By Mary Byers
of who you are, where you live, or what roles you play, I’m willing
to bet that there have been times in your life when competing
demands have overwhelmed you. Maybe you’re feeling that way right
now, even as you read these words. If so, you’re experiencing the
nonsense of life: trying to keep up with today’s hectic pace while
simultaneously making sure that you’re living a life of meaning and
purpose. It’s not easy.
Somewhere along the way, each of us must figure out how we can meet
our immediate family’s needs, contribute to our communities, meet
our work commitments, be active and engaged in the lives of our
extended family members, be helpful to neighbors, supportive of
friends, make a contribution to our church families, grow
personally, find time for rest and relaxation, and most importantly,
find time to deepen our relationship with Christ.
Just thinking about all that gives me a headache!
In trying to keep up with all we feel we must do, we succumb to the
“acceleration syndrome,” which tells us we must work faster and
harder to keep up and that if we don’t, we’ll be left behind. The
thought terrifies us, so we convince ourselves that we should,
indeed, worked harder and faster, without asking ourselves what the
result will be for our own health and happiness—and that of our
friends and families.
You may be in survival mode: doing whatever’s next on the list
without taking the time to stop and ask if it is even something that
should be on the list to begin with. If that’s the case for you,
perhaps you’ve gotten so busy you’ve forgotten you have the power of
choice and can actually say no.
That’s where turning nonsense into no-sense begins: by reclaiming
your right to say no rather than letting a sense of obligation
dictate your life.
You do have the power to say no. You must believe it in order to be
able to do it, however.
And in order to be able to do it, you must pause long enough to make
sure that what you’re doing is the right stuff for you, given your
abilities and the season of life you’re in. You must know your
priorities and passions; your strengths and weaknesses; and what you
do, and don’t like, to do.
Instead of getting swept up in the societal tsunami that says the
more you do, the more you matter, you must elect to choose a
different measuring stick for your life. Instead of compiling, and
completing, a long list of “Things to Do” each day, you must instead
create a list of “Things that Matter,” and focus on this list
The task of identifying your priorities is essential for one simple
reason: the ability to say no begins long before you’re asked to do
something. And that’s where most of us get into trouble. Instead of
being prepared to say no, we’re caught off guard and we shoot from
the hip, fly by the seat of our pants, respond in the moment, and
ultimately, say yes when we really mean no. I’ve done it myself
many, many times.
Preparation is the key to for turning life’s nonsense into no-sense.
In order to be prepared, you must:
Give yourself permission to say no. Many women are unable to say no
because they think they shouldn’t. Because they don’t give
themselves permission to speak the word, they never do. One of the
first steps to no saying is to tell yourself it’s okay to say no. In
fact, I suggest you speak the words out loud right now. Say, “From
this day forward, I hereby give myself permission to say no.” No
saying begins with permission.
Practice using the word no. As a recovering yes-aholic, I actually
had to practice saying the word no. Maybe you need to do the same.
Speak the word out loud. Shout it. Whisper it. Repeat it. Chant it.
Cheer it. To this day, I often get myself psyched up before
returning a phone call by repeating the word over and over before I
pick up the phone. I say, “No. No. No. No. No. NO!” My kids think
I’m crazy, but it works.
Simplify your nos. Often, we are our own worst enemies when it comes
to saying no because we overestimate the significance of a no. Being
honest about what you are saying no to makes it easier to do. For
example, there’s a difference between saying no to working in the
nursery and feeling like you’re letting someone down, although often
we make no saying more complex by combining the two. Instead of
thinking, “I’m turning down a request to work in the nursery,” we
think, “I may damage my relationship with Jill by turning down her
request to work in the nursery.” Practice simplifying your no's
instead of loading them with implications that don’t need to be
Understand that it’s not possible to do everything, even if you want
to. The sooner you accept that it’s not possible to do everything,
the easier it becomes to say no. Knowing that using the word is
necessary makes it easier to make it part of your vocabulary. Be
honest with yourself when you’re disappointed that you have to say
no. Think, “I wish I could say yes to chairing the fundraiser for
school, but my other obligations keep me from being able to do so.”
Or, “I really wish I could get away with the girls this weekend, but
it’s just not possible for me to do everything.” It’s more
honest—and realistic--to acknowledge your limitations than it is to
pretend they don’t exist. Ignoring them won’t make them go away.
It’s necessary to master the above four steps in order to learn to
say no…and live to tell about it. Once you do, however, you’ll be on
your way to turning the nonsense of life into no-sense. The four
steps above are the foundation of developing the ability to say no
Mary Byers is an author, speaker, facilitator,
consultant, provocateur and permission giver. She is also a
Certified Association Executive (CAE). She helps associations remain
relevant in an increasingly competitive environment. You can reach
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