5 Steps to Say No (With Kindness)

You know that little project you agreed to complete because your boss/spouse/friend said it would only take a minute? Or the lengthy phone call with someone who only rings when s/he is in crisis…yet again? Elective activities can be exhausting and stressful. Let’s learn how to say “No.”

Saying “no” is not easy, but we are modern, savvy individuals who know that setting boundaries is the key to our success. “No” is a part of establishing those limits so we have room to breathe and achieve. If you are ready to do the one thing that will help you get stress out of your life, follow these 5 easy steps.

1. Acknowledge.
If someone asks you to do something, it is likely because they have faith you can do it or they like you enough to want to spend their time with you. If spearheading a new project or attending that party makes your heart sink instead of sing, first acknowledge the person’s thoughtfulness for having considered you. Example: “I appreciate you for considering me.”

2. Express gratitude and interest.
Thank the person for his or her invitation, then show interest in the project itself. Ask questions pertaining to the person’s request. Most often, people just want to feel important enough for you to listen. Example: “What does it require? How much time do you expect it to take?”

3. Decline. Once you have acknowledged the person’s request and expressed your gratitude for the consideration, politely decline with a few simple words.
You needn’t make excuses when someone asks you to do something you’d rather not. Example: “It sounds like a wonderful opportunity that I am going to have to miss.”

4. Offer alternatives. If someone remains persistent in pursuing his or her request, offer up alternatives. Remain firm. Be careful not to get too involved in this area or you might find yourself volunteered into the project after all. Example: “Well, have you considered asking anyone else, who may be available?”

5. Remember this: If you still struggle with declining people’s requests, stick a note on your mirror that reminds you that saying “no” to someone else is actually saying “yes” to yourself. Repeat it like a mantra until it becomes second nature. And if that doesn’t work, tell yourself that “no” is indeed a complete sentence. Do not offer apologies. Example: “My answer must still be no.”

Saying “no” is a lot like flossing. You may not notice an immediate impact, but, over time, you will appreciate the difference it can make in your life. With the “Power of No” by your side, you will have liberated your personal bank account of time for what matters most…you!

The 30-Day “Yeah, But…” Challenge

We have all heard (and said) “yeah, but…” How well do those words work?

Let’s explore some statements. Which are more likely to have the “yeah, but”?

A: “You should quit smoking.”           “Yeah, but…I need cigarettes to relax.”

B: “You should start smoking.”          “Yeah, but…it is harmful.”

A:“You should start exercising.”        “Yeah, but…I don’t have the time.”

B: “You should stop exercising.”        “Yeah, but…I need the workout.”

How often have you had each of these examples come up in conversation? My guess is that the “A” statements are more common. The “B” statements are more likely to have a reply of “no, thanks” or “why would you say that?”

This is because the words “yeah, but” are more focused on emotions, not logic. They are followed by a feeling to disagree than with justifiable proof. We don’t use this phrase when we agree with the statement. Also, the words “yeah, but” don’t occur when something makes good sense to us.

It suggests that we should be saying “yeah” to agree. However, it is promptly followed “but” and a reason it is not possible.  “Yeah, but” ultimately becomes “no.”

The next time you start to say “yeah, but” think about what is being suggested:

  • Is this something that is dangerous or harmful to someone?
  • Even if I have tried it before and I was unsuccessful, is it worth a second try?
  • Just because it may not work, should I automatically consider it a failure?
  • What is the worst that could happen? What is more likely to happen if I do try it?
  • Could I learn something by giving it a chance?

Take the 30-day “Yeah But…” Challenge. See what you can accomplish once you remove all the excuses.

Take care!

Daydreaming: The Free Vacation

Ever find yourself drifting off to another place? Perhaps you didn’t even realize you were gone until someone asked you if you were listening to them. Daydreaming is a good thing. It allows the part of the brain that is overworked to have a break and another part of the brain to have something to do. Yet, it can be very disruptive if it occurs when you don’t want it to. What if you could daydream and be constructive at the same time?

