3 Things to Consider Before You Say Yes to Anything

Sometimes saying no" is the better option.
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Sometimes saying no" is the better option.

Wouldn’t it be convenient if there were one magic word that would guarantee you success?

According to Shonda Rhimes, the creative force behind the television hits Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and How to Get Away with Murder, the secret to career success is the simple word yes. In her new book, Year of Yes, Rhimes documents her pledge to say yes to everything that scared her, such as public speaking and social gatherings. She says that saying yes brought the joy back to her life that she had been missing.

It all sounds so simple: Say yes, confront your fears, and embrace success in your own career. But is it that easy? Sometimes, saying yes isn’t the best answer. In fact, saying no might be the secret to confronting your fears. Before you go agreeing to everything, keep in mind the downside of saying yes when you probably should have said no.

Pitfall #1: You Think You Should Say Yes

How many times have you said yes to a request because you felt like you should? Say a friend asks you to help her out by house-sitting while she is away on vacation. Ignoring that you’re already overwhelmed by work and personal commitments, you say, “Sure, I’d love to house-sit all week,” because, well, that’s what a good friend would do, right?

Wrong. Just because your friend asks you to doesn’t mean that you have to. Don’t say yes out of a sense of guilt or if you feel like you are obligated to agree. Saying yes out of obligation increases your risk of being resentful or stressed, the Mayo Clinic says. Avoid this pitfall by examining the true motivation behind your decision. Ask yourself, “Why am I saying yes?” Is it because I want to or because I feel as if I’m expected to? If it’s the latter, weigh the pros and cons before you give your answer. Of course, if you have the bandwidth, it’s great to help out a friend. But if you know it’ll just make your long to-do list overflow, kindly tell your friend that you’d love to but have too many other commitments at the moment. It’s better to be honest than stressed and possibly resentful for doing a favor.

Pitfall #2: It Will Leave You Overcommitted and Overwhelmed

Overcommitting often happens when we say yes to opportunities that seem like they would be beneficial. For example, attending a workshop to build your skills for work is a good thing. But so is going to that Pilates class your friend is teaching. And what about the birthday dinner that you’ve been invited to? Saying yes to all of these commitments is a recipe for burnout.

No, thank you! The Mayo Clinic says that saying no can be an excellent stress-relieving strategy: “When you’re overcommitted and under too much stress, you’re more likely to feel run-down and possibly get sick.” When saying yes takes away from your ability to fulfill your current responsibilities, saying no might be the better option because it empowers you to stay true to your core values. It might be hard at first to reject a commitment that could be beneficial, but remind yourself that it will no longer be truly beneficial when it’s added to your already overflowing schedule. Take a deep breath, decline politely, and embrace the time you’ve just given yourself to focus on your existing commitments.

Pitfall #3: It Is Uncomfortable to Say No

Let’s be honest: Sometimes saying no is simply uncomfortable. When those adorable Girl Scouts outside your local grocery store ask you to buy a box of Thin Mints, how can you refuse? Will you crush their entrepreneurial dreams when you walk away from their table empty-handed? What about when your boss asks you to take the lead on yet another project? He or she seems to have conveniently forgotten about your already too-full plate.

The thought of saying no to your boss might be making you break out in a nervous sweat. After all, saying no to your boss can be intimidating and uncomfortable. Researcher and professor Vanessa Bohns writes, “It’s often harder for people, even bosses, to say no than to say yes.” In fact, research has found that many people will say yes to a request simply because saying no would be even more uncomfortable, writes Elizabeth Bernstein in the Wall Street Journal. But, avoiding the discomfort of declining provides only temporary relief. It likely leads to feeling resentful or overwhelmed. Don’t let your fears and discomfort prevent you from honoring your core values. You might even find that what you feared isn’t as bad as you’d thought. Give yourself a chance to exercise bravery.

The secret to becoming more mindful of the decisions you make is not to exclusively say yes or no. Rather, it’s about asking yourself, “Will this help me live life more fully so that I become a better version of myself?” Like Rhimes, who made the decision to say yes to “less work, more play” as she says in her TEDtalk, you can say no to those experiences that detract and yes to those that honor who you truly are. Whatever your answer to the demands that life places in your path, you’ll be content knowing you are living mindfully and authentically.

Photo Credit: Corynne Olivia