Prescriptions for Life

How to attain your goals, great and small, and create a life you love.

Take Back Your Life: How to Say NO More Often

You won't have the life you want until you learn to say no.

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I've written already about the fabulous time I had recently at New York's Social Media Week. Corporate Wellness Expert Dr. Pam Peeke gave one of my favorite presentations of the conference.

I triple-starred one section of her presentation in my notes: her description of those who suffer from the notorious "Helium Hand".

She spoke from the point of view of a typical Helium-Hand-afflicted person:

"Someone asks me to do something. I'm already booked until I die, but I'm going to say yes, sure."

"This person doesn't even look at their Outlook calendar," she went on to say. "It's black with overcommitments. But that hand still sloooowly rises up into the air..."

"Sure", the woman with the Helium Hand says, "I'm going to do it because I'm always there for everybody."

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As Peeke went on to say (rather indelicately but very clearly): "Women need to have a smackdown for a moment - what are you doing?"

Does this resonate? It's such a crazy, crazy world. We learned to do math in school but never were taught how to manage our time and commitments in a way that will keep us healthy, protect us from unnecessary stress, and give us the best chance at accomplishing or enjoying the things that are truly most important in life.

A good friend and I were talking about this shortly after I heard Peeke speak. She had been invited to several social events over the weekend, yet she had a really important deadline for a dream opportunity. She agonized over the conflict, afraid to seem anti-social or disappoint by saying no to the social invitations.

Yet when we talked about this type of situation, both of us remembered times when we exerted superhuman effort and sacrifice in order to say "yes" to something we KNEW we really didn't want to do or attend, and then regretted it after.

In many cases the person who had made such a big deal of wanting or apparently desperately needing us to come to a particular event or meeting didn't even seem to notice we were there, or spent under five minutes talking to us (while we were stuck at a dinner table next to strangers whose company we truly did not enjoy).

Or, we caught a cold after staying up too late drinking wine and eating too-sugary too-salty appetizers at that party (the one we didn't really want to go to in the first place). Our immune system became vulnerable not only because of lack of sleep and poor nutrition, but because we spent the next day pumping our bodies full of stress hormones trying to get done the things we could have done the day before instead of going out.

Do you know that feeling - the feeling when someone asks you to do something, or help with something, or go somewhere, or join something, and you feel that little twist in your gut? That twist inside that feels like a helpless internal squeak (like a miniature cartoon character inside of you that's had their arm pinned behind them and is being held to the floor against its will), meanwhile that Helium Hand of yours floats into the air and you say, feigning enthusiasm, "Sure, no problem, I'd love to."

Can you become determined to recognize that moment of internal protest, that feeling of "I really want to say NO to this" inside you, and learn to honor it?

What would your world be like if you started saying a gentle but firm, no room for negotiation NO, EVERY SINGLE TIME you feel that inner knowing that you don't want to say yes? What is it about women in particular that makes us override this so compulsively? Perhaps it originated from an adaptive trait that ensures that we unfailingly get up at night to breastfeed babies when our bodies are desperately in need of sleep and rest.

Yet ironically those very children and the other most important aspects of our lives get pushed aside when we say yes to things we don't want to do or realistically don't have time for.

During our conversation, my friend said something that resonated with me so deeply I think it changed my very cells:

"Whenever you say yes to something, it means you're saying no to something else."

I'd heard this before, but this time I really got it. And I present it to you, to use as a practical strategy the next time, every time, you get asked to do something you don't really want to do.

I used it today. A stranger emailed me, asking to speak to me about how to build a career like mine. I already have a handful of people that I mentor or coach pro bono, and to the rest, like this person, I offer an hour of formal consulting time if they'd like to get some career advice.

Regardless, she wrote back, asking again if she could speak to me free of charge. I started to feel guilty.  After all, wasn't I being selfish if I didn't agree to talk to her? Wouldn't it be the kindest, most generous-spirited thing to do? Even though I really didn't want to do it, because my schedule is already so full, I seriously considered it.

I know. Crazy. But we do this!

And then I remembered:

"Whenever you say yes to something, it means you're saying no to something else."

If I gave this person even a half hour of my time, it might mean skipping or rushing lunch, or failing to take my dog out for her (and my) very necessary second walk of the day, or not posting a (hopefully useful) blog post that will get read by thousands of people who also need help.

I need to eat. I need to walk (and so does Tina the dog). And I really, really need to blog - though I love doing this so much, I find it incredibly hard to find time in the midst of all the fixed items and appointments on my calendar .

So I said no. I risked her labeling me a selfish, money-obsessed egomaniac on a pedestal who isn't willing to help the new kids on the block. But I ate a good lunch, took Tina out for a walk in the sunshine, and am sitting here writing right now. And that feels so good.

What are key things on your to-do list that you desperately want to find time to do? Are you sick and tired of not getting enough sleep? Dying to find half an hour a day to work out so you can finally lose those extra pounds? Heartsick because you keep telling your kids you don't have time to play with them? Make a list of what you're not doing that you really, really want and need to do.

Now think of these items on your list the next time you get asked to do something you don't want to, or don't have time for. Is this new opportunity or invitation more important than the top item on your list? You know the answer.

NO!

Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a practicing medical doctor, media wellness expert, life coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer and the author of "Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You."

Visit my website: www.susanbiali.com

Tweet with me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drsusanbiali

Join the conversation on my Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/drsusanbiali

Copyright Dr. Susan Biali 2012

Susan Biali, M.D., researches health and happiness. She is also a professional flamenco dancer and author.

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