There may be more power in the word “no” than any other two letters in the alphabet. Even so, this is a word that many of us find very difficult to use with any regularity. We worry about disappointing someone, fear they won’t like us, or just feel like we should do whatever is asked of us. When our plate is full, we often fail to notice that when we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to something else. That something else can be our own wellbeing when we give up sleep, exercise time or other priorities in order to accommodate someone else’s requests.
It’s popular to advise a people pleaser to “learn to say no”, but if it were that easy, we’d all be doing it. So, try flipping that advice around and consider what you want to say “yes” to. When you act from a sense of mission – knowing what you want to achieve – you are able to make conscious choices about what YOU want and to evaluate how much of your limited time is required to complete what you’ve decided to do. This will require that you set an intention to accomplish a specific goal and give that priority. Once you have set clear priorities, you will be in a position to evaluate the relative merits of accommodating the next person who asks something of you.
This small shift in the way she thinks made all the difference for Sandra after we discussed this joy strategy in her Business of Life workshop. For everything I’m deciding on outside of work, I ask, “Am I going to get any joy out of this?” Sandra embraced the concept that her decisions should be in line with her own core values and, whenever possible, should bring her joy. She told me that she can’t always say no to an assignment at work,, but she can take full control of her decisions in her personal life. She evaluates whether any given project will bring her joy. “If not, I don’t do it. It keeps me from feeling guilty when I say no to things that don’t fit my guiding principles. I wouldn’t do anything at work that doesn’t benefit the organization, so why would I do that in my personal life? I use my guiding principles and the joy button to help me make my decisions.”
Of course, saying no to someone can be very difficult for some people. You may find it helpful to remember that the momentary discomfort of a conversation usually dissipates shortly afterward while the burden of being stuck with an unwanted task can last much, much longer. I often assign my clients the task of saying no to five requests just to flex those muscles and see what happens.
Here’s what one such woman had to say about that exercise. “This experience completely changed the lens I look through when evaluating work requests. I allowed myself to feel anger for the first time when a colleague tried to dump his work on me instead of worrying about how I was going to please him. And for the first time, I simply said no. I was shocked when all he said was ‘OK, I’ll try someone else.’ Sh*t, that’s liberation!”
For Crying Out Loud
She may be on to something with that outburst. Saying no to someone can lead to difficult conversations. Because I worked for so long in an academic medical center, I like evidence-based techniques. So imagine my delight to learn that a number of studies indicate that blurting out curse words during a painful experience may actually make it hurt less. Richard Stephens of Keele University in the United Kingdom showed that students who swore out loud were able to keep their hands submerged in ice water twice as long as students who recited a neutral word. This worked as long as the subjects didn’t swear too often. Overuse of curse words apparently reduces the “stress induced analgesia” or natural pain relief brought about when they let a few good ones rip.[i] So if the idea of having a difficult conversation is paralyzing, consider swearing under your breath and see if that helps. Hey, it’s science.
Give No a Go
If you have the disease to please, consider trying the exercise of saying no to the next few discretionary (meaning it’s probably not a good idea to tell your boss you won’t do an assignment) requests you receive and see what happens. You just might find that you’ve created some space in your busy schedule for a new priority – you!
Share Your Adventures in the “No”
When was the last time you freed yourself by saying no? What were you saying a meaningful yes to? Share your experiences in the comments section below or on Twitter @allisonrimm #givenoago.
[i] http://www.keele.ac.uk/pressreleases/2011/title,66305,en.html accessed November 29, 2012.