After writing about how to develop and utilize a “To Do” list, I got thinking about the “Not To Do” list. So often, our days revolve around those things that we can do that even the very concept of a “not to do” list can be uncomfortable. I think there’s a certain message that many have internalized, that the priority is productivity. Related to that, not doing translates to being unproductive which can equate to failing. With that in mind, I got to thinking about the benefits of saying no and committing to less. Full disclaimer: this is going to be a good amount of “do what I say and not what I do.” I acknowledge that I have a difficult time saying “no” and often will over-extend myself in what I try to take on. I’m working on it, and a lot of what is outlined below reflects these efforts. With that being said, let’s proceed.
Saying “no” can be very challenging for some people. I am thrilled to see promotion of the recognition that “No.” is a complete sentence and doesn’t require anything further. I’m working on this. I may want to offer an explanation of why I’m saying no, so as to look out for the other person’s feelings or to minimize the likelihood of their being upset with me. Or I don’t want to shut down the communication, so I feel compelled to offer an alternative. However, simply saying “no” is sufficient.
I think there’s a mistaken association of saying “no” with being mean or nasty. It’s as if saying a negative makes the person a negative. Instead, practice reframing and consider how the person is being assertive and advocating for themselves. The association all comes down to the delivery of the no rather than the word itself. With the intention of advocating for yourself, where can you set limits and boundaries? That’s what saying no is, after all.
What do you choose to not give of yourself to others? Instead of thinking about how you say no to others, reframe it as prioritizing energy for yourself. We all have a limited pool of resources on which to draw and it is important to provision sufficient resources for yourself. Consider the flight attendant’s direction of putting on your oxygen mask first, before assisting those next to you. Choosing to not give to others can be seen as choosing to give to yourself, and you’re allowed to do this. Might this be seen as selfish? Possibly, if you’re always saying yes to yourself and no to others. Anything could be taken to an extreme. In these cases, however, I often see a trend where saying no to others at times actually makes you more available and open to say yes to them on other times. The occasional “no” can help you recharge and replenish yourself.
In my family, free time is very scarce. It can feel as if there’s constantly someone running off to do something, be it meetings, classes, practices, or rehearsals. A weekday evening or a weekend afternoon where none of us has anything committed on the calendar is few and far between (and the pandemic gave us a new appreciation for them!). With this in mind, there are some days where I have chosen to say no to play dates and get togethers. I prefer to camp out on the couch and watch a movie with the family instead.
If the activity is intended to be enjoyable, ask yourself why it doesn’t feel this way for you. Is it something you would choose to do or is it “mandatory fun” that you’re expected to do. Is it taking you away from something that you would prefer or find more rewarding? If this is something that you ordinarily would find enjoyable, not feeling up to it could be a sign that you’re over-extended or worn down. Passing on it could be an opportunity to seek out some self-care.
These are the types of things usually considered when developing a list, be it of things to do or to not do. However, I encourage you to broaden the scope of your “To Not Do” list and incorporate the intentional choice to step back from unhealthy patterns in your life. By disrupting these behaviors, you can develop a skill set that reinforces an environment that reflects what you do want for yourself. What do you choose to not bring into your life?
Remember that not doing is an action, it’s a choice and a decision that you make. Pay attention to that decision. Not wanting to do something may be more a reflection of the underlying flavor of the activity/action rather than the action itself. Consider if there are associated stressors. By not engaging in the activity, you are making the decision to manage your environment in accordance with your priorities.
With this in mind, make the time to decide on what to not do. Try to sit down twice a day (morning and evening) to review your To Do list and your Not To Do list. Identify your priorities for what you are aiming to accomplish. At the same time, highlight the things that could potentially intrude and interfere with these priorities. Then choose what you can not do or can let go of in order to protect these priorities.
“It is only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” – Steve Jobs