Quick: tell me how many things you’ve agreed to do that you wish you hadn’t.
Baking something for a class party, a bake sale, or a colleague’s birthday. Running an errand for a friend, even though you haven’t made a dent in your own to-do list. Giving up thirty minutes lost in an intriguing new novel because you should be “working.” Agreeing to volunteer, drive an extra car pool shift, fill in for someone who has something else to do, etc, etc, etc.
Even if these tasks take five minutes, they add up. And the more tasks and responsibilities you assume just because someone asks you to do something means less time for you to do things that matter to you (simple math, right? 24 hours every day, no matter what, and the only possible equation is to either add or subtract. We can’t multiply the time we’re given.)
Always saying yes to requests is like a slow leak on not only your time, but on your energy and your self-esteem. To some people that might sound dramatic. It isn’t.
Let me repeat that: IT ISN’T.
When you consistently set aside what you want and need to do, or rearrange or cancel your plans because someone else asks you to do something else, you’re saying that everything else is more important than you.
Let’s say a student came to you and told you that she couldn’t get her project done because (1) her friend needed help on HER project, so she helped her friend instead of working on her own. She thought she’d be able to finish her own project at home, but when she got home (2) her mom asked her to babysit her little brother so that mom could run to the grocery store, and while she was babysitting (3) her brother asked her to bake him some cookies because he was hungry. Before she knew it, it was time for soccer practice, then dinner, then bedtime and she couldn’t do her project.
What would you tell her?
Obviously, there are dynamics here that are different than those of an adult. I doubt you’d tell your student to defy her mother or to tell her friend that she’s on her own, but how would you help her see that working on her own project isn’t selfish? How do you communicate to her that saying no to others—and saying yes to herself—is a supreme act of self-love that will serve her well for the rest of her life?
You might go back to the airline-oxygen-mask analogy that so many use. You might tell her that she’s just as important as her friend or her mom or her brother.
Will you believe the words you say? Will she?
Today I challenge you to say no to a request. Not every request. Just one. Don’t feel the need to offer an explanation of why you’re saying no. Simply smile and say no. Then fill the time that you’ve opened up with something that fills you up. Read a book. Window shop. Sip a latte or a cup of tea as you listen to music. Close your eyes and daydream.
You know what makes you happy.
Now do it.