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Saying “Yes” and Saying “No”

Whether you conceptualize your ideal life as integrated—as I do—or balanced, it’s important to keep in mind that, on any given day, each of us has 24 hours in our metaphorical spending account. The good news is, each and every one of us on planet Earth gets 24 hours a day; Mother Nature and Father Time don’t discriminate on this one. The question is: How are you choosing to spend that time? As a starting point, If we’re committed to living the healthiest life possible, we’re choosing to get a good night’s sleep; on average, we need to spend eight hours on that. Then, there’s choosing to eat a healthy diet in a healthy manner (please see my article, entitled Two Guidelines to Attain a Healthy Body Weight, for more on that topic). Let’s set aside an hour each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now, let’s set aside an hour each day for exercise. So that leaves us with 12 hours, and we have yet to mention setting aside time each day to engage in activities that bring us a sense of pleasure–although, admittedly, sleeping, eating, and, if we’re lucky, exercising may fall into this category. And let’s not forget setting aside time for socialization, which, even if we’re introverted, plays a critical role in our well-being. While it’s not possible to socialize while we’re asleep (unless we’re dreaming about doing so), we can socialize while we’re eating and/or exercising. And if we genuinely enjoy eating and/or exercising with others, we can eat (presumably healthy food in a healthy manner) and/or exercise, engage in a pleasant activity, and socialize simultaneously.

For those of us who choose to work a 40-hour work week—and, yes, this is a choice—we need to account for the hours worked, as well as the time needed to travel to and from work, unless we choose to work from home. So, allowing for an eight-hour work day with an hour-long commute to and fro, leaves us with less than two hours per day during the work week to spend on discretionary activities. I say “less than” because I haven’t accounted for the time it takes to attend to personal hygiene, sort through the day’s mail, run miscellaneous errands, and the like.

While we, hopefully, don’t feel compelled to bring work home on the weekends, there’s typically a host of other obligations that require our time and attention; examples include laundering clothes, shopping for groceries, cleaning the house, doing yard work, attending religious services, and transporting children to and from various activities.

So when you hear people say, “I don’t have time for that,” whatever “that” might be, what they’re actually saying is, “there’s only so much time in the day, and I have other priorities.” In other words, in order to say “yes” to “that,” they would need to say “no” to something that they’re already doing, or intend to do.

What people tend to lose sight of is that they can choose to what they will say “yes” and “no.” Ideally, we want to be saying “yes” to that which aligns with our vision, mission, and values (please see my article, entitled How to Live an Integrated Life, for more on that topic), and “no” to everything else.

Saying “no” to something that affects only ourselves—e.g., binge-watching Netflix®–is one thing, but saying “no” to something that affects someone else can be fraught with strife. So how can we soften the blow of saying “no” to someone? Here is a framework that’s simple, yet effective.

Step 1: Begin by acknowledging the impact that your saying “no” has on the other person; in order to do this, you’ll need to stand in the other person’s shoes and see the situation through their eyes, figuratively speaking. Can you imagine the other person’s upset, anger, frustration, irritation, annoyance, apprehension, fear, or disappointment? Does your saying “no” have the potential to inconvenience the other person or leave the other person in a bind? If so, it’s best to acknowledge the impact that your saying “no” will have, because doing so communicates respect for and understanding of the other person’s feelings and/or circumstances, which tends to disarm them and diffuse things a bit.

Step 2: Once you’ve acknowledged the situation from the other person’s perspective, it’s time to present the situation from your perspective by sharing with the other person your reason(s) for saying “no.”

Please note—and this is very important—that you should never begin to present the situation from your perspective with the words “but” or “however,” as doing so will negate what you’ve said about the other person’s perspective. If you must use a conjunction, I suggest using words and phrases such as “and” and “at the same time,” which communicates to the other person that “there’s room here for both your perspective and mine.”

Step 3: Now that you’ve presented the situation from both the other person’s and your perspectives, you can offer up a solution that has the potential to take both the other person’s and your needs into account. While the other person might reject your proposed solution out of hand, you’ve set the stage for problem solving, which invites the other person to accept or offer up a counter-proposal.

Admittedly, this framework assumes that the person with whom you are communicating has the ability to reason, which is to say that trying to use it with your two-year-old would be futile. It’s also worth noting that, when emotions are running high, regardless of one’s age, our ability to reason is significantly compromised. If it becomes apparent to you that the other person is becoming emotionally aroused by what you’re saying, I suggest that you remain in, or return to, Step 1, until the other person truly believes that you understand and appreciate their perspective.