Category Archives: Making Choices

How to Say NO!

Speech Bubble Saying No
Speech Bubble Saying No

“No is a complete sentence. It does not require justification or explanation”.

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One of the words that toddlers love to say as soon as they start talking is NO. While toddlers and young children have no qualms about saying no to everything and everyone, the older we get, the more we seem to struggle with repeating this simple yet powerful two letter word. In my last article, I wrote about the Hidden Costs of Yes, and how our yeses place our relationships, resources, and reputation on the line. For the purposes of this article, I want to explore the other end of the spectrum- that is saying no.  

Saying No

It is easy to say no to something or someone when a request goes against rules, policies, laws, and established codes of conduct for behavior. Saying no might even get easier, when it goes against your expressed values, deeply held beliefs, purpose and priorities. But what about those situations when the lines are blurry, and the parameters less clear? That is, when the person making the request is in a place of power, when your no might impact your future, when the consequence of saying no is uncertain, when you are overwhelmed by the fear of missing out? How do you decide when to say no?

In some instances, your decision to say no is going to be heavily influenced by the person asking. Whether it’s at work or at home, the power dynamics between you and the person doing the asking, or the nature of the relationship might significantly impact your answer. Afterall, it’s not hard to say no to someone with who you don’t have a personal or professional relationship or are seeking to build one with. However, saying no becomes much trickier when the person doing the asking, is someone with whom you have a valuable relationship, or one with whom you aspire to have one or preserve for personal or professional reasons.

Additionally, saying no, has the potential to take a toll on the person saying it, as well as to the person receiving it. For some people, the desire to help and do more while not being able, can drive negative thoughts and frustrations about their abilities and deep-seated emotions such as guilt and shame. While it’s important to acknowledge these emotions when they surface, dwelling on them after you have said no, is neither healthy nor helpful.

Why People Fear Saying No?

Many people fear saying no, because they don’t want to appear unambitious, unsupportive, lazy, uncaring, or selfish. They also avoid saying no to prevent themselves from disappointing others or hurting people’s feelings. In the process of doing so, they say yes, to the ever-increasing demands and priorities of their colleagues, friends, loved ones. Overtime, their inability to say no and set appropriate boundaries add up, and results in increased levels of stress and burnout. And they sacrifice themselves, their goals, their happiness and what is truly important to them. But what if you learned to say no as boldly as young children do?  Would saying no make you any less caring, supportive, or hardworking? Truth is, saying no does not make you any less of those things.

When you say no to a request, relationship, or opportunity, you might simply be stating any one or a combination of the following things:

  • I have the right to change my mind.
  • I don’t have the time, or this is not the right time for me.
  • This opportunity or relationship is not for me, or this is not what I want to do.
  • I have the right to decide how I spend my time, talents, and resources.
  • I have established clear and healthy boundaries for my relationships
  • I am choosing to put me first, and not the other person or the opportunity.
  • I will no longer choose to engage or invest my time, talents and energy in people, relationships and activities that do not uplift me or move me forward.

Just be careful to ensure that your no is not driven by bias, malice, resentment, or the desire to get back at someone.

How to Say No!

According to Susan Newman, PhD, “Saying ‘no’ is not something that comes naturally to the majority of people. Learning to say no is a skill that all of us can learn or get better at.” So, if you are struggling with saying no, here are seven tips from psychotherapist and author Johnathan Alpert (writing at INC Magazine) that can that help you deliver your no more effectively:

