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Stressed? Then 'Strategize' Your Yesses

When you say yes to everything, you dilute your power. When you say yes strategically, you distill it. As a result, you can reach new levels of success both personally and professionally.
10/29/2014 07:59am ET | Updated December 29, 2014
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If you're an achiever, you want to say yes to every challenge that life throws your way. You don't want to miss any opportunity, and you don't want to let anyone down.

But as an expert on health and anti-aging, here's the most powerful personal and medical advice I can give you:

Start saying no -- because no is as powerful as yes.

Here's the thing about life. When it rains, it pours -- and sometimes, opportunities flood in. That's amazing and exciting. But when the floodwaters start rising up to your neck, it's all too easy to drown.

I found this out a few years ago, after I signed my first book deal. That one book turned into five. And these weren't short, easy books. They were Dummies books, with huge word counts and insanely short deadlines.

And, oh -- did I mention that I was raising a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, while running a functional medical practice as a clinical nutritionist?

So I was up to my ankles in the floodwaters. And then the books came out, and the marketing started. One TV show led to another... and then to about 40. I felt that I had to say yes to every TV show, every radio show, and every book signing. I had to build a social media platform. I had to write blog posts.

Plus, I had to help my kids with their math homework, get them to eat their veggies, drive them to baseball games, and make sure their socks matched.

At this point, the floodwaters were rising up to my chin. I was definitely close to drowning, and it showed.

I spent my days telling people how to eat well, and then skipped meals and gorged on starchy comfort foods. I told my patients to lead value-centered lives, and then said yes to every offer that came along -- even if it meant shorting myself and sometimes my kids. And while I preached about the importance of movement, I was sitting at my desk for 16 hours a day getting "flat butt."

My life was spiraling out of control. Luckily, I realized it -- and I realized that I needed to become strategic about my time.

So here's what I started doing. When new opportunities opened up, I didn't automatically say yes. Instead, I stopped and asked myself these questions:

• If I say yes, what am I really agreeing to? How much work will this entail? Is it worth that much work?
• If I say yes, what effect will my decision have on my family, my own life, and my medical practice?
• If I say yes, will I be violating any of my core values -- for instance, my belief that I need to eat clean and keep my body strong?

These days, I no longer promiscuously accept every offer that comes my way. Instead, I measure out my yesses. And I'm not just happier and saner; I'm also healthier and thinner. Even my hair looks better.

Why? Because the stress that stems from over-commitment makes you sick. It lowers your immune function, making you easy prey for every bug that's making the rounds (not to mention cancer). It sucks nutrients out of your body, leaving your skin dry and your hair thin and brittle. And it makes your body churn out huge amounts of cortisol and other stress hormones. Do you know what those hormones are made of? Sugar and fat. So can you guess what your body craves when you're stressed? That's right. Sugar and fat.

So you wind up fat, bitchy, and bald.

If you're careening in that direction right now, let me repeat that simple advice that I learned the hard way: No is as powerful as yes.

When you say yes to everything, you dilute your power. When you say yes strategically, you distill it. As a result, you can reach new levels of success both personally and professionally.

Of course, if you're used to accepting every offer or request that comes your way, it can be a hard habit to break. Here's how I decide when to say yes and when to say no.

1. I have a "doorman" policy. These days, I'm very careful which people I let into my life. I ask myself: Do I want to be friends with this person, or just friendly? I give myself freely to the people who matter the most to me, instead of squandering my time and energy on everyone.

2. I live a value-centered life. When I get an offer now, I say yes only if my moral compass points in that direction. If an offer will make me money at the cost of my family, I say no. If it will further my career but make me unhealthy in the process, I say no. Even if it's just going to give me "flat butt," I'll probably say no.

3. I walk the walk. It's easy to talk the talk. That's what I did when I encouraged people to live clean lives while stressing and toxifying my own body. Now I put diet, exercise, and good sleep first -- no excuses. I do yoga or take a brisk walk every day to ratchet down my autonomic nervous system. I life weights and do metabolic conditioning to get the "feel-good" hormone serotonin firing and boost my levels of fat-burning growth hormones. And I practice meditation, which science shows is one of the most potent ways to protect against the cell damage inflicted by stress. If saying yes will interfere with any of these life-enhancing actions, then I say no.

And sure: I know there's a chance that saying "no" may slam some doors shut in my life. Maybe I'll have a few dollars less in the bank someday, or have one less book with my name on it. But here's what I'll have more of: Energy. Health. Joy.

If you want more of these things in your own life, start saying yes strategically. I'm betting you'll wind up thinner, happier, and more successful -- rather than fat, bitchy, and bald.