My daughter’s favourite word at the moment is no, or more accurately vigorously shaking her head from side to side and saying “Doe”. Sometimes I think her head shaking is simply that she enjoys the sensation, however I also think we could all learn a lot from the liberal manner with which toddlers use this word.
It can be frustrating when someone says no to us (particularly when the person is knee high to a grasshopper and you are apparently entering serious negotiations over whether it is the end of bath time). But I’m not sure it is because we can empathise with the other person that so many of us struggle to say the word.
The idea we can’t do everything is not novel, yet many of us cling to our fantasy future self who is often Superman; Superwoman; Super-parent; Super-spouse; Super-friend; Super-everything. Saying no can be a uncomfortable as it acknowledges our limits, our fallibility and our agency in letting people down.
This week I’ve said no twice. Well actually I’ve said it numerous times to ‘small’ things but twice to ‘big’ things. Francine Jay notes “My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do” and it was in this spirit I said no.
I’ve been a member of a Lesbian Reading Group for 7 years and have coordinated it since 2011. I met the woman I am lucky enough to call my wife within the hallowed halls of the library (when we still met there) and it inspired, in part, the literary theme of our wedding. Over the years I have gathered many fond memories of discussions (usually heated) and the group offered a haven to meet like minded women that was not the ‘scene’. But life moves on and I have other priorities in my life right now. I am unable to give the book group what it needs in terms of energy or commitment AND I feel immense sadness about saying no, even though I know it is ok to.
The second no was to an exciting work opportunity. That no was even harder.
I haven’t worked out what my mission
is. I have an idea of my general direction, wanting to diversify my skills and keep my options open, but definitely not a clear mission. Joshua Becker suggests “Staying on mission is about learning to say ‘no’ to the urgent requests, the popular requests, and the countless opportunities in front of you to make an extra dollar.” My work opportunity didn’t fit into any of these categories. It was something I am passionate about, love doing and in a part of the organisation I don’t currently work with but would like to. And I said No.
It was hard as it is the first time I’ve been conscious of saying no when my fantasy future self is being activated. For years I had a fridge magnet (before it was decluttered) that said “Stress is when your tummy says no and your mouth says yes”. I was a yes-person. Of course. No problem. Yes, yes, yes.
And I really did want to say yes. It took me thee days to accept I do not have capacity to do the piece of work as it required an ongoing commitment, a different type of thinking and would decrease the quality of, and time for, all my other work. I feel very sad about it, and I’m holding on to the buzz of having been recommended by two different people, and being able to say no in a way that did not end future possibilities of collaboration. But still it was no.
The ‘power’ of no can hide it’s sadness, but if we don’t let others down we ultimately let ourselves down. Is there anything you need to say no to? What gets in the way?
Zen Habits is one of my favourite blogs as it incorporates mindfulness and simplicity. While Leo Babauta doesn’t set out “How to…” guides, his reflections and personal action plan in his most recent post, I’m Returning to Single-Tasking, really struck a chord.
I’m particularly guilty of getting distracted while at work, especially when I’m on a computer. I often have a ridiculously long do to list, or perhaps more accurately ‘don’t forget to do’ list and rather than focusing on one task I end up switching between tasks or getting distracted part way through. Today I used some of his strategies, and took it one step further by writing down my task of focus as a physical reminder. The difference was immense.
I was focusing on Appreciative Inquiry. I’ve never used this technique before so needed to understand how to develop the questions initially and then begin the process of answering them. Usually opening my internet browser triggers opening a number of irrelevant tabs, each calling me to pay attention to them. Today I only had tabs open related to the task at hand and I even caught myself a couple of times becoming distracted, opening another and said “No” – literally out loud. The result – I understood the task more easily, developed more powerful questions and answered the questions more fully than if I had been multi-tasking, or more accurately switching my attention rapidly between several tasks. Plus it took less time than I had allocated so I had more time for everything else!