Sometimes life feels extremely challenging – especially if you are a hard worker, high achiever, talented, extremely competent. Some days you’re carrying a load of “projects” almost too heavy to bear.
Then, because of this burden, your stress levels climb, and you start to notice “stressed-out” symptoms: insomnia, forgetfulness, stress-eating, hair loss, neglecting to eat, living on caffeine, and you know the rest. Happiness goes out the window, and you’re hanging on by your fingernails.
If you can see yourself in this description, know that you are not alone! Way too many of us live like this.
But this is not the way we Want to live…….
So what can we do to take back control of our life?
First, Examine what Really is a “Requirement”, and what is not.
When I married my husband Brad, it jangled my brain to discover that he liked to just sit and relax in the evenings and on the weekends, or maybe once a month go to a movie, or play a round of golf on Sunday. And that was it.
As the “oldest daughter”, my belief was “You must be accomplishing things at All Times! Go, Go Go!” If you were sitting around doing nothing, you were “lazy”. Happily I never said that out loud. Why? Because after a while, I realized he had it right. Unlike me, he never arrived at Monday morning still exhausted. He was rested and ready to go. He was much better able to cope with whatever happened than I was.
That realization changed my attitude. In a wonderful way, his behavior made it okay for me to rest when I needed to rest, rather than keep charging forward at all times. What a concept!
That ultimately led to a new way of thinking. I would ask myself: Did I really need to “accomplish” whatever it was that evening or weekend? Could it wait until later? Perhaps it never really needed to be done at all?
Here’s an example of this new way of thinking:
Over Labor Day, my wonderful family visited, and my four year old grandson built a fun train track on the living room rug. Pre-Brad, all of the train tracks and its accessories would now be put away in their containers. But the family will be returning next weekend, and the train track parts are not in my way. Putting it all away right now is Not “a requirement” for a functional household.
Doesn’t this work great?! It makes for a lot less time-absorbing stuff for me to do. Now, of course, when they won’t be returning for many weeks, well, then it would be all put away. Easy, isn’t this?
Here’s a work example of this process:
As any teacher these days will tell you, there are now a lot of forms that we are required to fill out, that, frankly, have little to nothing to do with our actual teaching. They’re what I call “time suckers”, as in “sucks up your time with no apparent value.” Happily, though, I’m really lucky to work with amazing and insightful colleagues. I was venting to one about how L–o–n–g it was taking me to do this latest “requirement”, and I was letting it make me a bit crazy.
I’ll never forget his insight: “Terry, you are giving this project an A+ effort. It only needs to be a C effort.” I felt like Paul on the road to Damascus, as the scales fell from my eyes! My colleague knows I have this problem with trying to be “perfect”. (I’m working on learning to stop at “excellence” and move on.) He could tell I was spending Way more time and energy than was a “requirement” for this latest task. So I did a good job, submitted my work, and moved on with my day….with about 20 pounds lifted off my shoulders!
And that’s the first step: Check yourself – Is this Really a “requirement” or not? and if so, how much energy does it Really require?
Second, Remember “Just because you Can do something doesn’t mean you Should.”
Here comes my other issue: I have a Very hard time saying “No.”
For most of my life, if you asked me to do something, I’d say yes, while thinking, “Okay, I can do that, too.” It didn’t matter what it cost me in time, energy, wellness, etc. As you might imagine, I spent a chunk of my time tired and overworked.
I’ll always remember the semester my teen-aged son calculated the hours I was working, and said, “Mom, you’re working 13 hours a day!” He was right. I would teach classes all day, and then teach business seminars for a college program in the evening. I had fallen into the trap: “It seemed like a good idea at the time”…or, to be truthful, I hadn’t examined the time and energy this additional evening teaching would require. So, I hadn’t said “no” when it would have been a smart thing to do.
Finally, with the help of the amazing people in my life, I’ve begun to realize that I’m not required to “Do everything that needs to be done.” This idea was encapsulated for me when I was talking to my sister Maggie, and she told me, “Just because you Can do something doesn’t mean you Have to.” As time evolved, we realized that it even becomes a matter of “…doesn’t mean you Should.”
The idea here: It IS okay to look out for yourself. We are allowed to turn down requests.
Here’s a positive example:
This summer, I had the pleasure of working with a local group, preparing for a fundraiser. I had been asked to do some writing for the brochure, and was delighted to assist. I worked hard on it over the summer, and had it all completed before the Fall Semester started.
Then Fall Semester started, and due to some new projects I was working on, my free time was pretty much zero for the first month. Just then, one of the chairwomen from the local group emailed me to ask if I would edit a different project.
I “could” have done it, but it would have meant no “relaxing time” in the evenings. I’ve learned I need that relaxing time, or I’ll be so stressed that I’m smiling with gritted teeth. 🙂 Because she is a caring and supportive woman, when I told her “no”, her response was very positive. She reminded me to “breathe”, and remember to take care of myself.
I know….You’re right! That’s not usually what happens when we say “No.”
Sometimes they then try to “guilt” us into it: “Oh, but you’re so good at it.” “There’s no one else who can do it as well as You can.” “This is So important.”
And if we have any “I need other people’s approval” issues, well, they’ve caught us. Yikes! We find ourselves saying yes, when “no” would have been a much healthier answer.
Here’s something else I’ve discovered that helps me say “No”:
If it really is that important, someone else will turn up to help – or else, truth be told, it really wasn’t that important to all the people concerned. And it Is okay if, when someone else does that job, it is Not done as well as you would have done it!
You were doing a good job taking care of yourself – which we are Not told is one of our most important jobs. In other words, you can only give what you have, and if you are completely spent, you have nothing left to give.
I like to use this analogy: Each morning we wake up with a reservoir, or a tank, of energy, from which we draw our energy for the day. Some days it’s very full, and we can go, go, go, and get so much done. But on some days, because of life events, or our failure to say no (been there, done that!), we are “running on empty”. We can cope with “running on empty” if it’s a rare-to-never event. But if most of our life is spent that way, well, it’s likely we’ll be the ones with all those stress symptoms. And that is a hard way to live.
We decide where we want to put our time and energy. No one else can “make” us do anything! (For the literally minded among us, I will clarify with, “Barring the use of physical force, no one can “make” us do anything.) 🙂
We only have as much energy as there is in our tank. Once we realize that, we know that if we say “yes” to this, we are saying “no” to that.
When I realize that saying “yes” will take the energy I need for something else that is truly important to me, it becomes a whole lot easier to say “No, thank you!”.
And, I suspect that you, too, have noticed or will notice that the ability to say a well-timed “No, thank you!’ creates a lot happier life. No longer do we need to look back in regret at “hyper-stressed” times with: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
We are now free to do use our energy for what We believe will make a positive difference!