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How to Say No and Mean It

How to Say No and Mean It

One of my resolutions for this year is to say no more frequently.  As a natural extrovert, I am wired to say yes as if it were a nervous tick.  I have recently been giving a lot of thought into the word "no".  Such a small word with such a big impact. No one likes hearing "no", but let's face it, most people need to get over it....and the "most people" I am referring to is YOU (read: I'm talking to myself here). 

I have battled burnout on many levels. Career, relationships, extra-curricular activities. In every single freakin' case, I am the only person to blame for it. Let's take a charitable board that I once sat on.  Against my own better judgment, I accepted the invitation to serve, only after going through a pathetic assessment of why I should do it.  Even though ever fiber of my being yelled, "STOP IT, GIRL, JUST SAY NO" my mouth said, "Yes, of course I will do it."  

Every situation is the same and goes like this: 

Step One: Say yes against my better judgment (and even the judgment of my closest advisers)

Step Two: Agonize over the decision for the better part of a month

Step Three: Reluctantly take the first step towards commitment

Step Four:  Lie to myself that I should be doing the thing I should say no to

Step Five: Cry in the car on the way to whatever commitment it is

Step Six: Complain to said closest advisers

Step Seven: Go back to Step Two...wash, rinse, repeat.  

It's the same cycle every.single.time.

We live in a society where too often productivity is measured by how full your calendar is on a given day.  I'm guilty of looking at my daily "to-do" list and giving myself a fist bump if was able to cross everything off the list.  The problem is - my lists are too long and in hindsight, crossing 10 things off of a list only means that I was busy, not productive.  

In a life full of a-ha! moments, the day that I learned the difference between busy and productive takes top billing.  On that particular day, I hit the ground running at 4:30am and didn't stop until 11:00pm, driving across town to this event and that lunch and this board meeting, and this happy hour.  It was exhausting.  I got home that evening and surveyed the day, as we do, and realized how utterly unfulfilling the day was.  You see - I realized in that moment that I had been to fifty million places but really been to none... What I mean is that while I physically attended all of these events, I was not mentally or emotionally there.  So what's the lesson? You can be busy without being productive.  In my recent years, I've learned to value productivity over being busy.  The state of being busy is time-related while productivity is something so much deeper.

In accepting that the real goal is to be productive, the next question is how to make intentional decisions about how to spend your time.  The best tool you have is the word "no".  A few years back, I came across this book called The Best Yes by Lisa TerKeurst that really helped me develop my "no".  The first step is to ask yourself whether you truly WANT to say yes and whether there is something to gain.  If the only reason you are saying yes to something is because you feel obligated and not because you want to, it's a no.  Plain and simple.

Once you weed out those things that don't serve you, you next have to get comfortable saying no without reservation or explanation.  In the past, I felt that I had to give a reason for saying no, or provide some excuse.  The only thing that came of all of those empty excuses was a headache and a heaping sense of guilt on my part.  You see, when you provide an explanation or excuse for why you are saying no, you have to internalize it and own it which causes you to exert unnecessary energy.  If you say no without explanation, it's just that - a no.  There is nothing else to analyze and it's done.  

Getting to no is a journey, however.  I'm not pretending to be someone that doesn't invite bullshit into my life every now and then, I'm just saying that it's happening less frequently. Don't get me wrong, there are still those days that I call my mother crying on the phone about some bad decision I've made (on those days she typically reminds me that it's my fault and then ends the call with, "there's growth here".... whatever the hell that means).  But I'll say this: instead of being a serial "yes" girl, I've now got a "no" and am not afraid to use it.

Photo Credit: Amanda Jordan

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