A friend asked for help in saying ‘No’ more — he’s overwhelmed and stressed.
Yes is the way we live: it’s positive, generous, accommodating, and serving. From an early age we are taught to share of our toys and our time. We continue that pattern into adulthood, adding money to the equation of giving. And the busier life gets, the more opportunity there is to say yes.
We say yes to invitations for social events. We say yes to projects at work and in our community activities. We say yes to more food. We say yes to charities. Yes has gone from being a gift for others to being the gateway for allowing distractions into our lives.
That’s why I’m frequently asked to help people learn to say no. Yes has become a problem in our society and people just don’t know how to say no. There’s a worry that saying no, or at least not saying yes, will look bad to your friends and family, will hurt your career, and might make you look bad in any number of ways. And besides, saying yes can lead to fun!
You have a finite amount of time in a day and get to do a finite number of activities in a day. For the sake of conversation, let’s say you get 27 activities to do in a day. Those activities include eating, sleeping, work, and hopefully exercise, meditation, service, and education. You create your schedule for the day based on your goals and priorities. It’s a full day you create for yourself, one where you’ll get lots of work done.
Then comes along an invitation to do something that looks like fun. How can you fit one more thing into your day? Your agenda is full! If you are a yes-sayer then you’ll just squeeze it in and skimp on some of the scheduled activities. Your day gets more hectic, less satisfying, and less productive. How is it that by squeezing just one “little” thing into the day you get less done? That’s the way it works — and why you have to quit saying yes willy-nilly.
I’m not suggesting you can never say yes: sometimes you need to, or have to. But here’s the catch: before you can say yes to an invitation or request, you have to take something off your schedule first. Remember, you only get 27 activities for any day. Keeping your goals and priorities in mind, you can evaluate the new activity that’s been offered. Is it more important than the other things on your schedule? If so, then you can remove one of the day’s activities to make room for it. The one you remove gets deleted, delegated, or delayed.
Another thing to keep in mind is that every decision you make burns glucose — the fuel that runs your body and brain. The more glucose you burn, the less is available for your brain and the more drained you end up feeling. And the more glucose you burn, the more impaired your decision making gets. I didn’t understand this fact in a previous career, a career that was filled with constant decision making. I made decisions all day, every day — and loved it! I just didn’t have any brain energy left in me by the time I got home; I couldn’t even decide what I wanted for dinner. That’s not a good way to live.
Armed with that bit of knowledge, realize that making your schedule for the day uses up some of your decision-making. Re-scheduling your day uses up more. Do you have enough glucose stores to waste them on re-scheduling your day? And if you think you can avoid wasting energy on rescheduling your day by not scheduling it at all, you’ll be disappointed to learn that an unscheduled day burns the most amount of glucose of all because you are constantly making decisions. Can you afford to negatively impact your thinking? If you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed like my friend, the answer must be no.
It’s not the adding the occasional activity to your day that makes the difference in feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. It’s frequently and regularly adding an activity that overloads your day and sucks your glucose levels dry that causes the problem. That’s why you have to be so guarded and protective of yourself with saying yes — by saying no.
“Yes” has long been your default answer. It’s time, as a busy and productive person, to make “No” your default answer.
In the next issue, I’ll talk more about keeping your energy up and strong throughout the day.