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Why You Keep Saying Yes When You Should Say No

balance burnout happiness overload overwhelm planning pressure priorities work workplace Jul 01, 2023

You said yes, and now you wish you could say no. But it's too late and now you're committed. Correction, now you're over-committed.

If you're a leader, you've been there. And sometimes you can course correct, but sometimes you really can't reverse it - you just have to push through that uncomfortably full day or week or season to fulfill your commitments. 

Hopefully you find a little reflection time to unpack what happened and how you can improve. When you do, ask yourself the one question that can help you avoid overcommitment in the future: Why do I keep saying yes?

I'm sure there are a thousand reasons people say yes, but here are five that I've observed in my own life - see if any of them might be true of you too.

1. Filling a void.

If you're a driven person you've likely struggled with this before. It's part of being an achiever. You get points or dopamine or acknowledgment for doing good things. And you like that. 

Something we have to come to grips with is that there's a line we sometimes cross with serving others that is actually a little self-serving. We get something from it too. And that's OK to a point. Yes, work should be fulfilling. Mission and calling should be fulfilling. But our primary fullness needs to be coming not from ourseves but rather from the overflow of our relationship with our Creator, then spilling over into our key relationships, then flowing into our activity. 

Sometimes we say yes because we need to be liked, we need to be busy, we need to be #1. The trouble is, our achievements and contributions are not powerful enough to fill that void. If this hits home, it might be time to do a little soul-searching and find out what's really missing so you can get your life back.

2. People-Pleasing

In my weaker moments I say yes without discretion. For some reason this comes easy for me. I genuinely like people, and I readily believe in them and their goals. But sometimes I don't pause to evaluate whether their goals should become my goals. That's what gets me overcommitted. I like them and their goals, and to be honest, I want them to like me and my goals. 

When my better self kicks in, I say things like, "Let me take a look at that opportunity and get back to you." I'm more likely to have that clear mindset if I'm clear on my top priorities for the month, the week and the day. More on that later.

3.  Unrealistic Expectations

I've always been bad at this: Estimating time. Because I'm a task-oriented person I like doing stuff. And I have a lot of energy for it. So when I look at a task I just think, "easy." And I add it to my list. Then I add another. And another. Pretty soon I've got a mountain of tasks and an hour to get them done.

One of my friends is particularly good at estimating time, and he does it by breaking the tasks or projects down into steps, thinking those steps through, and estimating how much time it will take to do each step. 

Maybe I should do that more often.

The other piece to this (for me) is overlooking my own energy cycles and energy needs. I wish I was at a "10" every day, but I'm not. And neither are my teammates. We have our ups and our downs, so it's not realistic for me to make all my plans based on everyone's A-Game all the time. It would be wiser for me to build in some buffer. 

4. Guilt

Like me, I'll be you are your worst critic. You look at last month, last quarter, last year and you think - "I could have done better. I should have done better. I will do better." For sure, there's value in putting it on yourself and holding yourself accountable to what you committed to. But that's not the same as guilt. 

Guilt tries to hold you responsible for everything - including the things out of your control. 

You can't spend your days focused on yesterday (talking to myself here). Maybe that's why Jesus said, "today's trouble is enough for today" (Matthew 6:34). Or as John Maxwell said, "Yesterday ended last night." So how about hitting the reset button once in a while to clear the decks and start fresh?

5. Don't have a plan

The last of my 5 reasons for overload is simply running on autopilot. You know the drill. You had a tough season or a tough few days and you're just mentally exhausted. You show up to a meeting or you get an email asking for help and you say yes because you really didn't know what you were supposed to be doing, and you really don't have the energy or presence to deal with it. 

Somebody said, "If you don't have a plan, you will be assigned one." How true. 

Next Steps

If any of this rings true for you, here are a few action steps to help you move in the right direction:

  • Identify your #1 trigger. Just being aware of what might trip you up will help you avoid it.

  • Implement "let me get back to you." Keep trying it until you get comfortable saying it. And of course, be sure to actually get back to them. 

  • Build in more pauses where you can regain clarity. Pause between major tasks, between morning, afternoon and evening, and between days, weeks and months to re-clarify your WIN ("What's Important Now?") so you'll stay fresh.

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