  1. Say it:  Rather than stalling or not providing a clear answer, it is recommended that you give a straight answer to the person making the request. While you are not required to give an explanation, you can provide a brief one if you feel inclined to do so. But the general rule to note is less is more.
  1. Be assertive and courteous: Though your answer might be disappointing to the requestor, the key is to be respectful. Whether you are saying I’m sorry I can’t right now but will let you know when and if I can.”  Or “I appreciate your asking me for help, but I’m stretched too thin right now to devote the time to be of quality help to you.”, be clear about what you do or don’t have the capacity for.
  1. Understand peoples’ tactics: People will use different tactics and emotional appeals to get you to do what they want. Be aware of these manipulation techniques and be ready to hold firmly to your no.
  1. Set boundaries: One reason people sometimes have a hard time saying no is because they haven’t taken the time to evaluate their relationships and understand their role within the relationship. When you truly understand the dynamic and your role, you might not feel as anxious about the consequences of saying no. If your relationships are strong, they will withstand, they can withstand your saying no.
  1. Put the question back on the person asking: This is highly effective in a work situation. Let’s say a supervisor is asking you to take on several tasks–more than you can handle. Alpert suggest that you might say, “I’m happy to do X, Y, and Z; however, I would need three weeks, rather than two, to do a good job. How would you like me to prioritize them?”
  1. Be firm: If someone can’t accept your no, that is probably a good indicator might not be a genuine friend or respect you. In such case, stand firm, and don’t feel compelled to give in just because that person is uncomfortable.
  1. Be selfish: Here Alpert suggests that you “Put your needs first. Not those of the person asking you for something. If you prioritize that person’s needs over yours, you’ll find your productivity will suffer and resentment will mount. Perhaps we can learn from Warren Buffett, who said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”

Though you might still struggle with saying no, remember it is not possible to say yes to everything and everyone. Don’t allow yourself to be overtaken and stretched too thinly by the ever-increasing demands of those around. You will only make yourself miserable and become resentful in the process. Every time you fail to exercise the courage to say no, you sacrifice your peace of mind, your right to choose and your overall wellbeing for others. Saying no could simply mean you are choosing to follow your gut instincts, acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and you are listening to your body at this time.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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Perspective is Everything !

per4I recently watched a TEDX video, Dream Big, Live Small with Dee Williams, who shared how her illness and life changing experiences dramatically transformed her perspective on life and living.  She shared  about  how her fears about her  own mortality changed her perspective,  caused her to reflect on her life and make some drastic changes. These   changes  included selling her home and getting a much smaller home (some would say tiny one bedroom, 7 windows and 4 wheels) and also disposing of most of her belongings(limiting herself to about 300 possessions). As I listened to her story I marveled to myself – How deep, moving and thought-provoking? Though some of us could never envision making those far-reaching changes, her story caused me to ponder on the question, how much do we really need? As she continued  her talk, she asked, “If you were to die today, what new  purchase or possession would want to hold in your arms as you die? Which favorite place or space in your house could accommodate your last breath?”

imagesCA3QYKB5The powerful question on what possession I would want to hold in my arms as I died, truly resonated with me, and occupied my thoughts for a while. I couldn’t help thinking about how disconnected some of us have become from what truly matters in life. After mulling over the question, I could not think of any possession or item that I have, or hope to acquire, that I would want to hold in my arms as I die. The best I could come up with is that, I would want to hold my daughter or have her there. I don’t mean to sound morbid or depressing, but I think it was important enough for me (maybe you) to think about and share here in this post.

But as Dee Williams also pointed out, people don’t like to talk about their mortality, because we are uncomfortable with death. But seriously, what possession/item would you want to have in your arms when you die?

imagesCA1DFV2PI also can’t help thinking about how the spirit of materialism and consumerism have come to drive our lifestyles and  influence our perspectives about what we believe to be necessary, what we think we need to be comfortable or even happy. And though I am not advocating that we give up our creature comforts (Which may differ from person to person), I do think that each of us should spend some time reflecting on what we really need to live and survive. Moreover, we should perhaps go a bit further and ask ourselves why we need to acquire some of these things. Do we need the item(s) because it’s the current trend? Or is because it suggests status (Keeping us with the Jones’es) or help us fit into  our social circles? I’m not  by any means judging anyone for these are valid questions. But, I believe the answers to those questions can perhaps bring some of us, greater peace, less stress, and  reduced debt as we come to realize that, none of those things truly matter. Our possessions won’t bring us the happiness or security we want and seek. In fact, in some places, the very possession of those things, may make one more insecure and prone to threat or a targets for thieves.