It is called Visualization or Guided Imagery. It can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, stress, chronic pain, grief, depression, sleeping problems, and so many other issues. Here is an outline on how it can work for you:

Find a safe, calm, dimly lit, and cool place. Eventually, you will be able to visualize anywhere, but to start, try to remove the distractions. Sit or lie down comfortably. Close your eyes. Now where is your favorite place to go? Perhaps you enjoy the beach, an island, or up to the mountains. Somewhere else? Even somewhere you have never been but would love to go. Try to recall it, imagine it for all its glory.

How does it smell? Take as deep breath of the crisp and clean air. Inhale the aroma of the blooming flowers. How does the air feel when it enters your lungs? Think about your muscles relaxing. Your breathing and heart beat slowing. Stretch out and move the sand or snow beneath you. Feel the breeze as it caresses your cheek. Run your fingers through the water. Touch a petal next to your face. Stick out your tongue. Taste the air. Grab a piece of fruit from the vine. Enjoy the juicy sweetness as it slides down your throat. Try to catch a snowflake or drop of water on your tongue. Hear the birds singing. Listen as the wind rustles the trees. Become aware of the ocean waves brushing against the sand and cleansing your feet. Watch as a leaf gently dances to the ground and grazes the water causing a little ripple. See the tension and pain leaving your body as if in a cloud, evaporating into nothing.

Now take a deep breath. Inhale through your nose for five seconds and exhale through your mouth for five seconds. Stretch your body. Open your eyes.

This can take just a few minutes or go on for as long as you have the time. The idea is to allow all five senses to be awakened: smell, touch, taste, hearing, and sight. This is completely open to interpretation; there are no restrictions. Just a great vacation spot, reservation for one please.

Take care!

Eeny, Meenie, Miny, Moe: If Only Decisions Were that Easy

Making hard decisions requires a great deal of thought. It would be so easy if a child nursery rhyme could make the decision for us. Yet, it is rarely that simple or you would have already figured it out. There is a technique that could make your choices a little clearer so that your thoughts are more organized and your decisions are more objective.

Are your thoughts and feelings about the issue:

Realistic or unrealistic?

Productive or counterproductive?

Neutral or self-defeating?

Easy or hard to control?

In order to answer those questions, there is a technique that comes from three basic principles. These principles should be examined in the following order:

The first principle is identifying if it can be FIXED. Whether the choices are easy to make or more complicated, issues that fit in this category, do have an answer. It is beneficial to resolve this issue than to procrastinate and hope it goes away by itself. It may take some time and energy; however, there are steps that can be taken to eventually achieve the goal.

The second principle is identifying if it can be AVOIDED. This can be very difficult, but sometimes the best option is to walk away and not look back. It is only causing you stress and does not have a resolution no matter what you have already tried. The better person cuts the loss and gains the knowledge to learn from the mistake, so that it doesn’t happen again in the future.

The third principle is identifying if it can be COPED with. This option should be the last to consider, because it ultimately means that it cannot be fixed or avoided. There is no winning or losing strategy. This option can be empowering because one has to come to terms with the circumstances of the issue. Yet, it also means that one has to prepare for the long haul.

All the principles require you use all of your supports and strengths to access your willpower. Hard decisions should be considered from all angles, not by closing your eyes and choosing randomly.

Take care!

Pain, Pain Go Away

No one likes to hurt. People seek out all kinds of quick fixes to make the pain go away. Let’s challenge that idea for a minute. What if I said that pain is a natural thing? We have a nervous system specifically to identify when we have been injured. Yet, pain is still considered to be taboo. We think we should be able to deal with it as quickly and quietly as possible. This is a high standard to hold to ourselves. We are not invincible.

Pain comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the ache is minor but sometimes it is more severe. It can be acute and it can be chronic. It can show up physically and emotionally. In any form, pain should not be ignored. It should to be given our attention. After all, there is a reason for the tenderness.

What motivates us to hide the pain from our family and friends who could support us? What stops us from going to a physician, chiropractor, massage therapist, or mental health counselor for treatment? Is it because we don’t want to be seen as weak or damaged? Wait a minute…we don’t want others to see us injured? Then, how do we get the help that we need to get better?

