How to Turn No into an Ecstatic Yes

For years, I had trouble saying no.

Would I pet-sit my neighbor’s fish, cats, dog, gerbils, snakes, and rats? Of course, I’d say blithely, not considering that I sometimes don’t have time to walk my own dog.

Saying no, Maggie McReynolds blog

Would I mind if my friend’s kids spent the day at my house with promises to be extra extra quiet even though they are boisterous by nature and I work on the phone from home? Ummm…well…I guess.

Would I PLEEEEEAAAASE buy my son the $119 Star Wars Lego Heavy Assault A-6 Juggernaut Vehicle even though I told him three weeks ago that my budget was shot for the month? No. No. No. No. No. No. Okay, fine, stop bugging me, here.

Sound familiar? If you find yourself nodding your head, I feel your pain. I’m guessing saying yes all the time leaves you exhausted and feeling vaguely taken advantage of. It feels, in a word, crappy. Am I right?

So what is it we think we’re getting when we say yes? Usually, we want to be liked. We want to be agreeable. Trained from the age of scouting that being helpful is a virtue above all others, we may even consider the act of standing up for ourselves and saying no somehow grotesquely selfish.

The thing is, when we say yes when we really want—even need—to say no, we don’t just hurt ourselves, we end up hurting the very people we think we’re helping. Because everyone, eventually, has a limit. Back in my days of 24/7 acquiescence, I was strung tighter than an overtuned banjo string. Eventually, inevitably, I’d snap—and anyone nearby, no matter how innocent a bystander, would feel the pain.

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Resting on the Couch --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Confessions from the Couch

I don’t have many secrets, but I do have things I don’t talk about much. One of them is that I spend the vast majority of most of my days lying on the couch.

Napping? Eating bon bons? Watching my toenails grow?

No, I spend so much time on the couch for the simple reason that a great deal of the time, I can’t sit or stand for long without passing out.

Over 20 years ago, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also known as CFIDS, or CFS/ME), which for me has been relapsing/remitting. There have been years when I have ridden bicycles, hosted dinner parties for two dozen people, attended yoga classes, and chased my toddler round and round the block.

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You and Your Stupid Plaid Hair

Baffling headline, huh? As an insult, it’s even more than baffling—it’s irrelevant. Unless you’ve been experimenting with a truly radical colorist, you know without question that you don’t have plaid hair. So for me to ridicule you over something that you know, bone deep, isn’t true, doesn’t hurt even a little, does it? It might even make you laugh.

plaid hair, maggie mcreynolds blogBut what if I were to be so unkind as to say that you’re fat? Or that you’re not trying hard enough? Or that you’re clumsy, or a procrastinator, or that some of the people you think are your friends don’t actually like you?

Does any of the above make your face flush? Get your adrenaline pumping? Maybe make your stomach give a little flip?

That isn’t because any of those things are true. It’s because you’re afraid they might be true—and because of what you are making any of those things mean. And in that tiny space between “What if she’s right?” and “Oh, God, I’m such a loser!” is a tender, vulnerable sore spot where bullies, frenemies, and even loved ones can poke you.

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