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Just Say No!

Shondra Rhimes, creator of Gray’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, wrote a book called Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be our Own Person. It is a wonderful book that recounts the year she decided to move out of her comfort zone and live in the “space of yes.” For her, “the space of yes” was a period of freeing herself from the “shoulds”, limits, and restrictions that she placed on her life. Her book is a feel-good, inspirational read.

Often, we need to push past our “shoulds” for our mental health. Some of us let our fears and anxieties keep us in toxic relationships, working at unfulfilling jobs and engaging in unhealthy habits. Many people choose safety over success. I understand the need for the “just say yes” movement.

However, there is another phenomenon impacting our mental health and overall wellness—the refusal to set firm limits and boundaries and just say “N0 !” There are a number of reasons why it can be difficult to say no, most of which are grounded in anxieties about disappointing others, obligations, patterned expectations, gender expectations, and even ego. People with certain careers that require emotional labor—educators, faith leaders, child care workers, advocates, counselors etc.—are especially vulnerable to this problem.

It is unclear if these professions attract people who already have trouble with boundaries or if they are simply fields in which people are expected to push past their limits, give too much, and gradually take on more and more. Sometimes people so concerned with being seen as selfish, they act “selfless.”

One of my favorite quotes is from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, “Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly.” In short, we can only give who we are and with the strengths and resources we have.

When you are on a plane, they always tell you if you’re traveling with others or small children to put your oxygen mask on first. In order to help someone else you have to take care of yourself first. The goal is to give from overflow not from emptiness. The only way to make this happen is if you to set firm limits and boundaries.

If you say yes to any of these questions, I am going to ask you to join me in nine months of NO!

  • Do you frequently find yourself overextended or overwhelmed?

  • Are there more things on your to do list than you have time and energy to complete?

  • Have you ever found yourself saying yes to things that you know you have no interest or desire to be involved in?

  • Do you find that your personal, professional, social, or spiritual goals always get put on the back burner because someone else’s needs come first?

  • Are there self-care practices such as sleeping well, eating healthy, exercising, saving, or even spending time alone doing the things you love that you put off because you don’t have the time, energy, or resources for yourself?

If so, you should join me in my “Just say NO!” campaign. Trust me, I know this is no easy task. It’s much easier to get lured into saying yes. For your own health and wellness, you need to master the art of saying no.

  • Pull out your calendar (or create a calendar) and put “you” on your calendar every day. Do something for yourself intentionally every day.

  • Think before you speak. Develop a practice where you take a minute (or 24 hours) to think and reflect before saying yes to anything. You’ll find that if you put a pause button on your response, frequently the need or request goes away or someone else steps up to fill the void. When you slow down, other people have time to show up.

  • Find an accountability partner. Tell someone in your life that you are working on saying no, someone who can support you in setting limits and boundaries in your life.

Of course, this is just the start of the list. There are many more things you can do. I encourage you to share your no strategies with me on my Facebook page.

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