"Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough." - Tim Ferriss
I was having dinner this week with a good friend, and the conversation turned to a commitment she felt she had to make, yet was already regretting and resenting.
There were a litany of reasons for her to say yes, but the bottom line was, she just didn't want to do it.
It made me take pause, because as I was giving her advice, I knew, not so deep down, that this is something I struggle with as well.
A people pleaser at heart, I've had to wean myself off the instantaneous "YES!" to any request, favor, commitment, or social engagement that comes my way. And, let me tell you, it ain't easy.
The part of me that so desperately wants to be liked, the "nice girl" I was raised to be, can't stand the idea of letting someone else down by saying no.
The irony is, of course, when I say yes to someone else while I'm internally resisting, I'm letting myself down and saying no to myself. I'm telling myself that I come last and that my needs and time aren't as important.
Research from the University of California in San Francisco shows that the more difficulty you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. (Read more from Travis Bradberry on the Art of Saying No here.)
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of times a resounding yes is the way to go. In fact saying yes can create opportunities and make you happier (read more here.). I'm not talking about the times we might do ourselves a favor by saying yes to experience. I'm talking about the times we say yes out of a sense of obligation, guilt, or a need for approval.
Saying no when we aren't feeling it can help us to avoid that knot in the pit of our stomach. Saying no frees us up to say yes to something else. Saying no can, in fact, be a way of saying yes.
As Dr. Caryn Aviv so poignantly says in her Ted Talk, "We often say yes at the expense of ourselves. Saying yes at the expense of ourselves to seek approval or acceptance or affirmation actually undermines our own power. It undermines our integrity and it depletes our energy reserves." She goes on to say, "A form of freedom and liberation can come from saying no because it means you have more space to say yes to what is really meaningful and what is really deeply important to you." (Watch the entire Ted Talk with Dr. Caryn Aviv here.)
But, saying no can trigger an avalanche of worry: What will they think of me? Am I letting them down? But, I really should say yes. And, so the worry thoughts tumble down.
"However we probably don't need to worry as much as we do. Because of what psychologists sometimes call the "harshness bias," we often believe that people may judge us more negatively than they actually do. The reality is that most people won't think less of you if you say no. In fact, people tend to respect us more when we are able to set healthy limits." (Read more from Christine Carter on 5 Researched Based Ways to Say No here.)
Saying no frees up space and time allowing us to focus on what matters most. Ahem, this includes sleep and relaxation.
As Steve Jobs said, "When you think about focusing, you think, well focusing is saying yes. No, focusing is about saying no." (Listen to more from Steve Jobs on saying no here.)
So, before you say yes to another event, meeting, date, hangout, trip, salary, and even another job - why not stop and ask yourself what do you really want? What are you saying yes to?
Where do you find yourself saying yes, when all signs point to no?
I know it's easier said than done, but the rest of your life is begging you to say no so you can say yes.