HEALTHLearning How To Say No

Learning How To Say No

By: Kat Bozzo

“Yeah, I think so… I can swing that… No problem… I can fit that in…No worries…”

Is there a reason why you are filling every hour of every day with something? Just because you technically have time for something doesn’t mean you should take it on, and just because you’ve been asked, doesn’t mean you have to say yes. If you find yourself with your cup almost empty, too many tasks to complete and no time to breathe, you may have done it to yourself.

You probably had the best intentions, like wanting to be everyone’s go-to person- the reliable one. The problem? It’s impossible. You end up stretching yourself too thin and the most important parts of your life tend to suffer. As helpers, we have an intrinsic desire to do whatever we can to make other people’s lives easier – but where do we draw that line in the sand when those pressures begin to fracture our boundaries and balance? So, people pleaser, what do you do?

Why are you saying yes? 

Identifying the reasons behind why you always make yourself available may help lessen the pressure on yourself to do so. Will this task bring you joy? Will it bring joy to others? How does that affect you? Of course not every responsibility in life is joyous and wonderful, but it may be time to take stock of your elective burdens and weed out the unnecessaries. Is this your responsibility to remedy or are you staying busy to actively avoid staying still? With a track record of being emotional avoiders, first responders should be hyper aware when they are taking on tasks in order to avoid being alone with themselves. We walk into stranger’s lives everyday, put ourselves aside, and help. Every hour of our workday is “yes, how can I assist?” Once that’s turned on, it becomes hard to turn off. Maybe it is an inherent trait in all first responders, or maybe a bi-product of the job itself. Whatever your reasons are, understanding your motivation may help identify what you actually want to do vs. what you feel you should.

What does this look like? When you get the text message saying, “Can you help me move this Saturday” and you know it’s a day off that you have been looking forward to for weeks, avoid a knee jerk, guilt filled reaction by delaying your response. Let the false guilt settle before you over commit.

Who are you trying to impress?

Analyze who you are saying yes to and if they bring value to your life. Are you seeking approval from anyone? Who are those people and why does their opinion matter? Speaking of others, what would you expect from them? Time to break down how you see others in your life. Ask yourself if you would expect them to take on as much as you do. Would you expect them to always say yes? If not, why do they get a break and you don’t? We often have higher standards for ourselves than we do for others. In doing so, we may end up creating unhealthy relationships with feelings of resentment and bitterness. People ask for your help everyday, when was the last time you asked? 

When the next request comes along, take a deep breath and try to let go of the notion of expectation. If you can’t manage something, you just can’t manage it. If it’s okay for someone else, it’s okay for you.

What are your ideal priorities in life?

Are your ideal priorities getting the time they deserve? How is your life currently functioning? Take an honest look with a critical eye. Is your life balanced and full or unfocused and fractured? Being honest about what’s important and if it is getting the respect it deserves may be a hard but necessary wake up call. In the process of trying to please everyone, you may be neglecting the ones that you value the most. Understanding who brings value to your life and where they fit in your priorities may help focus your energy in areas that bring you joy. 

When opportunity knocks to once again extend yourself for others, try asking “do I actually want to do this?” If the favor you agreed to do at the last minute takes time and energy away from somewhere or someone you value, it’s not worth it. 

How’s your cup?

Time to analyze how you are currently spending your time. As a paramedic, I often find myself starting my day with my cup half empty, hungover from a week of empathy draining calls. What would happen if instead of ensuring I engage in activities that refill it, I constantly attach myself to responsibilities that suck it dry? It becomes hard to identify which aspects of life are joyous and which ones are exhausting. Which parts of your day bring you joy? Which parts bring you stress? Some stress can be unavoidable, as mandatory parts of life aren’t always easy. But which parts have you brought upon yourself? Identifying patterns of stress may help indicate if there are any tasks in your life that can be removed. Do you see the value of free time? What does free time mean for you? Does it always need to be filled? 

What would happen if on a day off, you scheduled absolutely nothing? You wake up in the morning, grab a coffee, and decide what to do with your day. It could be something, or it could be nothing. But whatever it ends up being is your choice, and will be exactly what you need.

Putting it all together

Now that you’ve done some deep reflection and asked yourself lots of questions meant to help you evaluate the burdens you self-inflict, what happens next? You reset. Moving forward, be conscious and mindful of why you’re agreeing to something, what that something brings to you, and what that something takes away. Be a little stingier with your time. Take a moment to assess your cup and ensure you’re filling it and not pouring it out. Not everything is worth your time. Not everyone needs you. The world will go on if you take time for yourself. When you leave the station, someone else attends the call. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself and the people closest to you, is to simply and politely say no.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels