I have a friend. Let’s call her Jess since she wouldn’t appreciate being outed on a highly popular women’s website.
Let me just check with Jerry?
It always mystified me that a grown woman in this day and age would need to check with her partner before saying ‘Yes’ to something. But hey, when you’re friends with someone you embrace their perceived quirks.
I’ve never had to check in with anyone!
Yep, I’m my own person and can make my own decisions. And for most of my adult life my decision, whenever asked to do something with, or for, someone, was to say ‘Yes’!
Mainly because it felt so good.
For me, there was nothing better than the jolt of pleasure I got from seeing someone’s face light up with delight when I said ‘Yes’ to them. I was totally addicted to it. Other people are addicted to chocolate but I didn’t have to pay to get my hit! I got it for free!
Except it wasn't free.
All that saying 'Yes' led to me feeling constantly overwhelmed.
I was always horribly stressed out, rushing from place to place to keep on top of all my commitments. I was having to schedule my days down to the minute in order to get everything done and if anyone or anything messed with that tight scheduling (kids getting dressed too slowly, husband taking his cool, sweet time in the shower, the chick chatting away with the cashier in front of me at the supermarket), I'd be furious with that person.
In other words: I was constantly angry at the world for screwing with my finely balanced days; irritable and on edge with my kids and husband; and hating myself because ‘angry, irritable and constantly-on-edge’ was not the person I aspired to be.
The worst thing was, I'd read all the self-help books. I knew what the cure for all that overwhelm was: set better boundaries; learn to value my time better; and, as my unofficial life-coach Brene Brown would say, 'Choose discomfort over resentment'.
All great advice, but I just didn't seem to be able to do it.
It's hard to break the habit of a lifetime. And as I mentioned above, I wasn't just trying to break a habit, I was trying to break an addiction.
But, I was getting really tired of always being overwhelmed. In addition to affecting my ability to be a good person, it also meant I never had any time or space to chill and do things that were just for me.
So what did I do?
Well it took me many years to figure out but I finally devised a technique that meant I never had to say 'No' to someone's face. I started saying these six words instead:
'Let me come back to you.'
Here's why those six words are so awesome:
- It works for every situation whether it's my kids asking if they can have an ice-cream (I can come back to them in like, 30 seconds) or a distant acquaintance asking to pick my brain over coffee.
- It immediately tells that person the answer might be 'No' - so when it happens, they might be disappointed, but they’re not blindsided.
- If the answer is ‘No’, it doesn't have to be delivered in person so I don't have to see their disappointment. (Because then I’d probably change my mind!)
- It removes the knee-jerk 'Yes' that is the hallmark of all dedicated people-pleasers. (You know, the whole 'I’ll say ‘Yes’ and figure it out later' thing.)
After 18 months of saying 'Let me get back to you' in response to every request, my life looks very different. I have time and space to just 'be'. I'm a nicer person to be around. And my days no longer consist of frantically rushing from one thing to another.
And I feel a bit silly because it appears I didn't need to read all those self-help books or worship at the altar of Brene Brown. I just needed to look at the example my friend Jess had been setting for me for years.
Jess was never checking anything with Jerry. Jess was always just buying herself some time.
Jess was a genius.
And finally, I've caught up.
Kelly Exeter is the author of Practical Perfection, a short and sweet book that contains heaps of practical advice just like the above. If you’re tired of feeling burnt out and overwhelmed you might want to get it here.
Sometimes we struggle to tell people things they don't want to hear. What's the biggest lie you've ever told?