21 Ways to “Give Good No”



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Photo by Derek Mueller

We are coming to that time of the year that is both blessed and cursed with zillions of invitations. Here are some that are in my email right now: Can you meet me for coffee to help me with my book proposal? Will you bring a snack to the 8th grade party on December 19th? Are you coming to our housewarming party? Can you help with my son’s college applications? Do you want to take the kids to see “The Nutcracker” this year?

As much as I’d like to do all of these things, I can’t. When I take on everything that comes my way, I find that I start staying up late in order to get everything done. And then, tired, I start pressing snooze instead of meditating in the morning. Before I know it, I’m too tired to exercise, too, something that is essential for my wellbeing. It’s a slippery slope that starts with me taking care of other people’s needs at the expense of my own, and ends with me being too tired (and sometimes sick) to take care of anybody’s needs, my own included (much less do anything fun, like go to a party). Perhaps this is obvious, but just to spell it out: When we get sick and tired, we have a hard time feeling happy, and a hard time fulfilling our potential, both at home and at work.

But saying “no” can be really hard–I hate making people feel bad for even asking. It takes practice to say no in a way that doesn’t offend people, much less to say it in a way that makes folks feel happy they asked. Giving no that good takes practice. Here is my three step plan.

Step One: Prepare yourself to say “No.”

It is much easier to say no to an invitation when we have a concrete reason for doing so–a way to justify our refusal beyond the vague notion that we should avoid the commitment in question.

This means that we need to create the reason for saying no before we need it–we need a decision making structure, or “rules” to guide us so that we don’t have to agonize over every invitation.

For example, one rule I have for myself is that I don’t go out more than two nights in a given week, because I know that when I do this, I get cranky, tired, and run down. So if someone asks me about a third evening one week, I have the structure I need to tell them I’m not available (but thank you for asking!). Similarly, I only meet people during the workday for lunch or coffee two times per week, I only do two speaking engagements a month, and I only do one phone interview a day.

In addition to making rules for myself, I block out time on my calendar for things like writing (in the morning, when I’m most productive), hiking (in the afternoon, when I need a break), and for tackling administrative tasks (on Fridays, when I’m most inclined to want to just tick stuff off my list). This means that a lot of time on my calendar is blocked out, which can be really annoying to people who are trying to make an appointment with me. At the same time, however, blocking time out for the things I need to do to feel calm makes it totally clear to me when I’m just not available. This makes it much easier to give good no.

Finally, if I’m available to do something, I don’t say yes before asking myself a very important question: Do I want to do this thing, or is it that I feel I “should”? Will saying “yes” bring me joy or meaning? Or will I feel dread or regret when this particular event or task rolls around? I’ve learned to notice when I’m glad I said “yes”; it has helped me realize how much happiness I get from helping other people. (I always try to help my friends’ children with their college applications, for example. So fun.)

One of the joys of middle age is that I now feel confident that if I do only the things that I really feel compelled to do (rather than the things I used to do because I thought I “should” do), I end up contributing more. If I find myself considering an invitation because I’m worried about what other people think of me, or because I think it will “look good on my resume,” I just say no.

Step Two: Say no.

I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have go-to ways to just say no. I mostly use Renee’s “I’m already booked” strategy (see below), because that is most often the reason I can’t do something. Here are some other tactics–21, count ‘em!–that work for me:

  1. Vague but effective: “Thank you for asking, but that isn’t going to work out for me.”
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  2. It’s not personal: “Thank you for asking, but I’m not doing any interviews while I’m writing my book.”
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  3. Ask me later: “I want to do that, but I’m not available until April. Will you ask me again then?”
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  4. Let me hook you up: “I can’t do it, but I’ll bet Shelly can. I’ll ask her for you.”
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  5. Keep trying: “None of those dates work for me, but I would love to see you. Send me some more dates.”
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  6. Try me last minute: “I can’t put anything else on my calendar this month, but I’d love to do that with you sometime. Will you call me right before you go again?”
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  7. Gratitude: “Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support! I’m sorry I’m not able to help you at this time.”
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  8. Give Dad a chance: “You know, I feel like moms are always getting to do the holiday parties at school. Let’s ask Dad if he wants to help this year.”
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  9. 5-minute favor: “I can’t speak at your event, but I will help you promote it on my blog.”
    .

    I also asked my friends Renee Trudeau and Katrina Alcorn–two people who’ve honed their ability to say no well–for their favorite go-to ways to say no.