I propose something that you may find controversial. Rather than trying to ignore the pain from others or rush to wash an aspirin (or two) down…if you are aching…admit it, own it. Accept yourself for your vulnerabilities. Ask for the help you need to address the issue that is causing the ache, whatever the source. Granted you may still end up needing that aspirin, but should it be the first, or only, resort? Do you really think you should suffer in silence?

Some of us think that we can ask for help for some causes of affliction, but with others, we become mute. “I am doing fine” mentality. People tend to be more willing to acknowledge physical injury but emotional or mental injury is just not ok. However, if we can trust a physician to treat us, can we entertain the idea of a non-physician to address the other areas of distress?

There are some injuries that cannot be wished (or medicated) away. There are some ailments where the sore spot is more complex. Even after the physical signs have been addressed, other signs can remain. It may take a lot of work to decrease the long-term effects. However, doing nothing or seeking out the quick fixes, aren’t likely to cure you either; you may be only prolonging your discomfort or making the injury worse.

There are a lot of alternative options that can help and can have more permanent results. Those should be considered too. By acknowledging your pain and asking for help, you can truly make the pain go away.

Take care!

Calming Breath (More than Inhale, Exhale, Repeat)

Here are the steps to practice a calming breath. It will help you focus more throughout the day, relax your tension, and soothe your muscles. It only takes a minute.

  1. Sit or lay comfortably. Close your eyes.
  2. While counting to five, take in a deepening breath through your nose slowly until you reach five. Make it so that your abdomen is getting more expanded. If it is not, you may be breathing through your chest (not as helpful). Some people like to say a phrase instead of counting, such as “I am feeling relaxed now” or “in with the good air.” Others like to visualize going up five steps with the deepening inhale.
  3. Hold your breath for another five seconds.
  4. While counting down from five, exhale slowly through your mouth, with each number. Again, you could use a phrase, such as “all is well with me” or “out with the old air” or imagine you are going down five steps.
  5. Repeat for about a minute (or more if needed).

Take care!

To Stress, or Not To Stress: That is the Question

Every day, we respond to events, some routine and some unexpected. However, what causes us to react differently? Was it necessary to become stressed to cope with some experiences, but not others?

Let’s explore the basic fundamentals of stress. The medical viewpoint is that stress is the “bodily reaction to physical, psychological or emotional demands.” Once someone has been exposed to a potential stressor, the physiological response causes the cerebral cortex to send an alarm to the hypothalamus, which triggers the sympathetic nervous system to make sudden changes in the body: muscles tense, adrenaline is released, the heart rate increases, and blood pressure spikes. Ultimately, the body’s instincts will perceive if its safety is at risk and then decide if it should fight or take flight. That is the technical rationale of our body’s reaction to stress, but that doesn’t seem to answer the question, does it?

So, let’s discuss how and why we react the way we do. Psychologically, we place a great deal of expectations on ourselves and others. In addition, we have forces at play as to whether we respond calmly or under duress. We tend to react differently to routine activities when we feel ill, sleep deprived or under heightened pressure.  Also, we tend to react differently with the changes of the weather or how comfortable we are in our surroundings. When we combine our work schedules, family obligations, and these other forces, it is no wonder the body’s emergency siren screams “danger, danger.”  

Yet, does that answer the question? We become stressed because our instincts and our internal and external environment say we should? That doesn’t sound quite complete.

Perhaps the question can be answered by the phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Why become stressed and figure it out afterwards? How about reducing our risk of becoming stressed in the first place? 

Here are eight ideas to put more skill into stress reduction:

  1. Add balance to your life. Mix the good, the bad, and the ugly. Identify what fits under which and set time schedules to make sure that each are getting equal time.
  2. Get a thorough physical examination annually. If your body is already under stress fighting some ailment, it needs to be treated.
  3. Take “time outs” regularly. Know your strengths and your limits. It’s ok to walk away for a few minutes to regain yourself.
  4. Build your support network. Know who to call when you need to laugh or relax as well as when you need to cry or scream.
  5. Engage in hobbies and physical activities daily. There needs to be some reprieve somewhere. A life full of all work and no play…no thanks.
  6. Learn deep breathing techniques. It is more than inhale and exhale. This requires focus and attention to taking time for each breath to enter and exit your lungs.
  7. Walk loose and walk more. This is not for calorie burning; instead, it is for admiring the birds, flowers, and fresh air. Pressing the pause button on all the junk we have filling our days.
  8. Set priorities. You cannot do it all. There are still only 24 hours in the day. Know what is possible and be content with that.

