It's happened again: you've been asked to do something you don't have time to do, and you've said "yes." While your willingness to accept the project may have pleased the person who asked for the favour, taking on this extra commitment has left you feeling overstretched, unfocused, and stressed out. If this sounds like you, you may be a "Yes Man or Woman:" someone who wants to do it all and ends up taking on more than anyone can effectively handle.
The solution isn't to decline every opportunity that comes your way, but to learn how to evaluate each request with your own goals and values in mind. By doing so, you can begin to reclaim time on your schedule for what really matters to you and in the process become calmer and happier.
The Trouble with "Yes"
The first step in learning how to say "no" is to understand the downside of always saying "yes." While it can feel good in the short-term to be agreeable, over time you may end up feeling resentful, taken advantage of, and over-burdened. Extra responsibilities may encroach on time that you've already allotted to other, non-negotiable activities, such as your job, family, social life, or even daily self-care and maintenance. If these basics get squeezed out, you may find yourself suffering the negative effects of stress and anxiety: headaches, weight loss or gain, irritability, and insomnia. If not dealt with promptly, these side effects can lead to long-term health risks.
1. Be a go-getter, not a people pleaser.
To learn how to evaluate requests that come your way, it's important to first understand what's behind your tendency to be a "Yes Man or Woman." Many people who take on too much are "people pleasers." People with this personality type are afraid of going against what others suggest because they want to be liked. They worry that people will be disappointed in them if they disagree. If this sounds like you, then it's a good idea to change your perspective. Start to see yourself as a go-getter, the director of your own life, rather than a people pleaser who is directed by others.
2. Prioritise based on your values.
It's often said that you can do anything you want, but you can't do everything you want. This is the key to why it's so important to learn how to say "no" in some circumstances. Since there are only so many hours in the day--many of which are already scheduled for essentials like sleeping, eating, and working--you need to think very carefully about what you want to do with the remaining time.
To do this, write down your goals and values. Then you can use this list to guide your decision-making and prioritise your goals over any outside suggestions. For example, if your list reveals that your most important goals are career, family, and exercise, consider declining any requests for your time that fail to further these goals, or that take time away from them.
3. Move from "yes" to "no thanks."
Now that you've identified what's most important to you and have decided what kinds of requests you prefer to decline, break the habit of saying "yes." A good way to get comfortable with doing this is to buy some time: tell the requester that you need to think about it before you can give an answer. You can offer a timeline for your response, such as 24 hours, or "by tomorrow morning." Use this extra time to evaluate the request against your list of goals and values. If accepting the request means denying your own priorities, then you have your answer. By saying "no" to activities that don't support your goals, you're saying "yes" to you.