I was at it again, going out simply because I didn’t know how to say I didn’t want to go. How did I end up watching “La Dolce Vita” for the third time at a rooftop cinema bar in East London? (It may be worth mentioning that I didn’t enjoy it the first or second time). I’ll tell you how: by saying yes one too many times. The shepherd’s delight of an evening couldn’t make up for the fact that I don’t really care for Fellini films. However, I had postponed the “epic event” with a few friends one too many times, and thus found myself instagramming #rooftopcinema #fellinithegenius trying to make the tedium of the film seem better to the voyeurs of my social media domain.
Does this sound familiar? Saying yes to friends for something you know you have little or no interest in doing for one of the following reasons: you are worried you may upset someone, you get a case of the FOMO (fear of missing out), or like in my case you’ve run out of excuses.
Do something you actually like, rather than something people think you like.
Rather than pretending to the outside world that you are enjoying yourself, try actually doing something you enjoy instead. Learn the power you have to just say no. After spending £5 on a drink I didn’t want, I found out that this practice is best tried first-hand. So I gave it a go: one week of saying no.
I didn’t tell anyone that I was doing this experiment, or people simply wouldn’t bother asking me. What I really needed to learn was how to resist, and make a decision in my own self-interest. I was afraid that I would upset my friends, or appear less cool to my co-workers the next time I was invited out to a place I didn’t really want to be in the first place.
If you’re like me, and you waste money trying to be sociable with co-workers and following the pack to a lunch spot of someone else’s choosing, I braved going in a separate direction: the nearest park bench. I packed my own lunch of what I wanted to eat, rather than trying the raw vegan lunch spot, and my wallet and stomach thanked me for avoiding the fruity protein porridge and opting for the second helping of my lamb moussaka from the night before. A small victory yes, but still the joy I felt by doing something for me was a noticeable change. It wasn’t about the food, as much as it was about taking time out of my day to spend it with myself. A little me-time to breathe and take stock of what’s going on in my life.
Making time for yourself goes a long way.
At first, I thought that the no’s would apply to things I didn’t want to do, but to be honest that wasn’t really my problem. My problem was stretching myself too thin and taking my ability to multi-task as a fact of life rather than as a last resort.
So, I decided that this week I would only go out on two evenings in the week, rather than fill up every evening I had with an activity. Turns out I had more time to do the things for me that I had been procrastinating. So once the two evenings were set in the diary (one to see a film and the other a house warming party), I politely refused any other invitations and kept the rest of the evenings as dates with myself.
One evening, I organized my finances. Admittedly not the most exciting evening, however, it was a major motivation to keep going with my mini-experiment because I realised just how much I was spending on all these evenings out.
Too many blind yes’s and you end up tired from multi-tasking someone else’s interests and agenda
Another night, I dedicated to the Great British Bake Off and even had my own attempt at a very simple recipe of Banana Bread while I ogled at Mary Berry’s protégés hard at work on golden brown crumbles. I was still satisfied as at least mine resulted in a yummy breakfast for the rest of the week.
And on another night, I was even compelled to straighten up around the flat. It might sound strange, but having everything in its right place just took my stress levels down to a more acceptable range.
Even if I wasn’t being super productive, which frankly was a fair percentage of the time, I was still able to recharge and regroup. I hadn’t realised how much energy went into “hanging out with people,” from organising meetups to travel time saved, giving myself some space to catch up with myself was a luxury I hadn’t realised I needed to afford. All the things I tried to cram in on Sundays to get myself ready for the week were not nearly as daunting when spaced evenly throughout.
The real power isn’t the no itself, but rather taking ownership in your decision-making.
Now the power of no isn’t about finding ways to not see people and be anti-social (although I am a self-professed homebody). The real power comes from remembering you have a say in what you do, and how you want to spend your time. When a friend or colleague suggests an activity remember what it is: a suggestion. And like all suggestions, they are not set in stone and are open to negotiation. It took some time for me to get into the habit of remembering that I have all the say in what I do with my time, and so do you.
You know you best, and acting in your own self-interest isn’t selfish, it’s just taking care of yourself. Too many blind yes’s and you end up tired from multi-tasking someone else’s interests and agenda. Yes, with purpose and taking control means that you still are investing in your personal well-being.
When faced with a choice: to do or not to do, remember that you are making the decision out of your own volition. There is real power in saying no, but also there is immense power in saying yes with certainty and purpose. When it comes to how you spend your time, remember that that the choice really is yours.
Banner image: James Rieck