Learning to Say No to Good Things

“During the first eighteen years of our lives, if we grew up in fairly average, reasonably positive homes, we were told ‘No’ or what we could not do, or what would not work, more than 148,000 times,” Dr. Shad Helmstetter states in his book, What to Say When You Talk to Yourself.  

If this is true, I figure saying no is not that hard for most people. However, I have said my fair share of no’s to myself, friends and family, but I realize that in certain cases, it’s quite challenging to say it. I don’t mean that I’m a pushover or susceptible to peer pressure, even though I will admit that sometimes I struggle with desiring to please everyone; what I mean is I have trouble turning down opportunities, even when it is very necessary to turn them down. 

Rapper Lil Jon and a caption that reads "turn down for what?"

from QuickMeme

I’ve had a terrible habit of biting off more than I can chew, grabbing at nearly every positive opportunity that has come my way. My reasoning is this: my school and home life combined are very stressful, and I get tired of having to do what I don’t really want to do. In order to counteract the negative, I go to the other extreme and jam-pack my schedule with positive. I engage in events that I know will benefit me, even if the benefit is simply a good mood.

The problem is that this behavior has often compromised my other responsibilities. A lot of times I’ve had lunch with good friends when I could have been doing homework, or I’ve gone to a social gathering on a night that could have been spent relaxing and reflecting alone at home. After all, who wants to do homework? And who wants to be alone?

It’s very hard to say no to good things, because, let’s face it: they’re good things! Sadly, there is such a thing as too much good. My friend Cassandra loves to use this analogy: cancer in the simplest sense is an abnormal reproduction of cells. Cellular reproduction is necessary for our survival, but when there are too many cells, it can be harmful.

While I have been aware of all of this for quite some time, last week was the breaking point that forced me to stop thinking it and start doing it. Having a super busy schedule that did not account for legitimate, intentional rest (aside from sleep) meant that the little time I had leftover was spent with Angel, and my “leftovers” are not pretty at all; I was burned out, could barely muster up a smile, and at any given moment I was ready to either break something, scream, or burst into tears (the most common, less violent option) from sheer exhaustion and overwhelming stress. I realized that I could not keep treating him, or myself, like this.

Practicing saying no will not be easy, but I know it will pay off in the long run, and that I must start now if I want my situation to change as soon as possible. I believe setting boundaries is the only way you can enjoy and protect true freedom. It will require the guts to temporarily disappoint friends, family, Angel, and myself; but delayed gratification is more worthwhile and long-lasting than instant gratification. My future self will thank me.