Are You Saying “Yes” Too Often?Micah Robbins
Fear of saying “no” is behind many a case of addiction enablement—and many a case of addiction. If your first reaction to most requests is, “I don’t want to, but if I don’t do it they’ll get mad,” you probably see others’ approval as the primary source of your self-worth and success. And no matter how much you achieve, you probably see yourself as having little power beyond keeping others happy.
Such thinking can only lead to ongoing frustration and anger—primary drivers of addictive behavior. As with addictive drugs themselves, even after you get into “recovery” it doesn’t take many “yesses” to slide back into the old habit—and unlike drug use, doing favors isn’t something you can just abstain from.
The basic questions for evaluating a request are:
- Does it really matter to me, personally, whether this gets done?
- Am I really the best person for the job?
- Do I really have time to do it well?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” that should be your answer to the request.
If your answers lean toward, “I’m not sure,” or “No, but…” that’s a sign you’re still afraid of saying “no” and should make that your default response to every request that doesn’t activate a strong automatic “yes” on all three points. The same applies if you have any of the following symptoms indicating overinclination toward “yes”:
YOU FEEL AN INSTANT SURGE OF RESENTMENT AT EVERY REQUEST
If you think in terms of “someone always interrupts me with something new to do just when I thought I finally had everything under control,” you’re probably hearing every request, however casual, as a demand. Your stress levels soar because you see yourself as a victim of others’ whims, and you feel (unreasonably) that they should already know how busy you are.
YOU FEEL TIRED ALL THE TIME
Often, your fatigue level is less related to what you’re doing than how you feel about it: two people may be equally busy by all appearances, yet one maintains high energy throughout because he or she loves the work, while the other suffers from constant energy drain via “everyone drops all the work on me” resentment.
YOU’RE EASILY SWAYED TO CHANGE YOUR MIND
Many people respond to an initial “no” with “Oh, come on, it’ll just take a minute,” or “But we were counting on you!” Every time you let such arguments turn your “no” into a “yes,” you’re teaching people to keep after you—which only perpetuates the problem.
YOUR WORK QUALITY IS FREQUENTLY SUBOPTIMAL
Too many “yesses” trap you in trying to do too much at once—and when you’re trying to do a dozen things at a time, no one thing receives enough attention to be done as well as it could be.
YOU NEVER HAVE TIME FOR THE THINGS YOU’D REALLY LIKE TO DO
Taking time just to enjoy yourself is not selfish: it’s a vital element of staying recharged and happy so you can do a better job on things you do say “yes” to. Write these items into your to-do calendar in ink:
- Pampering yourself (hot bath, spa visit, chocolate tart, walk in the country, sleeping late, sitting by the fire)
- Fun activity or exercise (tennis, volleyball, long bike ride, dancing, jogging)
- Favorite hobby (jigsaw puzzles, knitting, board games, beading, carpentry, painting, reading)
YOU’RE NEGLECTING THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU
Most people-pleasers automatically say “yes” to everyone except those in their own households—the people there get taken for granted as being willing to wait indefinitely until a scrap of free time becomes available. (Often they aren’t—affairs, divorces and broken parent–child relationships tell that sad story all too clearly.) In any case, those who love you and stand by you deserve better. Add to your “inviolable” schedule time to spend with loved ones in enjoyable activities, or in just being together.
YOU HAVEN’T DONE A GOOD SELF-EVALUATION IN MONTHS
As noted in Steps 10 and 11 of the Twelve Steps, it’s invaluable to long-term sobriety when you make regular time for personal inventory and for staying in touch with the spiritual side of life. Such things are easily neglected because they aren’t obviously “productive,” but the longer they’re brushed aside, the more vulnerable you become to stepping into trouble before you know it.
The only way to get out of the habit of saying “yes” too often is to (shades of old anti-drug campaigns) just say “no,” even when you’re scared to death. After a while, when nothing horrible happens and your friends still like you (this assumes you say “no” politely, without venting your frustration over the whole existence of requests), saying “no” and evaluating new requests will become easier. And you’ll do a much better job on the things you do say “yes” to.