These consumer mindset and behaviors have also affected our attitudes towards food. In that,  our consumption patterns have led us to eating more than we need, resulting in an  increase in lifestyle diseases, that afflict so many people year after year, at an increasingly younger age. Adding to that, some of us have embraced the perspective of living to eat and not eating to live. Inherent in these different perspectives, is the recognition that we should not be slaves to food or any other item /possession. In fact we should use these “things” to serve/sustain us well. For as with make-up and many other things less can be more and more isn’t always better.

per3Unfortunately though, some of us won’t ever come to these realizations until we hit rock bottom or find ourselves having to make do with less than we are accustomed to. Sadly, some people will not be able to adapt, adjust or even make the necessary changes and this may only bring greater peril/ hardships and heartaches. Another likely pitfall is that some of us may begin to identify ourselves with our physical possessions, as the things we own begin to define us, and give us validation/meaning. Chances are if we were to do away with some of the things we have, our homes would be cleaner and neater. We would live healthier lives, have less debt, experience less stress and we wouldn’t even miss them. People can be held back their physical possessions as much as emotional baggage. In so doing, we miss the things that matter most, our experiences with family and friends and even people who we don’t know.

How then do we avoid all of this?

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  •  Shift your perspective from acquisition mode, which is the need to rush to acquire the next big or new thing. Often times we find ourselves with stuff we don’t need or even truly like (such as the clothes we don’t wear).
  • Truly pause and reflect on your life and life itself. Find out what truly matters to you, not your friends or family, and spend your time focusing on just that. Only then will you find true happiness.
  • Collect experiences instead of stuff/things. Someone once said “The best and most beautiful things in life are free and are felt in the heart”. Take your cues from that and whatever you discover about yourself, make your changes accordingly.
  • Be more humble. Be more grateful for what you have. Be more present in the here and now.
  • Most importantly, resist the urge to compare yourself to others. You don’t know their true story, only what they project.

Finally, I will ask you what   Dee Williams  asked her audience “Are  you doing the work you can do? Are you being the person you can you be? Are you learning about the truly important things- humility, gratitude and grace?

 Images Courtesy of Google.
Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

To Be or Not To Be?

“To be, or not to be, that is the question”— William Shakespeare’s , Hamlet

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The answer lies with you. Yes, you- the  one making the decision. 7 days a week, 4 weeks a month, 12 months a year, or every minute of the day, we make decisions, big  and small about our relationships, families, careers, finances, health and even entertainment. The  approach used to make these decisions might be influenced by one’s personality, personal philosophy and/or  unique situation at a point in time. For some of us, the process is  quick, easy and decisive, while for others it might be slow, tough and painful. Regardless of who you are, making decisions can be a challenging and intimidating experience, for with every decision comes, responsibility, consequences, and sometimes risks. Alas, that’s the nature of decision-making and  decisions are a fact of life.

“History never reveals its alternatives.”

imagesWhen we make decisions, we make choices. Choices that we will have to live with, and sometimes can’t even change. And for every decision  we make, there is another we didn’t make. And, that same decision made  typically, sets off a course of events  that will change the trajectory of our lives in ways that we probably can’t fully see or understand at the time. As for that other decision left at the table, there will be other options unexplored, opportunities lost or a  range of possibilities we will perhaps never know. But, we take comfort in the fact  that, given all the variables, our decision was the best decision to make at that point, given our circumstances, priorities, emotions and the information we had  at the time. Then again, “hindsight is 20/20” and with the passage of time, we are often prone to reflect on our decisions, rethink them or regret them.

