“It’s only by saying ‘NO’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important…”

— Steve Jobs

The word ‘no’ is so simple and yet, as strange as it sounds, being able to say ‘no’ to the things and people that don’t align with our priorities can actually be the biggest act of self-care that you can take.

We all know that in order to live a more balanced life, we’d need to be able to say ‘no’ to a lot of things or people that come our way.

Yet, why do many of us still struggle when it comes to saying ‘no’?

While there are countless reasons as to why we found saying ‘no’ to be a challenge, for me, in the past, I had mistakenly viewed declining a favor, request, and so forth as rejecting the person making the request or favor.

I strive to help others as much as I could and in the past, my ‘altruism’ was one of my biggest downfalls.

Little did I realize, as I said ‘yes’ to everything and everyone who needed my help, time, and/or energy, I was automatically saying ‘no’ to my own needs.

As a result, somewhere in my mid-20s, not only did I end up burning out to the point of exhaustion, I found myself resentful of all the things and people to whom I’ve given my time to.

It was a big ‘wake-up’ call where I had to really reflect on my time, my priorities, and how they align. Honestly, I didn’t like the person I was becoming.

I realized that while my intention was good (i.e: to help as many people as possible), I wasn’t doing myself or others any good by sacrificing my own needs doing so.

Many of us, especially women, have been brought up with the notion that we needed to take care of others before we take care of ourselves. So it’s not a surprise that we have the tendency to believe that self-care is selfish.

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This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Taking care of our own needs or ‘filling our cup first’ is actually the best thing that we can do for ourselves and those we care about.

It may be a cliché but when there’s a loss of pressure in an airplane’s cabin, there’s a *very* good (and logical) reason why flight attendants advised us to put oxygen masks on ourselves first, before tending to others.

After all, if you can’t breathe (and stay alive), there’s no way you’ll be to help others.

And this is true when it comes to all aspects of life. If you don’t tend to your own needs first, it’s unlikely that you’d be in a position to serve others.

Right about now, you may be asking how one can help sharpen their ability to say ‘no’.

As I mentioned above, for me, my biggest struggle with saying ‘no’ was the guilt or the possibility of disappointing someone I care about.

Reminding myself when I decline/ pass on a request/invite/opportunity doesn’t equal saying ‘no’ to the person making really helps to look at the situation objectively, rather than emotionally. In other words, I’ve learned to separate the decision from the relationship.

Another powerful realization is that when we say ‘yes’ to the things or people that we actually wanted to say ‘no’ to, we are opting for short-term comfort (making the other person happy/ not feeling the guilt or awkwardness of saying ‘no’).

Unfortunately, by doing so we are losing out on the long-term gain; the time & energy that we’re able to invest in our own priorities.

While I’m getting a lot better at saying ‘no’, I also acknowledge that setting boundaries is something that I have to consistently work on.

At times, particularly when it comes to professional relationships or opportunities, I still find it a bit of a struggle to say ‘no’.

If this resonates with you, perhaps Warren Buffet can be a source of inspiration. At age 91, he’s still going strong and is considered one of the world’s most successful and renowned investors.

He, along with many influential and successful people like Steve Jobs, credits his ability to say ‘yes’ to only the opportunities/things/people that align with their priorities.

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In Warren Buffet’s case, this means saying ‘no’ to 90% of the investment opportunities that come his way so he can focus on the 10% that he truly considers significant or worth his time.

We all get 24 hours each day, so choose to spend it wisely.

If we don’t consciously work on setting boundaries, it’s far too easy for us to spread ourselves too thin. We end up feeling constantly busy but not necessarily productive.

With that, I invite you all to reflect on how you spend days as well as your ability to say ‘no’. And should you find that you can benefit from saying ‘no’ a little more often – do so.

It may just be that simple yet profound action that you can do to step closer to living your best life!

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