“When you say ‘yes’ to someone else, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself” – Paulo Coelho, author of “The Alchemist” and many other fine books
As an extreme extrovert living in the awesome city of Portland, Oregon, there is pretty much always something awesome going on that I could fill my time with. On any given night, there are live shows, birthday parties, climbing events, etc. all of which sound like a lot of fun! But I have learned that I can’t do everything and it is important to sometimes say “no” so that I can get the sleep and time that I need to be healthy and happy. Even though being with people fills me up, gives me energy, and is an important part of me being healthy and happy, there is a balance!
Many of us live in a constant state of FOMO (fear of missing out – it’s a real thing!) and are afraid to commit to one event for fear of something cooler coming up at the last minute. Or we are simply afraid to say no to something that might turn out to be awesome, even if we know we don’t have the time or energy to truly enjoy it or bring our best selves there. It doesn’t help that social media allows us to portray all the most fun moments of our lives, making it seem like everyone we know is constantly doing more exciting and amazing things than we are.
The key word in FOMO is “fear” – somehow we have become afraid that there is a serious lack of awesome things to do and if we miss out on one fun activity, we may never have something else fun to do again. At least, this is what FOMO seems like to me. If we could simply learn to trust that there is an abundance of good times and there will always be more great people to meet and cool activities to do, it wouldn’t feel so scary to miss out on them here and there to make sure we are getting the space and time that we need for ourselves.
Prioritizing your time
The truth is that none of us can do ALL the things we want to do all the time. There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, and in today’s fast-paced world there will always be something else going on, some other skill we could be learning, some other person we could be spending time with. But at the end of the day, some activities/events/people are more worth our time than others and we have a finite amount of time and energy that we can devote to these things.
This may mean you have to make some difficult decisions about what you want to cut out, be it a project you’ve been asked to work on, an event you want to help run, a class you want to sign up for, or even something as simple as a party your friend is throwing. When trying to decide what to say “no” to, I think it is important to consider two factors: the reasons or motivations behind what you are doing, and the return on investment (or ROI, a fancy term I have learned from listening to the Freakonomics podcast).
First off, why is it that you want to be involved in this particular activity? Are you doing it out of guilt or is it something you are really excited about? Are you going because you feel like you should be better at something or because you actually want to learn a new skill? Did a friend talk you into going or are you really looking forward to meeting new people or trying a new restaurant? Dig deep and really think about your motivations – be honest with yourself. Is this project/event/activity/date/party/workshop something you really have good reasons for being involved with?
Secondly, consider your ROI – what will you get back when you invest your time in this activity? This may seem like a selfish parameter, but even activities like volunteering give you something back, whether it’s learning a new skill or just a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Are you spending time with a friend who takes and takes but never asks you how you’re doing? Are you working at a job that has no opportunity for growth and sucks your soul dry? Are you taking a Spanish class but never really practicing or getting better?
Look at all the ways you are spending time and think critically about how they are contributing to your overall health, happiness, and wellbeing. If something is not really benefiting you in a way you would like it to, find a way to change it (ask for more responsibility at work, tell a friend you need more support) or let it go. And I know it sounds heartless, but if there is a person in your life who takes a lot of energy without giving much in return, it may be time to cut them loose!
Don’t be a flake
Today it has become so easy to change plans at the last minute. With cell phones giving us the option to simply call when we are on our way or text if we are going to be late, it has become all too easy to give a friend an emphatic yes only to cancel plans the next day. While I appreciate the flexibility of being able to reach people wherever they are, it has also allowed us to become a society of much less reliable and responsible humans.
As someone who is typically very good at making plans and keeping them, it drives me crazy when people either say “maybe” when they really mean “no”, or when they are constantly making plans and then cancelling at the last minute. Of course, we all have things come up sometimes, or make plans without realizing we are going to have a shitty day and not want to hang out. Sometimes taking care of yourself means you choose to cancel on a friend so you can recharge and have some much-needed alone time.
But we all know someone who just hates saying “no” in the first place, even when they are pretty sure they aren’t going to go, so they say they’ll try to make it when they know they won’t. After a while you learn to just not expect them even when they say they are coming, because they have proven to be unreliable. Seriously people, this has got to stop. I know it generally comes from a place of not wanting to disappoint your friends by saying no, but honestly it is much more disappointing to think a friend is coming and to have them cancel or not show up than to just know they aren’t coming in the first place.
