The benefits to your social and work life of the occasional well-placed no
There’s a chapter in Danielle La Porte’s bestseller The Firestarter Sessions entitled ‘We Know You’re Busy. Now Shut Up About It.’ Familiar? Let’s face it: we all love it when we’re run off our feet, flat out, up to 90, balls to the wall. The more we do, the better we look, right? Juggling competing demands isn’t exactly a cake-walk so the attendant kudos can be sweet. But as La Porte wisely points out, “Whatever is on your plate got there because you said yes to it.” In other words: busy is a choice.
But hold on a second, I hear you say. Choice is the ultimate luxury. If we all had a choice, we’d be watching Breaking Bad box sets in the afternoon, not being all things to all people. Granted, in an economy where cutbacks and limited resources involve doing double duty, it’s not always tenable to say ‘no’. That said, the societal premium placed on ‘doing’ is more insidious than we’ll admit.
“How are you? Bananas?” enquired an acquaintance recently. “No, just ticking over,” I replied. An awkward silence ensued as if I had broken some unspoken pact. My betrayal didn’t just indict me; it revealed the ‘busy’ paradigm to have an opt-out clause. Busted.
It’s not so much that we want to be that busy but not wanting to carries a heavier penalty – not being a team player, not caring or, worse, not being ambitious enough. Throw in the threat of job loss or social marginalisation and the result is, literally, overwhelming. Anxiety, burnout and stress can all threaten to have more deleterious effects on our lives than establishing boundaries with an occasional, well-placed ‘no’. In corporate speak, this is referred to as ‘capacity management’ – establishing the extent of one’s personal reserves relative to the task at hand.
Easier said than done. Whether from a need to please others or a fear of missing out, the ‘yes’ epidemic continues to interfere with the flow of prioritisation or what LaPorte refers to as ‘the metric of ease’.
“Choosing easy is smart, efficient, elegant; a fantastic form of self-compassion, giving yourself a break and getting out of your own way… Amazing grace can happen when you choose internal rhythms over external pressure.”
Ironically, in turning something down, we disappoint fewer people – most importantly, ourselves. Establishing stronger boundaries frees us up to concentrate on what’s most important. Just say ‘no’. It’s a lot easier than talking about how busy you are.
Annmarie O’Connor @aocdotme