It’s that time of year again. The internet is full of people making resolutions, posting their Word of the Year, and committing to saying YES more often. Me? I’ve decided to go in the opposite direction and declare January the launch of my YES Diet.
A while back, I heard the term YES Diet used, though where is lost in the ethers. The phrase stuck with me, though, because saying yes to too much had been a soul-sucking habit for so much of my life.
It started in childhood. My need to fit in, to be accepted, drove me to say YES to pretty much anything anyone asked. If I said YES, they would like me, right? It got even worse as a young mother living in a town where I always felt like an odd duck. Saying yes would help me fit in and pave the way for my children, right?
It went like this:
- Volunteer for this good cause, chair this committee, head up this project? Of course!
- Bake 120 cupcakes for the third grade classes? I’d be delighted!
- Discount my services just for you or better yet do free? I’m happy to help!
- Buy one, get one? That’s just too tempting to pass up! (See how it sneaks in?)
- Rearrange my plans to accommodate yours? Sure!
I love saying YES! I love trying new things, meeting new people, sampling new foods and wines, exploring (new to me) places, learning new business skills. It’s part of the fabric of my being and I like that about myself. So when my ex-husband blew up about my YES habit, I was smugly sure it was his problem, not mine.
Only deep down, I knew saying YES had gotten out of control and that my curiosity and sense of adventure were not the real culprits. Too often I would catch myself saying YES when my inner voice was silently shouting NO, NO, NO!! Instead of being the gateway to wonderful new experiences, saying YES had become a prison of my own making.
Where did my personal compulsion to say YES come from?
I was one of those kids who always felt like an outsider. Possibly because of that, I had two powerful and conflicting drives:
- A passion for helping, especially the misfits and underdogs, powered by an unshakable belief in practicing unconditional love. Saying YES felt like serving.
- A desperate need to be loved and accepted powered by my own neediness and unworthiness. Saying YES felt like my ticket to belonging.
Those forces led to years of feeling exhausted and stretched thin to the point of snapping.
Why do we say YES to too many things?
- We want approval - If our sense of approval and belonging comes from other people and not from ourselves, then we feel obligated to say YES to stay in their good graces. Wanting to be liked isn’t bad. However, when our self-worth comes from others, we’re dependent on their whims and moods, and become fearful of being true to ourselves if it means disappointing them.
- We have Shiny Object and Shiny Opportunity issues – I love experiencing new things and hope that never changes. Can you relate? The downside is all that dabbling and sampling can fill all the hours of every day, always feeling pulled in a bazillion directions instead of going purposefully forward. Who am I? What do I stand for? If I’m always chasing something new, I’m never present as Me.
- We have vague priorities – Only by identifying our own priorities and goals can we evaluate requests on our time and resources. No matter how worthy a request appears, if it interferes with taking care of something essential in our own life, it needs careful consideration before saying YES.
- We have squishy boundaries – Boundaries are the equivalent of emotional property lines, helping us distinguish between what is our responsibility and what isn’t. Poor boundaries make it possible to be “guilted” into saying yes, even if the guilt is only internal. We end up doing things for people that they could do for themselves and often should. That exhausts us and deprives them of the opportunity to grow and become more self-sufficient and satisfied.
- We’re unrealistic about our “bandwidth” – We each have 24 hours in a day. Consistently expecting ourselves to get more done than is humanly possible sets us up for frustration, disappointment, and feeling like we never accomplish anything. It keeps us from acknowledging all we do get done.
How do We Stop Saying YES When We Really Want to Say NO
There are a few fundamental, and possibly universal, mental hurdles to leap when learning to say NO:
- Saying NO does not make you a bad person – Maybe the person who is trying to manipulate you into saying YES when you really want to say NO is the “bad” person. Who are they to decide what is best for you? Who are they to put their YES in front of YES to your family or spouse or yourself? You can only say YES to the things that matter most if you stop saying YES just because someone asks.
- Saying NO does not make you selfish – Toddlers love saying NO, so what changed? In some societies, children are taught that saying NO to an adult is inappropriate, selfish, or discourteous. We carry that teaching into adulthood and associate saying NO with being disliked, bad mannered, self-centered, or rude. Tending your boundaries is an act of love, for ourselves and those that mean the most to us. Saying NO can be the highest form of self-care which is not at all the same as selfishness.
- Saying NO does not mean you value other people less – It means that you do not need their approval in order to realize your own value. A person that needs you to say YES to them all the time, and puts you down if you don’t, does not love or value you. That’s their own neediness, and it will drive both of you into the ground if you let it. If their good opinion of you is conditional on you saying YES, it isn’t much of a good opinion. Who needs that?
- Saying NO does not mean what they’ve asked is rubbish. It just means it’s not for you – A dozen times a day, we get asked to do things that are worthwhile, interesting, and helpful. It’s impossible to do all of them, and if we try we will end up neglecting our family, friends, careers, and most importantly ourselves. It’s OK to say, “Thank you for asking. You’ll need to ask someone else this time.”
- Saying NO does not require an apology - You do not need to justify your reasoning or give excuses. Don’t say “I’ll think about it” if you know NO is the best response for you at this time. Just say NO clearly, kindly, and firmly.
Saying YES indiscriminately to anything anyone asks and to whatever comes along leads to a life that is stressful, out of balance, and driven by the wants and needs of others. It’s based on ignoring yourself.
Saying YES to everything fills your schedule, creates frantic busy-ness, and corners you into saying NO to the opportunities and people that can bring you genuine joy and satisfaction. Instead of creating wings of discovery, saying YES too often creates a burden that weighs you down.
Learning to say YES only when you mean it helps you overcome fear of rejection. It puts you in charge of your own life. Instead of feeling trapped, resentful, guilty, overburdened, anxious, stressed, or just plain old crazy, you will feel strong, free, and calm.
So here’s the deal - Some diets focus on eliminating certain foods, but the best focus on rebalancing for health. And that’s exactly what I’m doing with the word YES – bringing it back into balance, using it only when healthy and appropriate, and surrounding it with choices that nurture my body, soul, and relationships.
Starting now, I’m going on a YES diet and getting cozy with Saying YES to Saying NO.