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Monday, April 12, 2010

The Power of No.



Two letters that can spare us so much grief.

Yet, we rarely utter them.

Except to small children, then we say it constantly. "No, you may not have a cookie for lunch." "No, you may not hit your brother." "No, I cannot buy you a fire truck."

This no, however, may add more stress to our lives. But I digress.

Most times, we want to say no, but just cannot.

"Oh, Janice, wouldn't you love to help out with the Christmas Bazaar committee?"

"Um, well, what do you need help with?"

"Oh, just a few things. I will put you down and call you."

What? I never said yes. But I didn't say no. And that is the problem.

This actually a happens a lot. Or work will ask me to pitch in extra time. Or someone will ask me to volunteer or to drive somewhere to pick up something even though I really don't want to do it and I don't have the time. And I usually end up having to give up something that I really wanted to do in order to make the time to do something I really didn't want to do.

Crazy, I know.

But I end up doing it all the time and feeling put out and stressed and tired.

I know, we all do it.

We put way too much on our plate because we simply cannot say, 'No thanks' or "No, I cannot do it, sorry."

So, I set out to learn how to say no.

First, I looked it up on the Internet. Nothing seemed very helpful. Most of the articles written by "experts" were just common sense that I have already tried.

Then I went to the bookstore. Same thing.

My problem is that I just cannot say no. I don't need an expert or a book to tell me this. I cannot say no because I do not want to hurt anyone's feelings. And it just seems easier at the time to say yes. Or to quietly agree without really saying anything.

And that is my problem.

In the meantime, my feelings get trampled on, over and over again. And for what gain?

So, as usual, I learned about the power of 'No' from one of my patients.

She was the type of woman who did everything for everyone. She always was the first to volunteer, always the one that baked for others, shopped for others, baby-sat in a pinch, was on ten committees, never forgot a birthday, went to every coffee. You get the picture.

Then she got sick.

She didn't want help. She was actually a very private person, even though it seemed as though she gave so much of herself to others.

So, when people called to offer help, she politely declined.

"I just said, 'No'. No excuses, no reasons. Just no. I did not have the energy or the desire to want to talk more than that. And it worked. I was floored. I had never said no before. No is powerful. I wish I had used it sooner"

Like I had written about in a previous post about a patient who felt she had given away too many pieces of herself, this woman felt exactly the same way.

"We have to see 'no' not as selfish, but as life preserving. Unless it is something that really matters to me, my answer will be no from now on. I want my time to be my own."

Interestingly, this patient is not dying. She is not a true hospice patient, she is on a bridge program for pain management. That is how I met her. So, she did not see her time as limited, she just did not want to squander it anymore. She felt all the added stress contributed to her illness.

Plus, she said, "All those women and organizations that I gave so much time to did not even bat an eye when they found out I was ill. They could have cared less. Most of the time, we say yes to be nice, or to feel part of something. But the honest truth is, many times we are simply being used."

Harsh words, but true.

So, I am going to start saying no to the things I really do not want to do or to things that will take up precious time that I do not want to give. I am just going to do it. I am going to say "No".

No, no, no, no, no.

And I will not just be saying "No".

I will be saying "Yes" to myself.

I feel lighter already.

(But you still cannot have a cookie for dinner, Well, okay, just this once.)

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