Every time you say yes, you are also saying no. Every time you say no, you are also saying yes.
Many of my clients (and often, I too) find it challenging to say no… to their loved ones, to their boss, to their own many desires. If a request is made of them or a project shows up, they feel obligated to accept it, regardless of what else is on their plate. Sometimes they greatly dislike this task or obligation that has shown up and they do not truly want to do it. At other times, they might want to do it very much, but know in their heart that they won’t be able to do so adequately and still meet all of their other obligations. Yet, instead of saying no, they agree to the new commitment… or avoid the issue and decline to refuse it, and somehow end up doing it anyhow almost by accident.
Why do we say yes when no might be a better choice? Maybe we’re afraid of what will happen if we disagree with someone or don’t please them. Maybe we think we ought to be able to be that busy and still be together and happy. Maybe we have so many things we long to do that we don’t want to give anything up. Maybe saying no would have a likely consequence we simply aren’t willing to accept. Whatever the reason, we say yes instead of no, ignoring the sinking sense of doubt down in our bellies. Somehow, we’ll figure out a way to get it done anyhow… right?
Well, probably true, but the question is at what cost? In reality, every time we say yes to something, we are saying no to something else. If you agree to that extra project at work when your plate is full without also creating a plan on how to get other stuff delegated or re-assigned, then you will either let other projects slide and say no to them, or you will work longer hours… and if you work longer hours, you will say no to things in your personal life, perhaps spending less time with your partner, your child, or your creative hobby. Perhaps you will say yes to helping a friend move at the expense of getting enough sleep, or say yes to staying on the phone with your mom for an extra hour at the cost of saying no to going to the gym and taking care of your body that day.
If on the other hand you say no to the new request… you are also saying yes to all of the commitments you have already, affirming them and their current importance to you. Sometimes a new opportunity is totally worth saying no to some of your other commitments, but often it is coming at a cost that you haven’t truly seen or noticed. So it comes down to this: are you choosing your priorities on purpose or by accident?
Believe me, I’m not saying this is an easy balance to strike, or that anyone can do it perfectly. I personally can attest to screwing this up many times, and I’m sure I’m not done screwing it up yet. .. though I believe I’m getting better. And there’s a world of grey here that I’m not getting into right now when these choices arise– for instance, you can sometimes say yes to a new request and consciously renegotiate other prior commitments in a way that still honors your values and others involved. Or you can say no to a large request but agree to do something smaller that you do have time for, and so on.
Anyway, the point is, next time you feel yourself wavering on the edge of accepting a task you don’t want, check in with yourself and be sure that you are okay not only with saying yes to this, but also no to that. Sometimes neither choice will be perfect, but it’s best for everyone if those choices are made consciously and in line with your deeper values and goals.