Popular opinion lately has been leaning toward the concept of saying “Yes” to everything enthusiastically with the vigor of a toddler running on high-octane fruit juice. I completely understand this way of thinking, and honestly, I ascribe to it quite often myself. However, before we go full out raising our hands for everything that crosses our paths, there is still something to be learned about the giving ourselves permission to say “No.”
The saying goes that maturity is learning to say “No” without feeling obligated to offer an excuse. There is a great deal of truth in that statement. There are so many reasons we feel obligated to continue forward with something, or someone, even though we know it doesn’t feel right. Maybe it is a desire to be polite, or not wanting to feel like you’ve given up or not given your best effort. Perhaps, even a fear that someone will harbor bad feelings toward you. As time goes on - months, years or even decades of situation after situation in which you do something you truly don’t want – you can end up burned out and maybe even a little (or a whole lot) angry, leaving us to ask how you got to this point in the first place.
The answer to that question is actually going to help you figure out how to prevent it from happening in the future.
The key to giving yourself permission to say “No” is understanding what is behind your hesitancy in the first place. What goes through your mind when you agree to or tolerate something that doesn’t feel right? Once you connect with that underlying cause, you can begin to deconstruct not only what it means to you, but also how you can shift your thinking one way or the other to better suit your life and personal happiness.
I recently had my own struggle with this issue. I was working on a project that I felt very excited about being involved with. However, as time went on, I slowly began to realize that it was turning into something that was going to be extremely different than what I had originally expected. Anyone that knows me will immediately understand that I am almost allergic to giving up. Once I commit, I truly don’t like giving up on things, because – well, exactly that, I feel like I’m giving up. So my stubbornness and I continued to trudge through, feeling increasingly uneasy about it every single day, but hoping that sinking feeling would eventually fade away.
Thankfully, one of the many great things about being a professional coach, is that I have easy access to being coached myself. Yes, even coaches need coaches. As I went through my own coaching session, it dawned on me that I really had zero desire to continue with this project. I mean ZERO – perhaps even venturing into negative territory. I had been about to semi-consciously make myself miserable for no reason other than my own stubbornness. And to what end? Just my own ultimate misery. Even worse, I was already well aware that it wasn’t the right thing for me to do. At that moment, I gave myself permission to say “No”. I ended the project, and immediately felt an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders. I said no without guilt or excuses, and my whole world seemed to brighten up in an instant.
Lesson learned – pay attention to your intuition, your gut, your feelings, the hair on the back of your neck – whatever is trying to get your attention and listen to it. By getting out of your own way, and letting go of the expectations of others whether real or perceived, you can free yourself to say No, or Yes based on your own desires, goals and conscious decision-making.
Granting yourself the permission to say no does not make you an unreasonable or negative person any more than saying yes makes you a wonderful and positive person. Being authentic to who you are and what is important in your life while remaining open to opportunities for growth will make you the most important thing - your genuine self.
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