Too often, I agree to do things without first thinking them through, whether it’s a favor for a friend or taking on a new project at work.
I often find myself over-committed and busy, even though I value my downtime and hate feeling rushed. It can be difficult to back out of a commitment tactfully, but it’s a position I find myself in more frequently than I would like.
I used to be hard on myself for this.
For a long time, I believed there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t always able to stick to plans or do favors for friends and colleagues. However, I’m finally beginning to realize that it’s not selfishness that leads me to say no or back out of commitments. I used to be unclear about my boundaries and would overcommit myself, leading to eventual feelings of burnout and resentment.
I’ve coached a lot of people, and it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that too many of us are default “yes people.” This leads to feelings of exhaustion and resentment from over-committing ourselves.
Why are we so quick to say “yes”?
The fear of missing out seems to consume many Millennials. Is it because we have more life and career options than any other generation before us? Or is it that for every decision we make images are broadcasted online to people ranging from our friends, acquaintances, or even strangers attempting to create a certain image? Despite the reasoning behind this phenomenon, FOMO has kept many of them stuck in a cycle of being needlessly busy and overwhelmed. To be honest, I’m much more terrified of not having the focus to pursue my dreams than missing out on an event or opportunity that’s not worth my time.
- Social Pressure
If your colleagues are constantly agreeing to extra hours, additional assignments, or impossible deadlines, then it will be very difficult for you to say “no” or set limits on your time. Although it’s hard to believe, most people feel the same way you do about saying “no,” but they don’t speak up because they’re scared. When you set your boundaries, however, you become a leader by example and give other people the courage to start setting their limits.
- Fear of Disappointing People
When someone asks us to do something, the majority of us say “yes” because it benefits us and them in the present moment. It’s less comfortable to spew out a “no,” and no one wants to witness the look of discouragement or anger on the other individual’s face. I understand that it may not feel great to turn down a request, but saying “no” from the start is better than committing and then changing your mind later. Not only will they (and you) recover faster this way, but you’ll also avoid resentment or doing a half-hearted job when you’re working on what they asked.
- Pure Habit
If you’re like me and have been programmed to say “yes” to everything your entire life, it’s now time to break that habit. Like any change, this will take plenty of effort and practice to make sure that your new default answer is “no.”
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” – Greg McKeown, author of my new favorite book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. (Watch his Office Hours video here.)
If you’re thinking to yourself, “I say ‘yes’ to everything,” then I challenge you (and myself) to start using what Greg McKeown calls the “graceful no.”
If you’re the type of person that likes to say “yes” a lot, it may not feel good at first to start flat-out saying “no.”
“Let me check on something and get back to you” should be your go-to response from now on. This subconsciously trains you to consider if you want or have time for something before saying yes. Not to mention, it also provides time to process their request and maybe even come up with a kind “no.”
After making this tiny shift, many of my clients notice drastic changes in their day-to-day lives. They have more free time to enjoy hobbies or spend with loved ones, they remain focused throughout the day, and perhaps most surprisingly, their relationships blossom.
If you stop saying yes to every request, opportunity, and invitation that comes your way, you’ll have more time for the things that matter most to you. You’ll feel in control of your life instead of always feeling like you’re playing catch up. And other people will respect you more. Although it may seem counterintuitive, “no” is usually better than a tepid yes. As Kate Northrup so eloquently put it in one of her blog posts: “Saying yes to everything cheapens your yes.”
“We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’” – Greg McKeown
Are you up for the challenge to stop saying “yes” to every request and opportunity that comes your way? Let me know in the comments below.