I think we all need to be better at only saying “yes” when we really know we can commit to something and saying “no” when we are unsure. Then, if you show up, it’s an unexpected and lovely surprise, rather than a shock that you finally did what you said you would do. When I have been that person who says “maybe” when what I really mean is “no”, I find it very stressful because then I feel like I should go to something even though I don’t want to. Being honest upfront and saying “no” to things I’m not really interested in or don’t have time for allows me to focus my energy on other things without keeping my friends guessing. Of course, saying “maybe” is a totally acceptable response if you just really are unsure, but it should not be used simply to avoid feeling bad when what you really mean is “no”.
I also recognize that I could work on being ok with a little more uncertainty and managing my expectations of others. We can’t control others’ actions and I myself am guilty of getting overly worked up when someone cancels on me. I take things more personally than I should and assume that I am not important to the other person. I feel hurt, disrespected, and frustrated that I now have to make other plans or just spend time alone, which is something I would like to work on.
But there is a balance. It’s impossible to always know for certain whether or not you will be able to stick to plans you have made a week in advance. But we can do our best to really think about whether or not we will have the time and energy for something, respecting both our own time and the time of our friends and not wasting it unnecessarily. Being a chronically flakey person is stressful for both you and your friends – nobody wants to be thought of as a flake, and nobody wants to make plans with someone who they are pretty sure will bail.
And if you do need to cancel on someone (which happens to all of us sometimes – it’s ok!), my advice is this: be honest. If you are feeling crappy and need some alone time, or if that cute boy you’ve been swooning over finally asked you out, just tell your friend the truth. Because honestly, the reason you are cancelling often doesn’t really make a difference to your friend – either way, they will probably feel a little frustrated and the end result is still a cancellation of plans. But if you are honest, sincere, and to the point, I find that generally goes over a lot better. Apologize if you feel like you should, but don’t overdo it. Saying you’re sorry a million times isn’t going to change the fact that you cancelled. And do it as soon as you know you won’t be able to make it so your friend has time to make other plans for the evening. If you throw in a suggestion for another day or time to get together, even better! Just make sure you are actually able to commit to that follow-up plan because cancelling on your friend a second time in a row will probably not do much to build trust or grow your friendship.
That is my plea, as an extroverted person who generally has a very full schedule. I will work on being more understanding when you cancel on me if y’all promise to do your best to only make plans you think you can stick to and let me know well in advance if you can’t make it. Deal? Alright, moving on…
To sum it all up…
A quote that really helps me when I’m feeling overwhelmed with all the things I want to do is this: “You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want”. This may sound pessimistic, but it’s very true – we can’t do everything. Many of us have all sorts of grand ideas about the things we want to do in life and end up feeling like failures when we can’t make them all happen at once, but if we were a little more understanding with ourselves and our real-world constraints, we would realize that it’s ok not to do it all and have it all. I know that not everyone has this problem, but it is certainly something that is very real for me on a daily basis!
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try this: make two lists – one list of the top ten things you spend your time and energy one each week, and one list of all the things that you wish you had more time for, including skills you want to learn, friendships you want to maintain, the work you’re doing, trips you wants to take, etc. Then go back through the second list and circle a maximum of ten of those things that are really the most important to you – make sure they are things that you really truly want to have in your life, that would make your life more joyful and more meaningful – and then spend the next month trying to really focus only on those ten things. See how it feels to narrow down your focus a bit and give more time and energy to fewer things, rather than spreading yourself thin.
This doesn’t mean that you have to completely cut people out of your life who don’t make “the list”, or that you can never spend time on anything else, but comparing these two lists may help give you an idea of what you WANT to be spending your time on, and where your energy is actually going. If the two lists are pretty much the same, then that’s awesome, keep up the good work! But if they are quite different, it might be time to make some real changes and shift your priorities around a little bit.
What are a few things you really wish you spent more time doing? What is one thing you could cut down on so that you make more time and space in your life for something more joyful and fulfilling?