Is it good to say always ‘yes’?

04 Jun 2019

When we ask someone how they are, 95% of the time people will answer with some version of “busy”, “good, but busy” or even, sometimes, “crazy busy”.

Busy has become a badge of honour, a signifier of success. It implies we are important and in demand. But if you really are “too busy”, chances are, you are not saying no enough, psychologists say.

Many of us struggle to say no, fearing rejection, anger or just the uncertainty of what the other person’s response will be.

Our people-pleasing is often rooted in childhood. We might have been raised to be a good girl or boy, praised for being “mummy’s little helper”, or we might not have been given enough attention, and so sought it by pleasing others, even at the expense of ourselves. Some people say that as a child, they felt responsible for their depressed mother’s happiness. And later, they often feel they must say yes to every request for fear of upsetting people. Some people say they used to fear in childhood their father’s angry outbursts, and would often say yes to avoid getting on the wrong side of someone’s temper.

“Some people can get so used to saying yes and pleasing others that they don’t even know what they want, or what their needs are. But if your life is so tightly packed with other people’s requests that you don’t have time for what really matters to you – or worse, your mental health is at risk – it is time to make a change,”- Chloe Brotheridge, anxiety expert and author of The Anxiety Solution says.

“The first step to find the word “no” is to get a little angry about all the time and energy you have spent saying yes to things that you should have said no to. How many coffees have you had with people you didn’t want to have coffee with? How many events have you been to that you didn’t really want to attend? How many hours of tedious meetings have you sat through when you had no real reason to be there?”- she continues.

“You might ask yourself: “What’s wrong with saying yes and keeping people happy?” It might be a hard pill to swallow, but consider this: compulsive people-pleasing can be a form of manipulation. The teacher and author Byron Katie sums it up brilliantly: “It’s the biggest fallacy that ‘I can manipulate you to love me’.” We kid ourselves that we’re just being decent people by acquiescing to others, but things can turn unexpectedly sour when our own needs aren’t met.”

“To start reclaiming your time and your mental wellbeing by saying no more, tune into what it is that you really want and is important to you. Instead of saying yes on impulse, get into the habit of asking yourself: “Am I agreeing to this for me?” Start with small things, such as when you are offered a cup of coffee or if someone asks you for an insignificant favour. Learn to recognise what saying yes and no feel like in your body. Yes might feel expansive, while no might feel contracting; learn to pay attention,”- Chloe Brotheridge advises.

Does the thought of saying no to someone to their face fill you with dread? If you are put on the spot and asked to help with something that you don’t have the capacity for, but you cannot bear to turn someone down, buy yourself some more time. “Ask people to text or email you their request so you can get back to them,” says Vanessa Van Edwards, founder of the human behaviour research lab, Science of People. “It’s perfectly reasonable for you to say that you need to check your schedule before answering. This allows you to check in with yourself about what you really want and can, and find the right words (or the courage) with which to decline them.”

“Saying no allows you to say yes to what is important to you. It allows you to be a better person because when you say yes, it comes from a good place, not from resentment or fear. It creates space for what matters most to you, rather than drowning in busyness, like most of us are,” Chloe Brotheridge says.

And consider this: if you said no when it was necessary, what did you say yes to? True respect for others and yourself. Better mental health, more self-care. More time with your kids. Working on your passion project.

Be compassionate, reasonable, and flexible. Try to find and steer the golden mean.


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