4 ways we say yes (when we really mean no)

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of doing something and feeling pissed off toward either the task or the person that asked you to complete it? Getting clear on your motivation for saying yes in the first place can help to illuminate what is causing that resentment. We often say yes to things and for different reasons.

(1) We feel obligated to a role we play out of guilt or shame.

Let’s face it: we all wear different “hats.” Some of mine have been the model employee, the good daughter, the good student, the Supermom, and the dutiful wife. Often I would find myself feeling resentful having agreed to something I felt I had to because I would subconsciously be measuring myself against the idyllic version of a particular role. For my daughter’s 4th birthday, I spent hours and hours putting together a photo collage of her to hang up at her preschool to announce her big milestone. Now this was a tradition at the school, and while no one asked me to do it, I felt obligated to participate along with the other parents. But then I found myself resenting the hours I’d spent on it when no one commented or seemed to recognize my hard work. I realized later that I had wanted to be seen as a great mom to teachers and other parents to make up for my own feeling of inadequacy. I felt guilty and shameful for having my daughter at the school for so many hours during the work week, and momentarily justified it to myself by spending added time on the collage. Much later, I realized that I was chasing the idyllic version of being a mother and judging myself for my perceived lack. When I let go of striving for perfection and the attachment to the role itself, I let go of the guilt and shameful feelings associated with not measuring up.

(2) We want something in return.
When we take something on because we think either consciously or subconsciously that if we do it, the other person is likely to something for us in return, we are approaching and infusing the task with fear. Fear that we will ultimately not get what we want, and instead be hurt. This is likely to be sub-par work on our part. When approaching the task from the opposite perspective, with no expectations, and simply from a place of love, it will be infused instead with our best energy and in turn our best work. We find that we actually enjoy doing it, and the time passes quickly. I recently began writing and illustrating a children’s book. When I was outlining the ideas of the book, I was thinking about my own two children and how much they will love reading it together with me, and the ideas came flowing out easily. Now I’m working on the illustrations, and when I began I started thinking about how if I’m able to get the book published and sold that the proceeds could be used to supplement our income and the first few pictures fell flat. When I reconnected to the reason why I started the book in the first place (for the love of my own children), the next few illustrations came effortlessly, and are the ones that are my best work.

(3) We forget we are human.
I know you’ve been there. You’ve said yes to a thousand different things that are all seeming to come due at the same time, and realize that it is just not humanly possible to get everything done in time. We have been unrealistic with our own limitations and forgotten that we also need to build things like bathroom breaks, eating, and sleeping into the day. It may sound silly, but I’ll go out on a limb and bet that we have all done it at least once. A year ago, I was stretched so thin between my responsibilities at work and at home, I started skimping on sleep, eating quick lunches at my desk, and became severely dehydrated. I actually realized that I’d subconsciously stopped drinking at work because that meant fewer bathroom breaks and more time to crank out productivity! Being realistic with the time a task will actually take, adding in time for unexpected hiccups, and actually building time in for breaks helps you get clear on what you actually have time for and what a realistic timeframe for completion is. If you have been running around like a chicken with no head all day, stop to ask yourself what you need, and then don’t be afraid to voice it. You’ll be much more productive once you’ve practiced some self-care.

(4) We aren’t clear on our priorities.
Sometimes you are just enthusiastic about saying yes because so many things sound fun or exciting, so why wouldn’t you want to do them? There might also be projects that you know will be great learning experiences so you take them on too. Then there’s also this other thing that sounds like amazing exposure to people you’ve always wanted to work with. Then there’s this fabulous vacation you’ve been wanting to plan for your family. Then there’s this other contract thing you could do to make extra money. These are all real things for me right now. I used to feel overwhelmed with obligations and things that didn’t excite me and recently learned it can go the other way as well. Overwhelmed with good. It’s all great, and writing this has helped me realize that I need to get clear which of the opportunities are actually closest in line with my values and where I really want to be spending my time right now. (Coach, if you’re reading this, I have our next topic!)

Frog illustration

In Don Miguel Ruiz’ The Four Agreements, we are taught to be impeccable with our word, to speak with integrity, and say only what we mean. Start paying attention to your motivation or intention when saying yes, then practicing saying yes when you really mean it, and notice the difference.

When we have clarity on our priorities and say yes to the things we really want to, whether it will bring us joy or it is part of a bigger picture goal or value we have, it’s easier to stay present and appreciate the doing for what it gives us, infuse it with love, and eliminate the rest.

What are other reasons you’ve said yes when inside you really wanted to say no?

Leave a Reply