt like she should.
Give when you can do so out of compassion, but do yourself and the other person a favor and say ‘no’ when you’d be giving out of obligation.
The only exception is when it comes to the health and wellbeing of your young children. That’s it.
This lesson changed my life. I first heard about it when I was struggling with bulimia in graduate school. I had been raised in a large religious family where I was taught to put others before myself and to give-unto-others. The problem was that I was also a people pleaser and was tremendously overextending myself! The turning point for me was when I realized that this self-abandonment and self-sacrifice was at the root of my eating disorder. I went from playing the best friend to being the leading lady in my own life, and not only did my eating disorder go away, but I have been so much happier, I have wonderful relationships, and an amazing career.
Fill up your cup and then you can focus on filling up the cups of others. Sometimes you have to say no to say yes.
Do you have other examples of ways to say no, or how saying no has helped you? Share in the comments below!