The Art of Saying No.


January is a strange and lovely beast. A swollen catalogue of new days; cold and brimming with the future. Everyone is in the spirit of making New Years resolutions. I'm not hating on it; ambitions are fun little creatures to wrestle down. Myself? I'm trying to read 52 books this year, finish the first draft of my very own book, and designedly sculpt my life-space to manifest meaning, peace, vibrancy, and generosity. 

Since the first two resolutions are pretty straight forward (at least conceptually), I've been grappling with the third. Leave it to me to make the most open-ended resolution ever. Goals are hard enough to reach when they're straightforward, let alone bubbling with obscurity like this one does. But I'm starting to get a hold on what I mean exactly by this resolution, and I'm coming to see it as a multi-faceted, life-long pursuit; one I've already begun and will continue throughout my years.

The evolution of this pursuit is found in the details. Among the many facets which combine to shape this resolution is: The Art of Saying No. I want more meaning, peace, vibrancy, and generosity in my life. So, along with saying "yes" to those things, I must learn to say "no" to the not-those-things. 

In 2015, I said "yes" until my eyes were red. I said "yes" until I didn't have any time left. I said "yes" until I lost so much, there wasn't a "yes" left in me. I said "yes" until I learned firsthand the destruction and earth-cracking dryness of such a small word. When misused, there is no more dangerous a word than "yes."

So, what is so bad about a misplaced "yes"? The people-pleasers and yes-men among us will know. It is the fastest, most sure-fire way to rob ourselves of the two most critical resources available to humankind: Time and health. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else. Yes to a toxic relationship means no to your wellness. Yes to a thankless, underpaid job you hate means no to the value of your time. A series of misplaced yeses can completely derail your dreams. A lifetime of misplaced yeses can completely derail your existence. 

The Art of Saying No is just that; an art. There is in life a careful balance of risk-taking and boundary-keeping. Yes and no. Learning the appropriate use and time for each word is vital to intentional living.

When and how you use the power of your "no" is case-by-case. Our twists and turns are different and uniquely suited to us. But I've come up with a few things that I'm determined to say "no" to this year on, and I'm speculating that it might be a good thing for all of us to add them to our "no" lists.

  • Unhealthy relationships

This may seem like an obvious one, but sometimes unhealthy relationships can sneak up on us, slowly, over time. Others are clearly doomed from the start. If you are a keeper of unhealthy relationships, 'tis the season to let them go. Relationships should be mutually respectful, characterized by empathy, and enriching to both parties. Self-serving relationships will leave you withered. Of course no relationship is perfect, and all good things require work, patience, and communication. But there is a difference between a healthy relationship with a few kinks to work out, and an unhealthy relationship that needs to go.  So let them go. Give your time to thriving relationships with healthy(ish)* people. 
*because we're all a little cuckoo. 

  • Work/play that is not suited to me

Time is a precious commodity. Energy makes the world go 'round. So let's be careful with how we spend these resources. Don't take jobs that suck you bone-dry and spit you out with a few measly pennies clinking around. Don't go to the party if napping on hot coals sounds like a better option to you. 
If you don't already, start paying attention to the things that give you life. For me, that's anything connected to books, time spent in nature, and soulful conversation (with wine). For you, it might be film, health and wellness, or dancing. Whatever it is: know thyself. When you know what gives you life (and conversely, what makes you want to die) you know what to say yes or no to.
For example: "oh, you're having a party with 5,000 people who are into World of Warcraft, dressing up like forrest animals and taking jello shots? Not for me, thanks." (but then again maybe so because that sounds weird enough to be worth it).

  • The extremes: Self-neglect and Self-worship

Self-neglect is the disaster of not caring for ourselves correctly. It's not sleeping enough. It's going to the after-party even though we think we're starting to get sick. It's investing in bottomless pits. It's saying yes to everything and everyone, leaving only "no" left for you.
Self-worship is what happens when we shrink our world downdowndown until it's ME-sized and ME-shaped and suited comfortably for sole occupancy.  It's the over-psychoanalysis of every move we make; it's projecting ourselves through Valencia-colored filters; it's maintaining the genuine belief that we are more "special" than everyone else around us. It's caring only about what we want to do when we want to do it.
It's saying all the "yes" to ME, leaving only "no" for everyone and everything else.
There is a hairline balance between these two practices and I am determined to live there. A fusion of self-care and loving others. A healthful cycle of nurture, where I am able to give to others because I have taken the time to give to myself.

So, there you have it. Just a few of my "no" things.
What about you? What are you saying "no" to this year?

image by Alesja Popova

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