There comes a time in our lives when we can no longer add more. You reach capacity and, short of outsourcing sleep to someone else (and wondering when will someone figure out how to achieve that), there’s just no way you can squeeze in a single other “thing” that will take up your energy.
Be it work-related, be it family-related, be it friends, food, workouts, personal growth or a massive list of errands.
We can talk all day about choosing where and how to spend our energy, or how to be more productive, but even if you do implement all the tricks in the book for squeezing all energy out of all your time, there is a more fundamental problem here that – if not dealt with – will keep putting you in circumstances of always being at life’s capacity. Or, sometimes even worse, about a week of work tasks and a few weeks of unshaved legs beyond capacity.
The problem we’ve got to deal with (if you ever want to “catch up” with our to-do list, or just have a bit of white space for thinking and reflexion) is saying yes to everything.
Saying yes to everything isn’t my problem… or is it?
The fact that the problem lies with saying yes to everything is not always that easy to identify.
If you’re the kind of person who knows that you just can’t seem to say ‘no’ to anything, that’s one thing (and you know what you’ve got to work on – more on how to work on this in a moment).
But there is a whole big additional group of people who don’t see themselves in this category, yet they will use “wanting to take advantage of opportunities” as an excuse to say yes to too many things.
And sure, some of those people will say yes because they simply don’t want to miss out on things (FOMO much?).
But other people will say yes to everything because of conflicting and confusing advice that we can hear from all sorts of (pretty reliable) sources. And this advice messes with our understanding of how to use YES and NO.
Team YES vs. Team NO
On the one hand, you’ll have a bunch of articles, experts and authors telling you to say YES to life, to take chances and see the opportunities that are waiting for you to grab them.
But on the other hand, you’ll hear people, books and advisors warning you that you have to learn to say NO way more often. NO will let you set boundaries. And boundaries are crucial to a healthy life of balance.
The messages seem very contradicting (even though, if you really think about it, they are both true and both have some gold in them – in spite of seemingly being the exact opposites).
But to make things worse for our Team YES vs. Team NO confusion, we are left free to judge what’s an opportunity and what’s an infringement on our freedom and desired lifestyle…
What answer do you feel like giving?
Our minds can play nasty tricks on us, twisting the two recommendations to fit what we feel like doing in the moment.
To put this into an oversimplified example to show you what I mean:
We can both say:
– YES to eating chocolate, because it’s an opportunity to enjoy what life’s got to offer.
– And NO to broccoli, because someone telling you that you should eat cruciferous vegetables three times a week feels like an infringement on your freedom of choice (boundary issue).
And in both of those cases, the exact opposite could be argued as well.
So how does that help you know when to say YES and when to say NO, if what you’re actually doing is picking the theory that will justify what you feel like doing in the moment?
It’s not as simple as “saying yes to everything” or “saying no to everything.”
How should we know if to say YES or NO to something, if there are no rules and we’re just looking for justifications of what feels like the answer we want to give?
Look deeper behind your answer
The solution is actually going deeper behind WHY you want to say YES, or WHY you want to say NO.
What’s the real motivation behind the first bullshit justification we give ourselves?
Looking at that earlier example: if I WANT to eat that metaphorical chocolate, because it’s an opportunity to enjoy what life’s got to offer, then first I’m going to look deeper at the circumstances and the actual WHY I want to do what I want to do.
Is it because I’m away travelling, and I found this little chocolate place and we’re sampling regional treats that I couldn’t try otherwise? That’s a simple and loud YES! Opportunity to enjoy life right there.
But on a different occasion, going deeper behind my WHY, I might notice that, actually, I want to eat chocolate because I didn’t have time or energy to cook the night before and I have nothing to eat for lunch, so I’m tempted to grab a bar of chocolate from a cupboard and call that a lunch. I’m hungry, so I really do FEEL that I want it. But does this sound like a great opportunity to you?
We need to learn to see beyond the answer we feel like we want to give in the moment.
Does this YES work for me?
The first test before agreeing to anything should of course be: am I agreeing to this out of obligation? Or perhaps out of fear of what will happen if I say no? Or do I genuinely want to say yes?
The second test, however, speaks to that concept of using “taking advantage of opportunities” as an excuse to say yes.
We need to learn to see the difference between an opportunity and a distraction (from what we actually want to be doing and feeling in our lives).
If we go with saying yes to everything, the knock-on effect can be destructive. (Think: burnout, joyless living, feeling like our life doesn’t belong to us.)
Why you don’t want to be saying yes to everything becomes very clear when we put it in a different context. For example, if you wanted to go from Paris to Berlin and had ten different offers of a lift, would you accept offers from people going to Barcelona? Of course no! This would mean driving away from your destination. So why would you apply any other filter when it comes to where you want to go in life?
And yes, it takes guts to say no (to people, events, sometimes experiences), especially at the beginning.
But with time it’ll become easier.
You’ll see past your excuses as to why you feel you want or don’t want to do something in the moment and you’ll choose YES or NO – one that works for you.
Opportunity or distraction?
There is no standardised rule for life that’ll help you make uniform decisions which will always make you happy. Both notions, “say yes to life” and “say no if you don’t actually want to do something”, are valid and important. But neither can be given carte blanche to rule all areas of your life all the time.
We’ve got to choose on a case by case basis, teaching our decision-making muscles what intentions lie behind our choices. If we want to avoid mistaking distractions for opportunities, we’ve got to make decisions which are aligned with: who we want to be, what we want to be doing and what we want to be feeling.
And that takes practice.
To paraphrase a well-known quote and make it more suited for this context, this is something I believe we could all use a bit more of:
And with that, let me ask you: do YOU feel like you’ve been saying yes to too many things and you’re close to (or past the point) of reaching life’s capacity? Are you generally a Team YES or a Team NO kind of person? Leave a comment below and let me know!
And to make sure you take action on changing wherever the problem lies for you, as homework, look at at least one big decision you took recently and go deeper behind why you’ve come up with this answer – was it for the right reasons? Get some accountability on what you need to change and start practicing. This WILL get easier!
With wishes of lots of YES’s to (actual) life’s opportunities, and NO’s where you mean to say no,