It can be uncomfortable, disappointing, and sometimes even agonizing to say “no”. Sometimes the discomfort comes from feeling obligated to say “yes,” for any number of reasons. Other times, we say “yes” because a project or activity seems interesting and genuinely appeals to us. Either way, when we don’t know how to say “no” or when we need to say “no”, we end up overcommitting ourselves. Ultimately, overcommitment leads to overwhelm and failure to follow through on tasks and projects, and that doesn’t feel good either. So, how can we identify when we need to say “yes” and when we need to say “no”, and how can we learn to avoid overcommitting ourselves?
Know your priorities.
Make a list of your priorities, including self-care. Before committing to anything, pause for a moment to determine whether the task or project is in line with your priorities and self-care needs. Would that extra project that excites you also cut-in to your sleep schedule, workout time, or the one free night you have to yourself? Consider what priorities could be ignored if you overcommit. Once you know what your priorities are, establish firm boundaries around them and don’t fall into the trap of feeling bad about putting your needs first.
Beware of “shoulds”.
These are all the things we think we should do but are not in line with what is important to us. When we think we “should” do something, it is often because that is what other people do or what you think others expect of you. The next time you find yourself thinking, “I should…”, ask yourself whether the task is in line with your goals and values, or someone else’s. You know what to do from there!
Be realistic about time.
Plan on tasks taking three times longer than expected. What are your current commitments? How long will they take? How long does it take to transition in and out of that activity? Have you considered travel time? Realistically (not ideally!), do you have time to take on a new task?
Plan for the unexpected.
Life happens and things pop up. We need to remember to leave a little cushion in our schedules for the unexpected.
Practice makes perfect.
Saying “no” can feel awkward at first. You may feel guilty for not being able to do everything everyone else wants you to do, but it gets easier with practice. You may want to consider practicing how you want to say “no” ahead of time. Over time, you will feel less guilt and more empowered by eliminating commitments that take away from your goals and priorities.
In the end, when you say “no” to overcommitment, you are really saying YES to yourself.