Do you know how to say no?

By Sharon M. Weinstein | 10/03/2016

Repeat after me: No.

Image of woman with letters

Nurses are Earth personalities. What does that mean? According to ancient Chinese medicine and the theory of the five elements, nurses do for others before they do for themselves. Lunches are made, laundry is done, lawn is mowed, homework is checked, refrigerator is stocked, trash is emptied, and dog is walked. It’s a simple checklist of everything for everybody except oneself, and that is why a nurse is earthy.
 
Sharon WeinsteinA nurse cares for others before caring for him- or herself. A nurse always says yes to the extra shift, overtime, and assisting peers. A nurse probably also says yes to the relative in need of a place to stay, money to tide him or her over, a friend in need of a ride, and a child in need of a hug. Everybody knows someone who has asked and to whom a nurse just cannot say no.
 
In B Is for Balance: 12 Steps Toward a More Balanced Life at Home and at Work, I observe that “No” is a complete sentence and address why it is OK to say it. No does not require justification, excuses, reasons, or supporting documentation. It is simply “No.”
 
Like you, I have probably said yes much too often. I was the one I just described. I worked the extra hours. I took home the assignment that was due the next day. I stayed late to help my peers. I went to Walmart at 11 p.m. in search of a lunchbox for a visiting grandchild. I returned books to the library, completed website revisions, and led the project team. I was known as the finisher. My former boss often referred to me in that way. I left nothing undone, and I could be counted on to get the job done, no matter what it might take in terms of time, money, energy, and spirit.
 
B Is for Balance bookAnd what did I get in return? I took great satisfaction in knowing that my work was complete, required little change, was timely, and that I could be counted on. I loved that feeling, and I loved helping others. But one day I realized I could no longer work 100-hour weeks and be the only one on a project team completing the project. I realized I had no time for my family, my self, and the life I wanted to live.
 
Now, I regret the times when, just because of peer pressure, I failed to say no. Let’s face it. Saying yes to everyone is stressful, it’s selfish, and it’s definitely not good for your mental, physical, and spiritual health.
 
My friend, it’s time you start saying no—no to people you don’t like, no to parties you don’t fancy, and no to activities that don’t make you a better person.
 
How do we escape that never-say-no trap that we have built? How do we shift from always saying yes to sometimes saying no? Well, to borrow a phrase from Nike, just do it. Go ahead and say no because: 
  1. You don’t owe anybody anything.
  2. You can never control everyone’s opinion of you.
  3. You’re the only one who can really identify your priorities in life.
  4. You are your No. 1 citizen.
  5. Life moves on.
Antidotes for disease to please
Millions of people suffer from what psychologist and author Harriet Braiker describes in her book The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome. People pleasers think that they are making others happy when they are actually making themselves miserable. Saying no is a generous thing to do. It frees us from making shallow commitments and helps ensure that when we do say yes, our heart is in it.
 
Where to begin? I suggest the following:
  • Establish a no-phone zone. Whether it’s your bedroom or the dinner table, just say no. That goes for your kids as well. Keep technology away from the dinner table and enjoy family time.
  • Carve out four hours each weekend for a time-out. Enjoy family, friends, the news, or a show. Be truly offline!
  • Schedule time with friends just to catch up or chat! Yes, pick up that phone, not to text or email but simply to place a call. Schedule a coffee meeting or lunch. Revisit the schedule, and get to know one another again.
Now that you know how, will you implement these simple steps? Will you treasure that Earth personality of yours that allows you to do all for others but not for yourself? Go a step beyond, and do something for yourself. 
 
Sharon M. Weinstein, MS, CRNI, RN, FACW, FAAN, author of B Is for Balance, published by STTI Publishing, is a motivational speaker, consultant, educator, and certified environmental and physical wellness specialist. To read a sample chapter from B Is for Balance, click here. To visit her website, click here.
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