Mental Health Month: Embracing Our "No" to Protect Our "Yes"

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in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, all month long the MBL newsletter will be dedicated to focusing on a variety of mental health & wellness topics. This week’s MBL Newsletter highlights dropping the “Yes, Ma’am” mentality as one way to prevent mental and physical exhaustion and burnout. It may even help keep you focused and on task with your current workload, or personal goals. 

In life and in business, there’s a tendency to want to say “yes” to new things and opportunities that present themselves in our path. We say “Yes” to new partnerships, new product lines, that meeting, that idea, that night out, that trip. We say “yes” to just about anything that we think might offer us even the slightest chance at getting ahead or opening up a new door for ourselves both professionally or personally. And we’re so ambitious that our ‘yes, ma’am!’ mentality bleeds its way into our personal lives and we end up saying yes to just about anything and everything without taking an honest moment to think it through. Do we realistically have the time, energy, or financial resources to deliver on our yes? Or will our yes put us in a bind, and actually get us behind? Our “yes” is prompted by our ambition and our open mindedness, but on the other side of that, could also be the permanence of saying “no”. “No” feels scary. It feels like we’re letting the other person down. We may fear looking lazy, boring, or uncaring. Worst of all, it literally can feel like we’re doing injury to whomever is asking when we say “no”. And then, we might get to thinking that by saying no, we’re closing ourselves off to possibilities or potential. It’s no wonder why we so often say ‘yes’ to the point of spreading ourselves so thin. Does this feel familiar? If so, you’re not alone. 

Every time we say “yes” to one thing, it means we have to say “no” to something else—and usually that something else is us. It may not seem like it, but we ourselves are largely in control of how busy we are, and we can better manage our workloads, both in our personal and professional lives, by learning when and how to say “no”. For fun, here’s a list of quotes on prioritization and saying no from some folks you may be familiar with.

It’s Okay to Say No

And here are a few examples of what some of my ‘yes’s’ have sounded like in the past:

  • Yes, I can have that you by EOD! (Even though no one said it was needed by EOD, I must love to put pressure on myself to look good, and now I’ll have to skip my meal/walk/ my post-work-day gym session and family dinner plans to make that happen because I didn’t plan for this.)
  • Yes, I’d love to go to that concert/on that trip! (I’ve never heard of this artist and I don’t really care to travel to this destination but I want to appear fun & spontaneous even though I’ll be tight on funds for other more important expenses that actually matter to me).
  • Yes, I would love to be involved in that project! (I have 100 other things going on right now that I am just barely making work, but I have high hopes of being really engaged and contributing because this would look really good on my resume and I may meet some really important people).

Constantly saying “Yes” isn’t sustainable, but saying “no” when it is appropriate is a skill we can refine every day. The secret is knowing when and -to what- you should say no to, and when you should say yes. 

Here’s what my No’s now sound like:

  • I have several other priority items on my docket for today, but I can get this to you tomorrow. In the future, can you let me know a deadline so I can prioritize my tasks? 
  • That concert/trip sounds really fun, but I’m watching my spend right now. I have some other really fun activities coming up that I’ve been saving for!
  • That project sounds really great and is aligned really well with my interests. At this time though, I’m involved in a few other projects and I wouldn’t be able to give this the attention or time that it would require and deserve. I’d love to be considered in the future. (If you know someone else who may be a good fit, this may be a great time to make a recommendation).

Saying no isn’t easy, but it’s a boundary that you will find will be important to set in order to protect your energy, your heart, your time and to keep your personal and professional goals in check. Overall, embracing no helps to protect your yes. It helps to have a simple definitive system in place to help evaluate before hastily agreeing to something you can’t, don’t want to or more than likely should pass up simply because you have a lot of other responsibilities /priorities that need your attention.

Five Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Say Yes (or No):

1. Is it absolutely urgent, something that needs to be done within the next 24 hours?

2. Am I the only one capable of getting it done?

3. What will I need to sacrifice if I say yes to this?

4. Does it align with my bigger goals and objectives, or will it be a distraction?

We can even go a step further and reflect on the following question:

5.  Am I saying yes because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do and I “should do it”? Or am I saying yes out of fear of something? Am I saying yes because because I want to do this? Even if it is something we may want to do, we have to also think about whether right now is the right time when looking at the bigger picture of the time, energy and financial resources available to us.

If you conclude that you should say no, remind yourself that you don’t have to provide an explanation. Be honest, polite, genuine, and, if appropriate, offer an alternative solution. If you have  a tendency to overcommit, like many of us may, the above simple system of 5 quick questions to ask yourself can help you determine what to take on and what to decline. If you’ve ever hastily said ‘Yes’ and then had to retract your answer, check out this Harvard Business Review Article, “How to Say No When You’ve Already Said Yes”.

So whether your “No” is protecting your ability to say “yes” to your career goals, your financial goals, spending time with family or even your “you-time”, being empowered in saying “No” can in many ways help you get ahead. It may help to keep in mind one of my favorite quotes “If it’s not a heck yes, it’s a no.”

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