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    Here are Renee’s favorite ways:

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  10. Just No: “Thanks, I’ll have to pass on that.” (Say it, then shut up.)
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  11. Gracious: “I really appreciate you asking me, but my time is already committed.”
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  12. I’m Sorry: “I wish I could, but it’s just not going to work right now.”
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  13. It’s Someone Else’s Decision: “I promised my coach (therapist, husband, etc.) I wouldn’t take on any more projects right now. I’m working on creating more balance in my life.”
    .
  14. My Family is the Reason: “Thanks so much for the invite, that’s the day of my son’s soccer game, and I never miss those.”
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  15. I Know Someone Else: “I just don’t have time right now. Let me recommend someone who may be able to help you.”
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  16. I’m Already Booked: “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I’m afraid I’m already booked that day.”
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  17. Setting Boundaries: “Let me tell you what I can do…” Then limit the commitment to what will be comfortable for you.
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  18. Not No, But Not Yes: “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”(Renee’s list is from her book The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal.)
    .

    And here are the additional ways that Katrina most often says no:

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  19. Say nothing: Not all requests require an answer. It feels rude to ignore a request, but sometimes it’s the best way for everyone to save face.
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  20. Let it all hang out: Recently my daughter got injured in gym class. It was a week of visits to the ER, the concussion clinic, specialists, etc. I decided to just tell people what was going on, which sort of shut down the requests for a bit.
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  21. I’m “maxed out”: We need a “safety word” for saying no–an easy way to tell people that we can’t/won’t do the thing they are requesting, but that it’s not personal. One convenient thing about authoring a book called Maxed Out is that now I can say “I’m maxed out” and people who are familiar with the book know I’m asking them to respect that I’m taking care of myself, and that I also respect their need to take care of themselves.

Step 3: Don’t look back.

Plenty of research suggests that when we make a decision in a way that allows us to change our minds later, we tend to be a lot less happy with the decisions that we make. So once we decline an invitation, we need to make an effort to focus on the good that will come from saying no, not the regret or guilt we feel about turning down an offer. Perhaps we will be better rested because we didn’t go to a party, or we’ll feel less resentful because we let someone else help out. Maybe saying no to one thing frees up time for another (more joyful) activity. Whatever the case may be, focus on the positive outcome of your effort to give good no.

Because that is what all this saying no is really about: Allowing ourselves to really enjoy what we are doing in the moment, whatever that might be.

What is your favorite way to say no?





Our new tele-series continues tomorrow!



It’s not too late to join us!

.

   reneeptrudeau   2aaa16c   katrinaalcorn

These conversations are designed to teach simple but critical skills for reducing the stress in our busy lives. We’ll be talking about how to be productive, well-rested, and happy — even during the busy holiday season.

  • Tomorrow: How to Find Stillness in a Storm.

    James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy,  and I will talk about how to find calm in a world where busy-ness is a marker of importance, and overwhelm is the rule of the day.

  • AVAILABLE NOW: HOW TO ACHIEVE MORE BY DOING LESS.

    Renee Peterson Trudeau, life balance coach and author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life and I share the surprising secret to our high productivity. This call took place on November 5 and the recording is available now.

    .
  • November 19: How Not to Have a Breakdown.

    Katrina Alcorn, author of Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, and I will share our personal low-points balancing our demanding careers and our families. This will be a rich discussion about the tension between the societal forces that make work-life balance hard, and the practical things that we can do as individuals to find ease and joy.

The calls include Q&A and are held at noon Pacific time. If you can’t make the live calls, you can download them later and listen anytime you’d like.

Access to this Teleseries is Simple

.

This teleseries is a preview of my new book, THE SWEET SPOT: How to Find Your Groove at Home and WorkI’m excited to start sharing this book with you now – even though it won’t be in stores until January. To access the teleseries,  pre-order The Sweet Spot and send a copy of your receipt to thesweetspot@christinecarter.com. We’ll give you immediate access to the teleseries!

I hope you’ll join us on these exciting calls!

Christine_signature

 





Happiness Tip: Stare into Space



Photo by Micheal Evans

Photo by Micheal Evans

When was the last time you just sat down and stared into space? Put your feet up and did nothing? Spaced out in the shower? Okay, now when was the last time you did one of these things and didn’t feel like you should be doing something else instead?

If you can’t remember, you aren’t alone.Many of us don’t feel good about just sitting around doing nothing. But we human beings need stillness in order to recharge our batteries. The constant stream of external stimulation that we get from our televisions and computers and smart phones, while often gratifying in the moment, ultimately causes what neuroscientists call “cognitive overload.” This state of feeling overwhelmed impairs our ability to think creatively, to plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information (like the name of our boss’s daughter, or our daughter’s boss), and control our emotions. In other words, it impairs basically everything we need to do in a given day.

