Taking Back My Life: How Saying NO Helped Me Say YES To My Happiness

October 4, 2012  |  

Sometimes, I feel like a horrible person when I have to say no to things. Just the other day, I had to tell my friend I couldn’t compete with her in a dance competition. I felt really bad telling her no and in fact, I put it off for a couple of weeks. I like dancing and danced on a team for years, but now it just doesn’t fit in with my life plan.

I’m sure she didn’t expect me to decline the opportunity, because I never tell her no. I remember one night in particular several months ago, it was 11pm and I was just leaving a dance practice I was helping her with. I called my then-fiancee to complain about how I couldn’t believe I’d been there for the past four hours and how my apartment was a mess. I needed to do some things for our wedding, I had an article to write, and had to get up super early the next day for work.  He said, “You need to start saying no.”

I agreed with him but just a few weeks later, I spent an entire Saturday appearing in a Christian music video with her. She wants to be a choreographer and she’s a great dancer. I want her to go places with her career, so I try to help but sitting there that Saturday  — dressed like a zombie — I wondered why I wasn’t at home writing, or cleaning my house or chilling with my husband or organizing my finances or babysitting my nieces or doing any of the other things that were so much more important to me. I knew why, because I let other people waste my time.

Of course, it’s not my friend’s fault. She doesn’t make me accept her offers and what she is asking me to do isn’t wrong in itself. It just isn’t the highest and best use of my time. Unfortunately, she isn’t the only person I say “yes” to. In fact, I overcommit so much that my husband once pointed out in a joking fashion, “when people ask you to do things, you have the option to say no”.

It’s hard for me to say no because I genuinely want to be able to do everything. But I started thinking that maybe instead of trying to fit what’s important to me around everything else that comes up, I can try to fit everything else that comes up around what’s important to me. Inevitably something has to give and it needs to be the things that aren’t essential.

Up until that point, I had been justifying my overscheduling by telling myself that I needed to wake up earlier or go to bed later to fit it all in. I told myself that my lack of time to do things was a byproduct of horrible time management. In actuality, my lack of time to do the things important to me was the result of saying yes to too many things that were not important.

It’s not up to others to be good stewards of my time. I am the only one who knows what I want to accomplish and what will make me feel as though I had a productive day or an unproductive day. Therefore, I am the one who needs to be careful about what things I commit to. It’s not about being selfish. Sometimes I will do things that have no real benefit for me because I want to help someone else out – in those instances, however, I still need to draw a line. If my cousin needs me to babysit on a Friday night, I can certainly do that.  Am I going to pick up her daughter from the bus stop every day after school and watch her until her mom gets off work? No. Can I teach cheerleading to Vacation Bible School for a week? Sure. Am I going to be the new cheerleading coach at a local middle school? No.

Once I’ve started saying no to some things, I found so much more time to say yes to other opportunities that are keeping with my goals. For instance, if I’m not spending my evenings at dance practice, then that is extra time I can spend writing.

Could I manage my time better to be able to fit in what I want to do and what someone else wants me to do? Maybe. But if I find extra time in my schedule then I need to be using it to make that much more progress toward my life goals. And besides, every moment of my life doesn’t need to be scheduled. As a writer – and a human – sometimes I need chill time that involves doing absolutely nothing.

If you’ve been feeling frustrated because you’re always committing to things that are not helpful to you, join me in taking charge of your life. List out the things you are committed to that are beneficial to your life plan and the things that aren’t. Don’t worry about if other people think it should be important. If you value a clean house, then making time to clean your house is important to you. Next, identify total time sucks (including people). When people ask you to do things, practice telling them that you will get back to them. That gives you an opportunity to think about it and truly look at your schedule before you just say yes without thinking. Remember that “I just don’t have the time” is a good enough reason. Thank them for thinking of you but don’t feel obligated to commit yourself to everything. Spend your time doing things that are important to you and you’ll be less frustrated, more productive and ultimately happier about your life.

What do you think? Do you have a problem saying no to people? Do you find yourself overcommitting or doing things that don’t fit in with your goals?

Follow Alissa on Twitter @AlissaInPink or check out her blog This Cannot Be My Life

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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