Last week I had a bit of a scare. I was preparing dinner for my husband and I after a very long and stressful day filled with demanding clients, missed deadlines and a head cold that just wouldn’t quit. As I was cutting the carrots, I felt pain shoot through my chest, and the words ‘heart attack’ raced through my mind. Then I stopped for a moment and realized that I was actually holding my breath without realizing it- a bad habit that I developed through years of living a very high-stress life. Turns out my body was screaming at me the only way it knew how to take a moment and allow myself to breathe.
It was a good reminder, and apparently a necessary one. Without realizing it, I had once again taken on too much, said yes one to many times, and my health was suffering for it. My instinct to say “yes” to everyone else was getting in the way of me saying “yes” to my health and well being. So if you find yourself saying ”yes” too much, here are a few tricks you can use to help break yourself of the habit.
Tip # 1: The List
A friend of mine taught me this trick- and sometimes I even remember to use it. At the beginning of the day, write down a total of eight things or situations that must be dealt with that day. If a new project comes into view, you have three options: 1- Replace something on the list with the new project 2-Put it aside to put on tomorrow’s list, or 3-Completely disregard. The trick is to only allow eight slots on your daily to-do list. When someone demands your time, if you don’t feel you can do it, you can just say something like “I don’t have room in my schedule right now- would tomorrow or some other day feasible?” If that isn’t a possibility, you can either replace or remove, the choice is yours.
Tip # 2: Think About it
Often I take too much on simply because I feel the pressure at the time to do so. I feel the insane – yes insane need to fix and make everything better. When someone comes to me with a problem, I want to solve it. However, by demanding that I get time to think about it, I can usually build up enough confidence to say no if it turns out that I can’t handle the extra stress. If you’re faced with a demanding client or situation, force yourself to take a moment to step back and take a while to think it over. You might just find the courage to say no.
Tip # 3: Practice, Practice Practice
I know this sounds strange, but saying “no” instead of “yes” takes practice. If your conditioned response to a request is to say “yes”, you’ve got to get that condition to change. The only way to do that is to practice. Stand in front of the mirror and play act refusing to take on a job. Use an old teddy bear as a stand-in for that intimidating client. Another option is to role play a conversation where you say “no” with your spouse. Trust me, over time you’ll get to the point where the words “No, sorry I can’t help you.” will come just as easily as “Of course, I’d be glad to help!”
Remember, being generous with your time, money and talents is a wonderful thing. However, the truth remains that there is only so much that you can give away before you start to cause harm to yourself. Don’t have a scare like I did. Take action and learn the importance of saying the word “no.”
Laura Seeber is a geologist, environmental professional, writer, and outdoor and nature enthusiast. Born just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Laura has spent the majority of her life hiking through the forest, descending into caves, climbing over boulders and up cliffs, navigating river rapids, and writing and blogging about her adventures. She currently resides in Illinois and travels country in search of the next great outdoor activity or adventure.