The Zen of Saying No

As published in Vancity Buzz January 19th, 2015.

Think of how much simpler your life would become:

I think that you should…  No.
Are you free to join us…  No.
I was hoping you would help me with…  No.

If you are a people pleaser, those scenarios probably seem traumatic to you. The thought of responding with a no right away is a foreign idea.

I do realize that if we said no to everything, our friendships would quickly dwindle; but on the other hand we wouldn’t find ourselves caught up in unnecessary obligations. It’s often our concern for other people’s feelings or needs that gets us trapped into things we don’t want to do.

Recently, we discussed what happens when you realize a yes you said earlier should have been a no. This week, I invite you to explore the peace and simplicity that comes from practicing discernment in what we agree to in the first place.

Exercising this type of discernment depends on a deep-rooted understanding of why it is necessary to say no in the first place.

Understanding your emotional currency

Years ago, my therapist introduced me to the concept of being mindful of my emotional energy. As I was in the banking industry for 10 years, she knew that comparing emotional energy to a bank account would resonate with me.

Sometimes life throws you a few curveballs and you feel drained. This is similar to your bank account being close to zero or maybe even in overdraft. Most of us know that when your bank account doesn’t have any money in it, you shouldn’t be spending money. The same goes for our emotional energy. You shouldn’t spend what you don’t have.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t feel the pressure to spend, it just means that we should be responding differently than if we had thousands of dollars in our accounts.

When you feel the obligation to help someone, this must be weighed against your current level of resources available to help — in other words, your emotional currency level.

Once you have done a quick check of your emotional bank account, here are some suggestions for when you should probably say no right away:

1. When you feel drained

You’ve been pulling long hours at work and when you are not at work, you are barely keeping your head above water. You are exhausted.

I know your mother really needs your help or your friend is demanding that you meet up with her for coffee because she hasn’t seen you in a month.

If you are already in overdraft, spending emotional currency is only going to make it worse.

2. When you have drifted away from your priorities

What is important to you? Your family? Hanging out with your friends? Quiet solitude? Being able to help others? Creating beautiful things?

No matter how you define your priorities, if you have become disconnected from them, politely declining should be a no-brainer.

Simply put, is this opportunity or invitation going to bring you closer to or further away from what you value in life?

3. When you need to invest in yourself

We all reach times in our life where we find ourself without passion or drive. Or perhaps you are in a transitional phase of your life.

If you are emerging from a crisis, or struggling with a lack of spark, you may simply need time to invest in your own needs. You could find a new hobby, practice yoga, journal, teach yourself a new skill, join a club or create art – the possibilities are endless.

In order to carve out time for yourself, you need to be firm in declining invitations from others. Going back to the concept of emotional currency, you are creating an opportunity to increase your bank account balance. Long term, this means more emotional resources for others, but in the short term you need to be a bit selfish.

4. When you just don’t want to

If you are not wired as a people pleaser, this will seem like a no-brainer. However, if you struggle with constantly putting other people’s needs before your own desires, this may be a revolutionary suggestion.

If something makes you uneasy or you just plain don’t want to, that’s a great reason to decline.  No excuses or trying to justify anything!  Check out the “just say no” tactic if you need a reminder of why not to over-explain when you say no.

The importance of knowing your intention

Ultimately, you need to know why you are saying no.

If you believe that declining an invitation makes you a bad friend, son or colleague, you are going to feel guilty.

When we are clear on our intention, such as needing to invest in ourselves, it becomes easier to reject any feelings of guilt that may start creeping in. You may feel like you are being a bad daughter at first, but you can remind yourself that you are prioritizing your own needs so that ultimately you can be a better person in all of your relationships. It is easier to be at peace with your decision.

Taking the next step towards a calmer life

Starting today, make sure you take the time to regularly assess your emotional currency levels. Be aware of whether your are in overdraft or not.

Determine ahead of time what situations or variables will be an automatic no for you. Instead of deciding in the moment, take a few minutes now to figure out if you are feeling drained, if you have drifted away from what is important to you, if you need to start investing in yourself more, and what situations you just don’t like.

You now have a loose filter that will help you discern what you should accept or decline.  The more you stay true to this filter, the calmer you will feel because you are staying true to yourself.

 

Pssst…want more tips for taking better care of yourself? Grab your free Secondhand Therapy eBook, Start Investing in Your Emotional Wellbeing: 25 Practical Tips for Moving Past Survival Mode. Just enter your info below…