Yes Is Easy … Boundaries Are Hard

(Excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book, Just One Step: The Journey to Your Unstoppable You)

When I speak to audiences, I often ask them how many of them are great at saying “yes” to others, and an overwhelming number of hands go up. I then ask how many of them are great at saying “yes” to themselves, and I’m lucky to see a handful of hands. Similarly, when I ask a group how many people are good at saying “no,” I typically see a small number of hands in the air. What’s the problem, and why is the no so difficult? We often say and think that saying “yes” is just a form of being helpful, and “isn’t it a good thing to be helpful?” Nice try folks – while being giving and helpful can be a good trait, always saying yes isn’t about being helpful – it’s often about being unable or unwilling to say no. Another way to look at it is to remember that when you always give by saying “yes,” the thing you’re giving away the most is yourself. 

The last time I checked, each of us always has a limited amount of time, focus and energy, and what we do with it all has a profound impact on what we create (or not), the relationships we build (or not), the impact we have (or not) and our level of personal fulfillment (or not). Thus, getting back to the truth stated above, every yes is a no to something or someone. As much as we want to believe that we’re skilled at multi-tasking, there’s a reality of the limits of time and energy. If you say yes to a phone call at 2:00 PM today, reality dictates that you can’t do something else or have another call at that same time. If you say yes to going to a movie with your partner tomorrow night, you won’t be spending time tomorrow night with other friends and family. Choices and impact are a reality of our yes’s and our no’s, but a reality that we rarely pay attention to. 

Before I go on, let me be clear and transparent – I’M A YES MAN! I’ve worked and continue to work on this in my life, and it has been difficult work. I’ve gotten so much better, and I’ve been guided by a few simple concepts that I’ll share in the next section. One of the biggest shifts for me is to look at “no” in the context of boundaries and understanding that saying no is an act of setting boundaries. The problem for me and likely many of you is that the “yes” is easy and the “no” is hard, in large part because we don’t believe that we’re worthy of boundaries (i.e. looking out for ourselves, taking care of ourselves, choosing ourselves and even having choices).

Too often, there’s a voice in our head that says that we have to say yes, because that’s what good and helpful people do. Plus, I want to be liked and certainly don’t want to be rejected, and the yes feels like the safest way to ensure being liked and not rejected. What a false story all of this is! Yes, it’s true that some people may not like you and may even reject you if you say no to them, but it’s also true that who you are and what you think of yourself is independent of the judgments of others. Easier said than acted on, but nonetheless true.

About a year ago I had a small but significant experience and moment of awareness that gave me a big leap forward on my journey to boundaries and saying no. I was part of a men’s retreat, and I was assigned a small task to put together some information, and I’d committed to deliver it to one of the retreat leaders that morning. This leader (John) wasn’t immediately available, so I asked one of the other leaders (Phil) to give the information to John. Without missing a beat, without any defensiveness or tone, and with great clarity, Phil looked me in the eye and said, “No.” No preface and no explanation – just no. No justification or rationalizations – just no.

I remember that my immediate response was to think, “why not – it’s not a big deal,” but then it hit me – that’s how you say no. It was simple, clear and direct, and I loved it. While it might be easy to ask why Phil wasn’t willing to help me out, all I know is that Phil was telling me very clearly that he wasn’t willing to take on my responsibility. I was trying (without knowing it) to make delivery of the information Phil’s responsibility, and he said no. It’s that simple!

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned about boundaries is this – worthy people set healthy boundaries. Worthy people say no. Confident people say no. And yes, the opposite is largely true as well – people with worthiness doubts fail to set healthy boundaries and default to yes. Insecure people and people-pleasers default to yes. The question and awareness isn’t about whether yes or no is the right answer – there’s no right or wrong answer. The key point is to be aware of the drivers behind your yes.

Are you saying yes because you want to, or because you feel like you have to? Are you saying yes because you want to do what you’re being asked to do, or because you want to be liked? Are you saying yes because you want to, or because you don’t want to let the other person down? Are you saying yes because you truly want to help, or because you’re afraid of being judged or rejected? Are you saying yes because you want to, or because yes is easier and more comfortable (while no is scary and uncomfortable)?

What’s your story about yes and no and boundaries? Are you worthy of setting healthy boundaries and saying no? Are you worthy enough to say yes to yourself? Are you worthy enough to choose where you invest your time, focus and energy? Even more important, are your yes’s moving you in the direction you desire to go, or are your yes’s keeping you from those desires? Even simpler and more critically – in what ways would your path to your desires and objectives be impacted (and smoothed) by a few more no’s? Remember, healthy boundaries (and no’s) are the best way to tell yourself that you’re worthy.

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3D No with Red Dices

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