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Do you ever say yes when you mean no?

There are times when I know in my gut that something is wrong for me. My very female inclination is to hush my intuition and go right ahead and do the thing that is screaming “NO!!!” I hear it, I feel it but I just can’t seem to stop my mouth from blurting out “yes.” Then I find myself in the middle of something that I wonder how to get out of – gracefully and with my dignity and self-worth in tact.

Why do I do that? Feel, hear and know not to do something but do it anyway?

My reaction to things that don’t work for me comes on as a sick feeling in my stomach. An instant queasiness that is my alarm to say, “No thank you.” Yet, I push that feeling down, pretend it’s not there, and smile as I hear myself saying yes when my head, and often my heart, are voting for no.

The reasons that I say yes when I really mean no have to do with three main things: should, guilt and approval.

Should is me thinking that I should please other people. I tell myself that they must be asking because they need my help or my support and they can’t do it without me. Should is also me thinking that I should give my time, my effort or my presence. Should is not my friend. Should is all about doing what I believe will ingratiate me in the eyes of others in sacrifice of what I really want.

Guilt is me saying that serving is the right thing to do and if I don’t do it others will suffer. Guilt is my emotional self saying that I feel morally obligated to do something because that is what “good” people do. Saying no means I will suffer the automatic guilt that comes from letting others down.

Approval is me wanting others to like me, applaud me and want me. Approval is a strong, often irresistible motivator, tightly woven into the ego, that stirs hope in my quest to be highly regarded. If I do what is asked I will be rewarded. It’s not always the case but still the lure remains.

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I have volunteered for projects that drained me and kept me up all night. I have attended events that made me watch the clock from the moment of arrival, estimating when I could leave without being obvious. I have endured social occasions where I wanted to bolt out the door, running for my life or least my sanity. It is my inner knowing that I don’t belong, don’t fit and don’t want to be a part of something that does not suit me. It is the ringing truth that I would have done better to step aside and let someone else, who really cared, serve in my place.

There have also been times when I have said no only to be met with guilt-inducing pleas and incentives. Yes, I have caved to those as well. And walked away frustrated and committed to something I did not want to be a part of, despite my best intentions and efforts to decline. Guilt is a powerful adversary!

Saying no, when you mean no, is the proper and better choice. A firm, definitive no that leaves zero room for negotiation. Not a “let me think about it and get back to you” kind of no, either. Because that will land you into the long, drawn-out maybe/maybe not, wish I could say no, scenario. If you mean no, say no. Then walk away. Quickly. You do not want those pesky calls or emails seeking a “yes” answer while you continue to avoid making a decision.

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When I have been clear and absolute in my “no” answers I have learned something invaluable. It brings me instantly into alignment with my physical signals. The sick, queasy feeling in my stomach disappears. I become calm, clear and in control. I am polite in my responses. Never rude. But I also eliminate any possible negotiation so I can walk away free to return to my focus.

And focus matters. If we chip away at our time, portioning it off to things that demand large chunks of our time, we can become scattered, disorganized and frustrated. Do what you do with absolute conviction and devotion. “Should” and “guilt” are not your friends. Approval is better acquired through doing what you love. Recognize when to say no by tapping into that gut instinct. We all have it. Keep the faith that when the right offers come along you will be ready to accept them because you feel excitement not queasiness.

Let me add though, that I am careful not to confuse my inclination to say no with the feeling of fear. Fear can be another matter entirely. It is there to awaken us to things that may intimidate us but that we actually need to face, and do. Taking opportunities to grow and advance our careers/goals may require us to exit our comfortable space and enter the arena of risk. Then it’s about saying yes with the potential bonus of helping others at the same time. Some would say that experiencing fear is the precursor to great opportunities. It indicates that you are on the right path to what you most desire. Go after that!

So often in my life I have heard the words “you should.” I am careful these days to examine closely those “should” overtures as they relate to my purpose, my passions and my talents. I may have to do laundry, take out the trash, pay bills and floss my teeth. But when it comes to serving my community or taking on projects, I determine my involvement based on authentic interest and willingness. In essence, it is my moral obligation to do the right thing for others and myself which means saying no when it suits that measure.

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The next time you are asked to serve, contribute or be a part of something that makes you cringe, take a moment to note the reaction in your body first. It may just be telling you to buck-up and say no. That way when the right things come along you won’t be distracted doing what someone else thought you should do.