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How Learning to Say No Can Save Your Sanity

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learning how to say no just might keep you sane Goodshoot RF/Thinkstock

The power of saying yes to pleasure, leisure, and yourself has been thoroughly studied in self-help books, movies, and television.

In the 2008 movie Yes Man, Jim Carrey plays a man who begins saying yes to every opportunity and suggestion offered to him. The result is a more adventurous, fulfilling, and loving life.

But for too many people — and especially for women — the danger isn’t in saying no to much. It’s in never saying it at all.

Many people feel an overwhelming need to meet every obligation and achieve utter perfection in parenting, work, marriage, and friendships. This can lead to a never-ending to-do list and little time to say yes to the things you actually enjoy.

Factors That Make It Hard to Say No

Perfectionists often struggle to say no because they feel the need to constantly outdo themselves (and others).

It’s also common for people who seek outside validation — rather than deriving their self-esteem from internal functions — to say yes to every favor, chore, and request in a desperate and never-ending quest for validation.

When life gets busy and overwhelming, many people have a tendency to speed up and lose focus rather than slow down and prioritize commitments. This can make saying no nearly impossible.

A mother might, for example, agree to run the class raffle, take on a major project at work, breastfeed her newborn, tend to her grieving friend and do it all while suffering from a sinus infection. This is not a healthy strategy and can lead to depression, anxiety, and chronic health problems.

The Importance of Prioritizing Time

By prioritizing your time, you can begin to learn what you can and can’t say no to. Take an hour each week to think about the week’s commitments and sketch out a rough schedule. If you find there’s not enough time, start prioritizing commitments.

Place your loved ones and vital career decisions first. Then move on to tangential projects.

Don’t forget to schedule some leisure time for yourself. If you’re miserable and overworked, you’re not useful to anyone, and you may end up suffering from feelings of resentment and inadequacy.

Mastering the Art of Saying No

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