Overloaded? Learn How to Say NO

When someone asks you for a favor or to do something, do you always say, “Yes,” even if saying yes may put you out, causing you to be overloaded? Many people have been raised to believe that there is a greater nobility and worthiness in giving up self for the sake of others. They will frequently deny their own desires to please another, feeling that the needs of others must come first, which, of course, relegates their own needs to the bottom of the heap. Whenever they are asked to do something, they answer “yes”, often never considering the consequences to themselves, their health or their family.

Is that you? Do you overextend yourself because you don’t know how to say NO to people? Do you take on more commitments than you can handle? Are you afraid people won’t like you if you turn them down?

Often we commit to tasks or projects before taking the time to consider whether it is what we really want to do or if we have the time to dedicate to it.

Learn to be clear about your needs. Learn to use your internal guidance system to choose those projects that you can be passionate about — or at least feel good about — and to turn down projects that will end up stressing you out.

Why We Commit to Projects or Tasks

There are many reasons why we commit to do things for other people:

  • we want to gain more experience or to learn about a new subject
  • we like the people who are involved
  • we want to be part of a team or group effort
  • we want to be liked or accepted by others
  • we want to feel useful
  • we enjoy helping others reach their goals
  • we feel obligated
  • we are afraid of the repercussions of saying “NO”
  • we feel pressure to accept
  • we are afraid of being excluded or rejected
  • we don’t know HOW to say “NO”

Reasons fall into two categories: Self-based and Fear-based. Which reasons fall into which category can be a subjective decision, although some reasons are very clearly one or the other. Self-based reasons are (at least initially) motivated by wanting to include an experience for self, such as learning, sharing, giving or taking. Fear-based reasons are from wanting to exclude an experience, like rejection, uncomfortable repercussions, pressure or bullying.

Do you see yourself in any of the above reasons?

Most of us commit to projects without really taking the time to understand our motivations for doing so. Often, motives are more about needing to be liked or accepted than from being excited about the project itself. When our motives stem from neediness, we may at first experience satisfaction, but rarely will those needs continue to be met. The result is that we lose enthusiasm for the project and find it difficult to complete the tasks that we have been assigned. We begin to feel anxious, depressed or stressed out about the project, and negative energy creeps into our thoughts every time we are confronted by the project. Often, we will feel trapped by a commitment that we no longer wish to fulfill, yet feel guilty about ending it.

Understanding Why You Committed in the First Place

The place to start is to evaluate the commitments you have already made. Take an inventory of your current commitments to get an overall picture of the projects you have committed to, and note which ones you enjoy versus those that are stressful.

Next, take a look at each stressful project more closely, searching for the real reason that you committed to it. Pick any one you want, but for the sake of your health, choose the one that causes you the most stress in order to properly evaluate how it is affecting you.

Ask yourself the following questions about that project:

  1. Why did I originally say yes? What was your initial motivation? People only commit to projects because they are expecting something in return. That “something” could be for material, emotional, intellectual or physical gratification “” recognition, experience, camaraderie, influence, power, money, satisfaction, etc.
  2. What am I actually getting from this project? Expectations and reality frequently do not match. In the prior question you listed those things that you thought you’d get from participating in the project, but what are you really getting, and are you getting what you had hoped to get?
  3. How much of my time was I expecting this project to take? Often when we commit to a project, we don’t consider how much of our time will be tied up by it, or we miscalculate the time demands. When the project conflicts with other priorities, then we start to resent the time it takes. Think back when you first considered this project: how much of your time did you expect to give versus the amount of time it’s actually costing you?
  4. What am I losing as a result of participating in this project? One reason that you would be feeling resistant to participating in a project is that you feel that your time would be better spent elsewhere. You may feel that you are losing out on something else because of the time commitment. What is that something else? What would you rather be doing with your time?
  5. What other parts of my life are suffering as a result of this lost time? When other aspects of our life are neglected “” mates, children, work, etc. “” the pressure can become uncomfortable. That pressure can cause even more resistance to honoring a commitment. Are there other more important parts of your life that are being neglected?
  6. What parts of this project do I enjoy? When the project was first introduced to you, there was something about it that sparked your interest. What was that? If you can reconnect to the original feeling you had for committing, then you might be able to re-motivate yourself into being enthusiastic about the project again. Or, at a minimum, find a way to realign the project in a way that better fits your needs.
  7. Can I get my needs met elsewhere? Sometimes we initially commit to a project because we are excited about the prospects of being involved in a particular aspect of that project. Then, as the project moves forward, we find that things are not going to be as originally planned, and our enthusiasm wanes for the project, but not for the original spark. Yet, clinging to the spark may be what prevents us from letting go of the project, hoping things will change. So, the question you need to ask yourself is, “Would there be another way to get that same spark?”
  8. What would be the consequences of letting go of this project? What are your fears? Are you afraid that people will disapprove of or think poorly of you? Have you given your word and feel bad about not honoring your commitment?

Let us now look at this situation from another perspective. Consider that if you are not committed to doing your best on this project, you are taking up valuable time and energy that would be better spent elsewhere. But how do you think others feel about the job you are doing? How much is it costing them by your not doing your best to support the project?

Based on the results of your answers, you should now be able to decide whether to continue or end your commitment.

How to Say No

If, after evaluating a new project — or reevaluating an existing one — you decide that it is better for you to pass on it, the next problem is how to gracefully turn down or back out of the project. The goal is to be clear about your needs, yet be supportive.

Getting Out of an Existing Project

Perhaps there are other ways you can support this project. Maybe the solution is to change the nature of your participation. Is there a different way that will work better for you and still let you be involved in the project?

Or, maybe there is someone else better suited. Being involved in a project to which you are not committed is not in the best interest of the project or yourself. It is better that another person, who can be enthusiastic and committed to the project, be found. Perhaps there is someone you know who fits the bill.

In the end, honesty is always the best policy, so it’s better to say something like, “My situation has changed and I can no longer wholeheartedly participate in your project, but I will support you during the transition of assigning my tasks to someone else.”

Saying No to a New Project

From this point forward, the best way to know whether or not a project is right for you is to pay attention to your inner guidance system — that feeling or voice inside you that lets you know whether something feels right or is off base. When you become aware of its messages — paying attention to how you feel — you will have a system to accurately identify which projects will bring you satisfaction and which will drag your energy down.

There are many labels used to describe your inner guidance messages: fearful, angry, anxious, excited, happy, energetic, etc. While each word serves to describe a degree of emotion, the system could be simplified by breaking down the entire emotional realm into two feelings “” it feels good; it doesn’t feel good. All other labels serve to define the degree to which you feel good or don’t feel good. If it feels right, move toward it; if it doesn’t feel right, move away from it. If you are not sure, it’s not time to make a decision.

You have access to your internal guidance system at all times. But the real question is, “Are you paying attention to its messages?” Or are you ignoring what it is telling you?

When saying no to a project, a good starting place is to thank the person for considering you. Next, say something like, “It sounds like a very worthwhile project and I know that you will be very successful. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to participate at this time, but thank you for thinking of me.”

The above statement encourages them, is supportive of them, and appreciates them for thinking of you. And it is a respectful way to say no. Play around with it, putting it into your own words. Practice with a friend. The more comfortable you get with it before needing to use it, the more genuine you will sound when the occasion comes that you need to decline.

Remember, nothing is more important than you feeling good about what you are doing. If you are not comfortable participating in a project, everyone loses. You lose because you are not operating in your natural rhythm and feeling good. They lose because you are not giving your best to the project.

After all, win/win relationships are the stuff happiness is made of.

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