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Why You Should Say 'No' More Often


In a world where we’re constantly reminded that we have the same number of hours in a day as Beyoncé does, it’s easy to think that we can do it all. Women in particular are guilty of seeing life as a checklist: The more things we can accomplish by the end of the day, the more successful we consider ourselves. It’s almost as if we’re in a competition to see who can juggle the most obligations. Sounds kind of silly when you think about it, right?

We’ve become obsessed with saying “yes” to everything. We say yes to things—even things we don’t really want to do—because we’re afraid to make someone feel bad, or to miss out on what might be a great opportunity. We constantly have FOMO (fear of missing out), so we spread ourselves too thin and sometimes end up wishing we hadn’t put so much on our plates. Saying “no” seems scary, but in certain situations it might just be the best thing for you.

Why do we want to say yes to everything?

Between balancing friends, school, love interests and internships, we’re constantly trying to manage everything. We don’t feel like we’re doing enough unless we’re doing it all—and there are a few reasons for that. Part of it is the society we live in. People, especially young adults, are expected to have a social life, date around, maintain good grades and build up our résumés. (We, for the record, are perfectly content substituting the whole “social life” thing for binge-watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But, you know.)

A big part of that pressure, however, also just comes from being a woman. “It’s how [women’s] brains work,” Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist in New York, says. “Even when we’re stressed, we will ‘tend and befriend’ (a term used among psychologists to describe females’ reaction to stress) and put the needs of others first. It leads to a tendency to be inclusive even when we don’t want to be.”

We eventually face the consequences of not saying “no” enough, and, trust us, said consequences are worse than a little bit of FOMO.

The consequences of always saying yes

The first problem with saying yes to things you really don’t have enough time to do is that you might not even get the chance to do them. Dr. Rick Brinkman, co-author of the international best-selling books, Life by Design and Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, points out that, when you take on too many things, you really can’t win.

“Some people will do it half-a**,” he explains. “Some end up not doing it and making promises that can’t be kept. Other people bust their a**es and get it done and have no time for themselves.”

Regardless of how you do (or don’t) get the job done, you’re overworking yourself and stressing yourself out—but it’s Dr. Brinkman’s third alternative that seems to be the most common among college women. When we have a full schedule week after week, things like sleep, exercise and even personal hygiene may often be the last things on our minds. According to Dr. Taylor, millennial women (cough, cough) are especially guilty of not making enough time for themselves. She says we are reporting higher levels of stress, most likely because we think we can do everything.

“It takes a toll on your body,” Dr. Taylor explains. “Between things like fatigue, depression and anxiety, overworking yourself changes how you feel.”

As a mother of four daughters, Dr. Taylor says she knows that finding that perfect balance is much harder said than done, but she still urges collegiettes to make an effort. “You have to find ways to exercise, sleep, take care of yourself and have positive social support,” she says. “It’s all about making time to do things your body needs.”

Saying yes to something means saying no to other opportunities

As much as we would all like to have more than 24 hours in a day, we don’t. We simply don’t have the time to do everything, which means that we should really only be saying yes to the things that we truly need to do or enjoy doing. Dr. Brinkman says that saying no can actually be a very empowering experience, if you think about it in the right way.

“Anytime you say yes to something in the here and now, you’re saying no to a whole lot more,” he explains. Instead of looking at turning down possible opportunities in a negative way, Dr. Brinkman encourages that we think about all we will get to do in that extra time. Maybe it’s getting another two hours of sleep or actually having time to go to the gym.

For Kylie*, a junior at the University of Miami, saying no meant avoiding a whole lot of stress. When she was asked to an overnight fraternity formal for a weekend, she was conflicted between wanting to go and staying back to get other things done.

“Usually, I’d be excited and flattered, but the formal is the weekend before I have about 40 pages worth of essays due and two exams,” she says. “Plus, it's the weekend of my friend's 21st birthday, and we have big plans. I was tempted to say yes to a carefree weekend with friends, but it wasn't the right choice for me. I'm glad I said no even though I felt bad about turning him down.”

Although she may have missed out on a cool weekend, she got to celebrate her friend’s birthday and avoid that Sunday feeling of having skipped an entire weekend of studying before a big test week. Win, win.

How to start saying no

If you’re a girl whose planner is as important as the air she breathes, you know that keeping track of all of your obligations is a great way to stay organized. When your schedule for the week is completely full, you should know better than to try and tackle yet another obligation. As Dr. Taylor reminds us, stacking up more responsibilities is only going to lead to you getting stressed out. If you know your sleep or personal health will be compromised by saying yes to something, you should definitely feel okay to say no.

There are other times when we think we have the time to do something, and even though we’re not sure, we end up saying yes anyways. In order to avoid this, Dr. Brinkman suggests that we keep track of how long our must-do tasks take us.

For example, if you know that doing your reading for your marketing class usually takes you about three hours and that a dinner for a friend’s birthday will take around two, consider those things before you say yes to anything else for that day. If you know (and actually think about) how much time the things you’ve already said “yes” to—or things you absolutely have to do—take, you’ll have a good idea of how much extra time you’ll have to spend on other things.

Dr. Brinkman’s second suggestion is similar something we’ve all been guilty of doing at some point or another: Making a yes versus no list. If you’ve ever drawn a line (hot-dog style, of course) down the center of your paper and written “Pro” on one side and “Con” on the other, you’re already ahead of the game. Next time you’re deciding between multiple opportunities, label the sides of your paper with “Yes” and “No.”

Dr. Brinkman says to ask yourself: “What are things you want to say ‘No’ to so that you have time to say ‘Yes’?” This way, you won’t be thinking about your decision in terms of what you’ll be missing out on. Instead, your mind will be focused on that extra episode of Netflix you could watch (yes, we'd say this is a priority) or the lunch you’d have time to grab with an old friend.

Remembering that you can only do so much will make it a lot easier to say no—because you’ll only be thinking about how many things you’ll have the opportunity to say yes to.

*Name has been changed

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