Take Action: For 5-10 minutes today, practice being still. Turn off your phone and close your laptop. Get comfortable in a favorite chair or on the couch. Then…don’t do anything. Just stare into space. Rest. It’s okay if you get bored or agitated or sleepy — that’s normal if you don’t do this very often.

Join the Discussion: How does it feel to just sit and do nothing? How does it feel to get back to work after you’ve rested? Share in the comments or discuss on Facebook here

If you are interested in why this practice can make you more productive and happy, or why we are so bad at being still these days, I hope you’ll check out this blog post.

And for more about the concept of achieving more by doing less, listen to this short teleclass that I did last week with Renee Trudeau. We get into some depth on the matter.





Salve Regina



I love the unexpectedness of this video — the juxtaposition of a monk shredding the streets — using his natural talents in his chosen vocation. The backstory is fascinating:

Friar Gabriel skated for 7 years as a teenager, but felt his vocation was religious life. He was prepared to abandon his passion for skateboarding to live a life of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience as Friars of the Immaculate. Six years after becoming Friars and having not skated, he was given obedience to obtain a skateboard and go to the skatepark once a week – to “preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words” as Saint Francis stated. Friar Gabriel explains that God has so many ways of using peoples talents to give Him glory. Skateboarding allows the Friars to help others see the compatibility of exercising the body as well as the soul.





Thursday Thought



Drucker

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Peter Drucker





Feel Starved for Time? Here’s a Surprising–and Easy–Solution



Photo by Scott King

Photo by Scott King

Although I presumably spent most of my childhood daydreaming, I seldom do it anymore. Occasionally, I’ll catch myself spacing out in the shower, just standing there, and I’ll try to hustle myself back on track, lest I waste any more time or water.

Rarely do we just let ourselves stare into space these days. Like many people, I feel uncomfortable when I’m not doing something, uncomfortable “wasting time.”

We humans have become multi-tasking productivity machines. We can work from anywhere, to great effect. We can do more, and do it far more quickly, than we ever dreamed possible. Our fabulous new technologies buy us tons more time to crank out our work, get through our emails, and keep up with Modern Family. Time my great-grandmother spent making food from scratch, or hand-washing the laundry, we can now spend, say, driving our kids to their away games.

So now that we have so much more time to work and do things previous generations never dreamed possible (or even deemed desirable), why do we always feel starved for time?

The obvious answer is that we have so much more work, and expectations about what we will accomplish on a good day have expanded, but the number of hours in that day have stayed the same.

That’s true, but I also think there is something else at work here: We have gotten really, really bad at just doing nothing.

Look around: We can’t even stand to wait in an elevator for 10 seconds without checking our smartphones. I’m endlessly fascinated by a new series of studies where the research subjects were put alone in a room, with nothing to do. The researchers describe their work:

In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

You read that right: Many people (67 percent of men and 25 percent of women, to be exact) actually gave themselves painful electric shocks instead of just sitting there doing nothing–after they had indicated to the researchers that they would pay money NOT to be shocked again. One guy shocked himself 190 times in 15 minutes.

This brings me back to my main point: Stillness–or the ability to just sit there and do nothing–is a skill, and as a culture we’re not practicing this skill much these days. When we can’t tolerate stillness, we feel uncomfortable when we have downtime, and so we cancel it out by seeking external stimulation, which is usually readily available in our purse or pocket. Instead of just staring out the window on the bus, for example, we read through our Facebook feed. We check our email waiting in line at the grocery store. Instead of enjoying our dinner, we mindlessly shovel food in our mouths while staring at a screen.

Here’s the core problem with all of this: We human beings need stillness in order to recharge our batteries. The constant stream of external stimulation that we get from our televisions and computers and smart phones, while often gratifying in the moment, ultimately causes what neuroscientists call “cognitive overload.” This state of feeling overwhelmed impairs our ability to think creatively, to plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information (like the name of our boss’s daughter, or our daughter’s boss), and control our emotions. In other words, it impairs basically everything we need to do in a given day.[i]

But wait, there’s more: We only experience big joy and real gratitude and the dozens of other positive emotions that make our lives worth living by actually being in touch with our emotions–by giving ourselves space to actually feel what it is we are, well, feeling. In an effort to avoid the uncomfortable feelings that stillness can produce (such as the panicky feeling that we aren’t getting anything done), we also numb ourselves to the good feelings in our lives. And research by Matt Killingsworth suggests that actually being present to what we’re feeling and experiencing in the moment–good or bad–is better for our happiness in the end.

Here’s the main take-away: If we want to be high-functioning and happy, we need to re-learn how to be still. When we feel like there isn’t enough time in the day for us to get everything done, when we wish for more time… we don’t actually need more time. We need more stillness. Stillness to recharge. Stillness so that we can feel whatever it is that we feel. Stillness so that we can actually enjoy this life that we are living.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed and time-starved: Stop. Remember that what you need more than time (to work, to check tasks off your list) is downtime, sans stimulation.

As a society, we don’t just need to learn to tolerate stillness, we actually need to cultivate it. Fortunately, it’s not complicated. Try driving in silence, with your radio and phone off. (Encourage your children to look out the window while you drive them, instead of down at their devices.) Eat meals out of the sight and sound of your phones and televisions. Take a walk outside every day, preferably in nature, without a phone or music player. If it’s hard, just try a few minutes at a time, adding a few minutes each day. Just practice; it’ll get easier, and the benefits will become more apparent.

Finally, forgive yourself the next time you find yourself staring blankly into space. You aren’t wasting time. You’re catching up on your stillness.

If this post resonates with you, I bet you’ll love my new stress reduction tele-seminar! James Baraz will be joining me to talk about practical and easy ways to find stillness. We’ll be talking about how to be productive, well-rested, and happy — even during the busy holiday season.

Reserve your spot now…

[i] Goleman, Daniel. 2013. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Harper.





Low-Stress, High-Joy Holidays: Here’s How The Experts Do It



My new tele-series kicks off today!

.

   reneeptrudeau   2aaa16c   katrinaalcorn

.

Please join me for 3 fun conversations designed to teach simple but critical skills for reducing the stress in our busy lives. We’ll be talking about how to be productive, well-rested, and happy — even during the busy holiday season.

.
  • Tomorrow, November 5: How to Achieve More by Doing Less.

    Renee Peterson Trudeau, life balance coach and author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life and I will tell you our secret to our high efficiency and high productivity.

    .
  • November 12: How to Find Stillness in a Storm.

    James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy,  and I will talk about how to find calm in a world where busy-ness is a marker of importance, and overwhelm is the rule of the day.

    .
  • November 19: How Not to Have a Breakdown.

    Katrina Alcorn, author of Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, and I will share our personal low-points balancing our demanding careers and our families. This will be a rich discussion about the tension between the societal forces that make work-life balance hard, and the practical things that we can do as individuals to find ease and joy.

All 3 calls will include Q&A and will be held at noon Pacific time. If you can’t make the live calls, you can download them later and listen anytime you’d like.

Access to this Teleseries is Simple

.

This teleseries is a preview of my new book, THE SWEET SPOT: How to Find Your Groove at Home and WorkI’m excited to start sharing this book with you now – even though it won’t be in stores until January. To access the teleseries,  pre-order The Sweet Spot and send a copy of your receipt to thesweetspot@christinecarter.com. We’ll give you immediate access to the teleseries!

I hope you’ll join us on these exciting calls!

Christine_signature

 





Happiness Tip: Use the Time Change to Your Benefit



Paris Clocks

Image by Nicksarebi

Moving our clocks this weekend changed our bodies’ principal cue (light) for keeping time with our circadian rhythm. This causes us to be temporarily jet-lagged, or out of sync with our 24-hour wake/sleep schedule, making a lot of us a feel a little off our game.

Fortunately, we can use this time change to repay some of the sleep debt we’ve accumulated. To do that, we’ll need to go to bed early this week. I think this is the best week of the year to do this–if you go to bed at your normal time, say 11:00pm, you’ll be more tired than usual, because, to your body, you’ve just stayed up an hour late. Split the difference, and hit the hay a half hour early, say, at 10:30pm. When we’ve accumulated sleep debt, our bodies and brains soak up the extra sleep. Hopefully you’ll wake up feeling extra rested!

If you know you aren’t getting enough sleep, but you feel like you can’t get to bed early this week given everything else you’ve got going on, I’d like to challenge you on that.

Think for a minute about what you want to do with your one wild and precious life, as Mary Oliver says. What are your highest priorities? Your health? Your happiness? High achievement at work or school? Raising happy and healthy children? Being the kind of person your friends and family want to hang out with? Here’s the truth: You will not fulfill your potential in any of these realms unless you get the sleep your body, brain, and spirit need. A mountain of research supports this claim.

Take Action: Adjust your sleep schedule this week so that you are getting 7+ hours of sleep (unless you are a teenager: then you need 9+ hours). If that seems impossible over the long run, commit to paying back some sleep debt this week, when it will likely be easier to fall asleep early.

Join the Discussion: What changes do you notice in yourself when you get more sleep? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Want more tips for sleeping well? My new book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work is loaded with tips for maximizing your beauty rest.

 





What a Baby Can Teach Us



One of the greatest things a baby can teach us is how to give affection without expecting anything in return.





Thursday Thought



adventure

 

This day is a journey, this very moment an adventure.

Rebecca Pavlenko