Leslie and I are both people pleasers and though each of us struggles to say "no," the situations we find hardest to decline are entirely different. Leslie has a problem with declining social opportunities for fear of missing out, while I put together massive to-do lists that I'm typically unwilling to leave unfinished. It's funny how one word means two entirely different, but equally significant things for each of us. But we've both found that saying "no" can lead to a lot of great things and shouldn't carry such negative connotations. Here's how we've each begun to successfully incorporate the word and the positive results that have come from it:
I'm not great about giving myself breaks. And a few weeks ago, I'd set up a rather unrealistic set of chores and got increasingly more stressed about not getting to them the longer it took. There was an intimidatingly large pile that had begun to take over our closet and each day I'd consider tackling it, but instead, simply toss whatever clothing I was wearing right on top. It got to the point when, on our last day of break, I actually set aside a three-hour block of time (how long I assumed it would take to clean) in my calendar to finally get it done. Then, right before I was about to begin, G suggested that the three of us head to the beach for brunch.
In retrospect, it should have been an easy decision—of course I'd choose a morning spent with my family by the water instead of in my dark, cramped closet. But at the time I was seriously torn. I told G that I worried that if I went with them, the unfinished project would be looming over me and I wouldn't even enjoy myself. G had begun packing the car for just a father-daughter trip when I decided to ditch my project. And much to my delight (and surprise), I completely forgot about my closet the minute we left the house. As an added bonus, the next morning I woke up a little early, put on my headphones with some upbeat music and plowed through the entire thing in less than 30 minutes. It reinforced the idea that sometimes saying no is the best choice, in more ways than one.
I'm naturally inclined to say "yes" to everything. That random PR invite in my inbox? RSVP yes! Be the first one to test-out the sketchy cliff/bungee/bridge jump? You betcha! Move to New York with $200 and zero job prospects? Yaaas! You get the idea. Saying yes, with zero hesitation, has led to a lot of wonderful experiences—it's a fundamental part of who I am—but on the same hand, it's also led to a lot of exhaustion, heightened stress, and anxiety.
One of the most important lessons I've learned in the past year is the importance of occasionally saying "no" and setting boundaries so that I can do all the things that are important to me without sacrificing my mental and physical health. As an extrovert, I absorb so much energy and joy from being with friends—but saying "yes" to every late weeknight dinner, when I usually wake up at 5:30, is a great way to burn out, quick. Instead of going, going, going until I crash, I've started pacing myself, knowing that saying "no" to things here and there will give me the energy to say "yes" when it's important; reframing things in terms of what I gain from saying "no" (rest), instead of what I lose (time with friends).
Last weekend, I felt a crippling sense of missing out on a night out with girlfriends (I was already in pajamas at home, exhausted from the week). My first instinct was to throw on jeans and meet them, but instead I went to bed at 9 p.m. When I woke up to an early morning invite to go rock climbing at a spot I'd always wanted to try, I realized that saying the occasional "no" is like making an investment in the future—had I gone out the night before, I would have missed rock climbing. In saying "no," I hadn't lost an experience with my friends, I'd gained rest, a memorable adventure, and the experience of hearing my friends re-tell their hilarious stories from the night before over brunch.