Do you have a hard time saying no to requests for your time?
If “yes” arises spontaneously with little or no thought, you may be locked into perpetual giving. You may even feel there is no way out.
I know what it’s like because I’ve been there too. Perpetual giving isn’t necessarily a happy state! Giving away your time freely without careful consideration can have multiple negative effects. For example, it can:
- Reduce your income and ability to save for a rainy day.
- Interfere with growing your business or succeeding at work.
- Contribute to a constant feeling of overwhelm and stress.
- Lead to exhaustion and cause you to crash and burn.
- Affect your self-esteem when you fall short of your own goals.
- Ripple out to adversely affect your close relationships.
Can you add to the list?
Excessive giving is not intelligent giving, compassionate contribution, or intentional helpfulness. It sometimes resembles a small streak of insanity instead.
A Gaping Hole Within?
Which points to the fact that constantly sacrificing self for others may come from a gaping hole within.
- Do you feel deficient and therefore need to please?
- Are you starved for attention, nourishment, or love?
- Does your self-esteem depend on others because you feel you are not enough?
While it’s hard to admit these deceptive belief patterns are running the show, once you are honest with yourself, you will be more ready to start saying “no”.
On the other hand, biochemical alterations may be part of the distress. A reduction in the executive functions of your brain can make it difficult to pause and consider, “Will this really fit into my life?” This is sometimes seen in ADHD or post traumatic stress. You still need to take responsibility and find a better approach, but understanding these contributing factors can bring tremendous relief.
Physical, emotional, or a mix of both, no doubt the pattern feels impossible to change. But you’ll be surprised how swiftly you can proceed once you begin to recognize there’s really a choice and start saying yes to you, yes to change.
What Will Trigger Your Change?
I’d been exploring my relentless giving in a cursory way, but I just couldn’t fathom the act of actually say “no”. My “ah-ha” moment came when a friend pointed out how much money I was giving away.
“Have you ever considered that Sherry is asking you for hundreds of dollars by requesting help for free? If someone came up and asked you for $500, would you just hand it over like that?” To this I could easily respond, “Heck, no!”
Awareness may arise in cumulative or unexpected ways. A constant weariness of being, an unexpected turn of events, or life suddenly falling apart – any of these may give you a jolt and wake you right up. “Wait a moment! This giving is way too much!”
However insight is born, clasp onto it for dear life. Then start asking pointed questions to strengthen your new awareness:
- What beliefs are keeping you stuck in perpetual giving?
- How much is over-giving costing you in dollars and cents?
- How is it harming your life – your health, your happiness, your relationships?
Learning to Say “No” – It May Be Easier Than You Think
When someone asks you for time, pause. Tune into the alarms that are telling you the truth:
- Your stomach tightening
- Feeling annoyed
- A flattening of joy
- A pulling back
- A forced smile
- A voice in your head that wants to respond, “Are you out of your mind?”
Practice new scripts so you can say no with grace.
- “Thank you for asking, I would be happy to help. I charge XYZ. Are you ready to start?”
- “I’m honored you asked, but I won’t be able to help right now.”
- “Let me think about it. I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
Avoid saying “yes” right off the bat. Take your time and examine the pros and the cons. Ask yourself seriously if the new task fits comfortably in the agenda of your life. If it’s hard to say “no” in person or on the phone, then send an email or letter instead.
If you still want to give, remember you don’t have to give it all. You really can give an hour instead of a whole day. You can offer one idea instead of preparing a full essay. So consider how you can give in a balanced and workable way. Determine your limits and state them in a clear and confident voice. Others will be grateful when you mark a straight line.
When I practiced saying “no”, I discovered it was easier than I ever thought. “Hey, I can do this! I’ve done it once!” The slogan “Just Do It” applies like a charm. I was then encouraged to go on a 30-day fast from saying “yes” to others instead of myself.
You’ll find most people aren’t bothered. They will adjust. They’ll sort out the problem all by themselves or find another friend who can assist. Often, “indispensability” is just a phantom we’ve conjured up in our own head. In reality, life carries on just fine without us.
Understand Your True Purpose
Knowing your true purpose is the the best way to stay on track.
- “What is my personal mission?”
- “Why am I in this life?”
- “Is it to give endless favors or to accomplish a larger goal?”
These are the questions next in line to ask. They will take you one step further to saying a full “yes” to yourself.
Design each day with your mission at the top of the list. By staying true to your ultimate purpose, you will accomplish the greatest good and serve others in a far more effective and intentional way.
Ready to Say “Yes” to You?
Getting to “yes” is a journey, there’s no miracle pill. Chances are your adrenalin will pump the first few instances you reclaim your time. But the sense of liberation will also bring you great joy. So just keep moving forward whatever tests come your way. It will get easier and easier as each victory seeds the next.
No matter how long you’ve been over-giving, you can bring it to a stop. If I can do it after eons of relentless giving, I know you can too.
What keeps you in the loop of giving away your time? How does it feel when you are able to say “yes” to you? I would love to hear about your challenges and your successes too.
About the Author
Sandra Pawula is a freelance editor, writer, and inner explorer. She shares simple wisdom for a happy life at Always Well Within.