Today my friend, Jill Shea, posted this to her Facebook page:
“Everybody is going to want you to do what is convenient for them. Learn how to say the most anointed word ever created: “NO”.
This is an area that has been an enormous challenge to me throughout my entire life. “No” is not a simple two-letter word. In fact, it is a huge source of stress and confusion in the lives of almost everyone. We don’t like to hear it; we don’t like to say it, even though it holds an enormous amount of power. We don’t say it when we probably should; we do say it when we probably shouldn’t. Wars are fought. Relationships are destroyed. Jobs are lost. Money is squandered. Health is compromised. Lives are lost. All at the hands of that one little word. REALLY? Really…
Can’t say no to food? It’s likely that you wrestle with obesity and serious health issues. Can’t say no sex? It’s likely your personal life is a mess. Can’t say no to cigarettes, booze, or drugs? Can’t say no to a salesperson? Is it starting to sink in?
I have a theory. Our struggle with “no” begins when our life begins. It is innocent and very well-intentioned. When we were kids we were taught to eat everything that was served to us. Regardless of whether we were hungry or liked it, we were forced to leave our plates clean. If not, there were consequences and they could be severe. That’s how our parents were raised, and their parents, and their parents…all the way back to when we killed what we ate and ate what we killed. There were no leftovers. You ate it or you threw it away. But as the world changed, this life practice did not. And look us now. We are the most gluttonous, obese, and unhealthy society on earth. No blame here; I’m just stating facts.
When my oldest son turned one, I took him off formula and handed him a sippy cup filled with milk. He took one drink, scrunched up his face, cried out, and threw the cup on the floor. For months I was wringing my hands, trying over and over to get him to drink the milk. My family and friends would call from all over the country to see if I’d forced him to drink the milk yet. I was strongly encouraged to thirst him out. To literally give him nothing else until he drank it. Children MUST DRINK MILK, right? Wrong!! It was his pediatrician who gave me permission to trust my instinct. Everything in me was screaming that I should not force something that was clearly undesirable. I didn’t like the message that sent to my child. Nobody in my life agreed with me but they finally let it go. Guess what; he’s nearly 13 and he’s fine–healthy and thriving without ever consuming another drop of milk. 7 years of elementary school they forced him to take, and me to pay for, milk every day because I refused to sign a paper saying he’s allergic. I refused to coach him to lie.
As we grow into a world where “no” is rarely an option for us, we begin to use it inappropriately. Think about a two-year old child. What is typically their favorite word? It holds a lot of power–that which they have quickly learned they possess very little. And so it begins. And as we grow it becomes ever more confusing and complicated. Can you count how many ways your life might be different if you’d just said “no”–to that last drink, to those credit card offers, to that come-on, that cigarette, that cupcake…
We can’t change anything in our past, we can only learn from it. Please don’t play the blame game; it is useless and so very destructive. We can use our past as a tool to move ahead with better habits, rich in the knowledge gained at The School Of Hard Knocks. Careful now, over-use of “no” is not better than under-use. The key is in balance. Tune in to yourself, to your life, and to those who matter to you. When you start saying “no” to the things that are truly negative you will see your life change in amazing ways you never imagined. We are all going to do some things we don’t necessarily love doing, but we learn when to say “yes” because it serves a greater purpose. We feel better about stepping outside our comfort zone–about saying “yes” when we should, when we might have said “no” in the past.
So far I’ve said “no” to food that was making me sick and keeping me overweight. My health has improved drastically and I’ve lost 40 pounds. I’ve said “no” to cigarettes and I’m 17 months free from their hold on me. I’ve said “no” to people who use me shamelessly but don’t appreciate me, and my stress level has dropped immeasurably. These were not the easy habits to break. I still do lots of things I don’t want to do, but I do them with a much better attitude. I do many things I never did before that I really enjoy. I give of myself because I want to, not because someone demands it. I take pride in my accomplishments, work hard to keep changing the negatives, and live in better balance by using (not abusing!) the power of “no”.