I fancy myself good at making decisions and I don’t have any regrets about anything in my life (personally or professionally). I reckon that, if I thought about something and made a decision to pursue a course of action/path, and was fully conscious and well when I did so, then I would accept the outcomes of same, however they manifested themselves-success, failure, happiness, joy, sadness, pain. But, this is not the case for a lot of people. I have often heard colleagues, friends and family bemoan and express regrets about decisions that, they have made in their personal and professional lives. Upon deeper probing, they would always reveal that their decisions were influenced by considerations about their current obligations, circumstances, fear of the unknown, uncertainty about future risks and/or the insecurities they had at the time.

imagesCAUFVU8HFor me, the decision that  has made me wonder – what if?, was a job I turned down just after completing graduate school. Having studied Government at university  with an emphasis on International Relations and Public Administration, a job in diplomacy would have been a dream come true or so I thought at the time. So of course, I submitted my job application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sometime after, a long time after, I was invited to come in for an exam. I did the exam and left it hoping I did well enough but  was not overly concerned about it. Some three months after, I got a follow-up call inviting me to attend a panel interview.

I thought about declining the interview because, by now, the process had stretched out for a nearly a year, and I was 3 months into a new job. A job that paid well, reflected another interest and passion of mine, and provided that I could secure the independence I needed at that point of my life. Nonetheless, not one to leave anything unexplored, I accepted the interview and participated. Not long after, I was made an offer to join the ranks of the Foreign Service. You can only imagine how elated I was. Think status, prestige, international exposure, ambassador for country at large. But, all of that was before I learnt more about the nuances of roles, understood how the service worked, the salary and the entire package. But, truthfully, the worse part of it was that my dream job offer would require that I uproot again, start all over with  a significantly less compensation package, than  the one  my current job afforded me.

imagesCACLG7IISo, now I was in a quandary. Here I had an offer for my “dream job” in the nation’s capital, but it “didn’t pay”. Accepting the offer would totally eliminate any possibility of me having any independence for the next couple of years, and would not allow me to meet my financial obligations. On the other hand, I had a great job with a good company doing something I liked, a new apartment, the means to take care of me and urgent obligations (student loan). I asked my friends, family and mentors to weigh in, and even had a heart to heart with the Director for HR at the organization.She was open, and ever so gracious and kind. In the end, the decision was mine to make and mine to live with.

I guess you can figure out what I decided. I declined the offer and was told that I could reach out again should I rethink my decision. Though I never regretted that decision, every so often, as I reflect on the successes I achieved in my career as I know it, I would wonder what could have been, and how my life might have been different. After all, our decisions usually result in opportunity costs that we can’t always calculate. Does any of this mean that I gave up on a goal? Or that my analysis of the all the variables involved at the time was flawed? Or that I neglected the big picture and choose short-term goals over long-term ones? No, not to my mind- it doesn’t.

imagesCAFUSECXNothing about our lives(personal and professional) are entirely linear. Things have a way of coming full circle. Our decisions and choices have a way of creating diversions, opening up new worlds or restricting us the familiar, the certain and  the safe. Some call it fate, others destiny…or even karma. But that’s the nature of decisions. You will never know  what could have, should have, would  have been- for history won’t ever tell us what would have happened, had we decided otherwise.

So in essence, some decisions are easier, more comfortable, less risker than others, and can even lead us towards good and satisfying lives. But they may not always be our best choices. Once in a while, the circumstances in our lives, the places where we find ourselves, might require us to take the plunge, launch out into the deep, and stretch ourselves in areas and ways we never thought we could and still don’t even know we can. This is by no means advocating that we break off unhappy relationships, leave frustrating/dead-end jobs, give up pension plans and start-up your own new business. But sometimes, we may just have to. And in so doing, we redefine ourselves, embrace new, exciting  and rewarding experiences and find/ rediscover happiness in our lives.

images6So while decision can be daunting, we should never shy away from making them. Instead, we should try as best as possible to make them for the right reason, with much care, weighing what your heart and mind inclines you to do. For though we might seek and receive good counsel from others, it’s our lives, our responsibility, our decisions and we will have to live with them- come what may.

Images Courtesy of Google.

Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved