On day 264 of my 366-day self-care challenge, I explored being true to myself as an act of self-care. (It isn’t always easy, especially when we’re faced with a constant barrage of external pressures.)
But saying no – and becoming more proficient in setting boundaries in general – is something we must learn if we want to avoid the health consequences that come with over-committing. Saying yes to everything stretches us beyond our capacity, leaving us exhausted and, in extreme cases, incapable of making even the most basic contributions.
Certainly, there are circumstances when saying no isn’t an option. Caring for loved ones or meeting expectations in our jobs are critical tasks that are non-negotiable.
But accumulating non-critical roles and responsibilities that don’t align with our core strengths or interests is just asking for trouble. You know the feeling: at some point, you realize that you’ve taken on more than you can possibly handle, and now you’re realizing that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done — not even your most important non-negotiables. Inevitably, you won’t be the only one left feeling disappointed. The people you’ve committed to will be let down too.
Saying yes when we know it isn’t the best use of our time or abilities also takes us away from our true calling. It becomes a distraction that leaves us feeling resentful.
Yesterday, I mustered the courage to stand firm in a commitment to myself to not take on a particular project. I had already been asked and declined once before, but was asked again in a more public way.
I still said no.
The experience reminded me of the countless stories I’ve heard from mothers who are constantly being asked to get more involved in volunteer-based projects and organizations for their children. One mom shared that her child’s teacher even went so far as to shove a project into her daughter’s backpack–even after she had politely declined.
This is probably why I’ve limited my involvement with community groups and organizations over the years. I know how easy it is to get talked into taking on more responsibilities than I can reasonably accomplish well. (And completing tasks “well” is important to me.)
Indeed, saying no is an art that isn’t easily mastered. I’m still learning to get over the sinking feeling in my stomach every time I have to dig deep and find the courage to say the two-letter word. I don’t like disappointing other people, but I dislike it even more when I’m unable to deliver something that I’ve committed to them.
To set boundaries, we must know our limits…and then do our best to protect them.