The truth is that stress is a natural part of life. It can motivate us for greatness or overcome us like a tidal wave. Perhaps there is no cure to stress; yet it would be nice to at least think we are in control of how we react to those things that could stress us out.

Take care!


A Good Night’s Sleep: Not the Impossible Dream

When you lie down at the end of a long day, all you want is a good night’s sleep so that you can feel refreshed and be ready to start tomorrow on the right side of the bed. If you had a lousy night, you know it will have some effect on your day. You may get a headache, become frustrated or easily distracted, or have some another signs that you are too exhausted to deal with all the day’s stress.

Well, what was keeping you up last night? Could it have been all the things running through your head that you did not accomplish during the day? How about all the things you will have to do tomorrow? Perhaps you just couldn’t relax. It is so amazing that the time your brain wants to think or your body cannot settle down, is right at bedtime. Could there be a worst time!

Here are some suggestions to help you get that blissful sleep every night that may seem elusive to you:

  • Set a sleep schedule:

This includes both going to bed at the same time and also waking at the same time. Your body operates on a circadian rhythm. That is the fancy term saying that when it is daytime, you should be awake and when it is bedtime, you should be asleep. When that balance gets offset, your body cannot tell what it should do when. You may think it is no big deal to let yourself work that extra hour or even sleep in just a little longer. Well, that can wreak havoc if you do it too often. If you have ever flown to a different time zone, you may have noticed some jetlag. By the same logic, allowing yourself to move around your sleep schedule, you may be putting yourself through that unnecessary jetlag sensation. In addition, you have heard that you need eight hours of sleep, but not everyone is like that. You know the amount of sleep that you need. Sticking to your desired hours is better than trying to adjust to a size that just doesn’t fit.

  • Prepare for bedtime:

Are you someone who has to finish that favorite episode of some very excitable show? Perhaps you think that you can stay up until the very last minute that you wanted to be asleep. Either way, your body may still need time to unwind. It is possible to be too exhausted to sleep. Set that show to record for later and take that time to journal/unload your thoughts about the day or to plan out tomorrow. Dim the lights so your eyes can relax.  Turn down the bed, brush your teeth, wash your face, or decide what to wear tomorrow; set the scene so your mind and body know it is time for bed. You may want to turn on some soft music or nature sounds; some noise can be better than lying in bed and allowing those pesky thoughts to keep you up. By the time you have all that done; you want to still have about 20 minutes to just lie in bed, without the goal of falling asleep. This is because when we feel pressured to go to sleep; rarely do we actually fall asleep. Your body will tell you when it’s ready. Enjoy the quiet time.

  • Wake up more calmly:

Setting the tone for the day is as important as to how you finish the day. If you tend to jump out of bed, rush to get ready, and you may or may not shovel something in your mouth as you run out the door; you are starting the day with unnecessary stress while using a lot of your energy way too soon. Sure those extra 10 minutes the snooze button provided you were nice, but now you are running 10 minutes late. Although, you may not have the luxury to take hours to wake up, more time than what I described in that run-on hurried example could be very beneficial. Set the alarm clock at a distance where you cannot so easily ignore it and roll over. Since you are out of bed, you can take a few minutes to sit down and have something to eat. After all, breakfast means you are “breaking the fast.” Your body is hungry, it needs refueling. If you really want to have the energy, you need to start the day off right.

Now, I have heard a lot of statements saying this is impossible…their children/spouse make this too difficult or their work schedule or commute times are long hours, or there is just too much to do. Yet, if you read this because those things were robbing you of your sleep, you know where your priority should be. These three suggestions are ways to set better boundaries with yourself, so that other things don’t overrule your basic need for a good night’s sleep. It doesn’t have to be the impossible dream.

Sweet dreams!