Learn To Say No

Elizabeth Cipolla

Do you habitually take on too much? Stop it. Now.

If only it were that easy. As someone with a high achieving mindset, I’ve periodically received unsolicited advice from those who know me best. However, it never quite seems to stick. Despite my best efforts to cut back on commitments, my list of professional and personal obligations always seems to creep back up to an unmanageable level. Lately, I’ve been pushing myself through self-reflection focused around why this continues to be a repeated theme in my life. I don’t claim to have fully cracked the code on what it will take to consistently stick with what I can realistically accomplish. Yet, there are some takeaways I’d like to share that might help other habitual overachievers who, like me, are working themselves to ridiculous levels. You know who you are.

Do you commit, and then commit once more? Then, do you commit one more time after that? Maybe you even squeeze just one more thing into your bursting schedule because it shouldn’t be that hard to “fit in”. If this sounds familiar, then you know all too well how this scenario plays out. Before you know it, you’ve slipped so far down a slippery slope of commitments that you’re in full panic mode about how it can all be done. After many sleepless nights and far too early mornings trying to carve out enough minutes in the day to be everything to everyone, someone ends up disappointed and you have worked yourself sick.

You overcommit to your workplace. You bite off more than you can chew with additional projects because nobody can do it to your liking. You overcommit to volunteer roles. You sign up to help out at school and church. If you stumble upon an opportunity to help someone in need, you’re the first to step up. When you recognize that you have the skillset to help a fledgling organization in need of improvement, you find it impossible to say no. While your desire to help is impressive, you’ve added hundreds of hours and mounds of stress into your already demanding life.

Here are some things to consider as you begin working towards living a more realistic (and healthy) existence.

What’s your why? It’s important to understand what’s behind your chronic mindset of taking on more than you can handle. Are you afraid of upsetting someone else which can put a strain on your relationship? Do you have a hard time saying no because you think it is rude or disrespectful? Is it particularly difficult for you to say no when someone “above you” such as a manager is asking you to do something? Are you afraid it will make you look weak or incapable if you admit you “can’t” do what others are asking? Or, do you feed inner insecurities by living an overcommitted life as a way to show the world you can do it all? Until you take a long hard look in the mirror to understand what is behind your pattern of unhealthy decision-making and lack of self-care, you won’t be able to chisel away at a solution.

Know when to hold ’em, walk away or run. Maybe country music legend Kenny Rodgers knew what he was talking about in his song, “The Gambler”. If you tend to jump in and save the day whenever a problem presents itself, practice the art of resistance. Resist your urge to be the savior, and allow others to develop a solution. This is something I’ve been practicing actively and it is helping. Admittedly, this is hard to do. However, each time I’ve resisted my urge to step in and take the lead on solving a problem, something miraculous has happened. Somehow, it gets taken care of despite my lack of involvement!

Practice setting boundaries. When someone presents you with another opportunity to commit and your heart isn’t in it, it’s ok to say no. Break free from the self-imposed chains you’ve allowed to keep you stuck in self-destruct mode. It doesn’t have to be hard to do. The truth is, you don’t need to give a long, drawn out explanation. A simple, “No thank you. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in asking, but now isn’t a good time” will suffice. Don’t be surprised if they try to test your newly displayed boundaries, especially if they’re used to you always saying yes.

Recognize that saying no is a big step, but following through on maintaining your boundaries is what will reinforce your new and improved persona. In other words, if you say no but send mixed signals afterwards by behaving overly apologetically or wishy-washy, then they may perceive your no as a maybe and continue asking.

Your journey towards healthier decision-making and self-care is a continual process. Be kind to yourself and don’t try to ignore what your inner-you is trying to say. You know deep down what feels doable and what spikes your anxiety. You also know what pace will keep you healthy, and what will push you to the edge. By ignoring your inner voice, you open the floodgates for more problems down the road.

Be kind and give yourself permission to say no. Now is the time to start honoring your own needs instead of giving in to everyone else’s. It isn’t being selfish. It’s doing what’s necessary for self-preservation. If you’re still not convinced, perhaps it’s time to rethink your definition of selfishness. Just maybe your definition is what has gotten you into the position of feeling overwhelmed and overcommitted to begin with.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a leadership communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 20 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, aerospace, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at elizabeth@catapultsuccess.com.