In the movie “Yes Man” starring Jim Carrey, his character, Carl, says “no” to most things in his life – his friends, social opportunities, new things, etc. Then, through various interactions / situations, decides to say “yes” to pretty much everything that gets thrown at him or asked of him. At first – it’s a positive thing that brings him out of his shell a bit and engaging with the world around him and having some positive experiences. Then, things get a bit chaotic. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that movie, but I remember it’s an obvious but funny story of why we don’t take anything to the extreme – even to saying “yes” all the time and neglecting wisdom in our choices and obligations.
When watching that movie, we can easily think, “That Carl was silly and foolish!” while having some laughs along the way – but too often we can fall into that same trap. We, too, say “yes” to many things in life, and have a hard time saying “no”. A classic example I’ve seen in many client interactions I’ve had as a health coach is when folks say to me, “I’ve always been the giver to my friends and my family for so many years. I don’t know anything different but I know that I somehow need to prioritize myself because my health is suffering.” Although they have the first step of awareness of this pattern, it’s a hard pattern to break. I don’t know what it is – if it’s Midwestern culture, Iowa, or something else, but there’s this pattern of “I have to give give give [of my time, energy, resources, etc] otherwise I’m selfish.” Another common example is moms – and the incredible sacrifice of themselves towards their kids and spouse, and therefore have absolutely no margin or time for self-care. Can you relate with that? I know, for myself, I have a tough time saying, “No” particularly when it involves other people – what would they think? How would they feel? I then can get sucked into making choices to avoid conflict or to feel more comfortable in the short-term but at the detriment of my wellbeing long-term.
For many of us, we can get so caught up in making sure we are being responsible, productive, and a positive impact in the community that we become blindsided to doing too much – just like Carl in “Yes Man”. What if we grew in wisdom in when to say no, and how to graciously say no so we could make room in our lives for what we need? What if we could grow in saying no to “good” things in our lives/schedule to make more room for the “best” things? I don’t know about you – but I’d feel more content, fulfilled, and less stressed. I think that’s worthwhile, don’t you?
Before you say “no” to others and opportunities that come up in your life, you need to be clear on why you want to say no to it. What things are most important to you in life that you rate as “best”? If you don’t know that, then you have no compass to give yourself backbone and conviction. You will feel tossed to and fro by what people around you think and want. So, get clear on your values and what’s most important to you, and build space for those.
I’ll give an example. For me, some (not all) of my core values relate to time for rest, and time and attention with my wife to keep a strong marriage. A strong marriage means we’ll have a better relationship, which will naturally have a positive impact on what our kids will learn from us. We would also have more energy/desire to serve and be kind to others around us. For a time, we had weekly evening commitments to have dinner with friends on Monday nights, and then we had our church group (which we were leaders) on Tuesday nights. This was fine for a while, but even before we had kids, it could make for the week feeling busy since we didn’t have any time for anything else until the middle of the week (Wednesday). Then, throw in having a kid in there, and we really need more time and flexibility. So, we decided to say no (figuratively speaking) to our friends we had dinner with on Monday nights, and we kindly explained our reasoning behind it. They were fine with that, and we are still friends and still see each other – just not every single week. Just that one evening open made such a difference for us. We now feel less pressure to get more things done on Sunday (since we still have Monday as a backup), and we can better split up weekly tasks over more days and feel a more balanced sense of rest. So – for us, having dinner with friends is a good thing, but it just wasn’t the best thing that we needed during this season of life. It may change in the future, but for now, it was a better choice.
What about you? What fills up your schedule? What obligations – or things you feel obligated to that dictate your time and energy? Of those, which are absolutely important – the things that you will not compromise on (for my wife and I, we knew we would always commit to our Tuesday nights – which helped our decision-making on saying no to Monday nights with friends)? From there, you can more easily see what is optional. If you are afraid of letting others down – consider this – how would you be able to better love, serve, and interact with them if you had more of what you needed to recharge your batteries (so to speak), your health, and stress levels? That’s the trap we fall into – we actually become less effective at giving others our time, talent, and resources when we do it in an unsustainable way.
And just know that with any change, especially if what I’m talking about here is, down in your heart, true and something you need to do – that it’ll take time. Perhaps, instead of fully saying no to something, you say yes to it less often. For example, if you have a weekly commitment, see if it could be every other week instead. That sort of thing. I think you’ll find it liberating when you can say no to things, and have it bring positive changes in your life!
To you health and wellbeing,
Lead Health Coach, Dan Tribley
EPIC Functional Medicine