Good People Say No Too

By Oliver W. Colbert

People come to you with their troubles, asking you for favors, and in an effort for you to continue being a good person, you continue to say yes. Without realizing it, each time you agree to something, you pour a little (or a lot) of yourself out into that person or project. In my opinion, the only way to combat this habit of saying yes is to understand that keeping yourself available doesn’t make you a good person. And, saying no doesn’t make you a bad person.

Unfortunately, we think that if we’re always the one to answer the call for help, then that means we’re good people and who doesn’t want to be a good person? Or at least be seen as a good person? The flaw in this premise is that you’re being good to everyone except yourself. This means others might see you as good, but you’re not being good to you.

As humans, we only have so much mental capacity, and if all of your thinking is geared to helping others for the sake of convincing yourself that you’re a good person, then you're doing yourself a huge disservice.

You need a balance. And the fact of the matter is no one else knows when you need balance more than you. YOU feel the anxiety. YOU feel the fatigue. YOU’re the one who feels drained day after day, week after week of saying yes to everyone.

And because they don’t feel what you feel, they can begin to normalize your willingness. In other words, people start to depend on you saying yes all the time because you say yes all the time. They don’t care about your balance because you’ve created the expectation that they come first.

The only person that can establish balance in your life is you.

In this age of constant movement, we’re implicitly told that all of our idle time should be occupied. There are days where you have some time where you have nothing scheduled. You could be sitting at home or want to go to the park and read a book, but someone hits you up and asks you for something. Let’s say it’s to help them move some furniture around.

Now, in your mind, when you have idle time, you might be inclined to agree to help a friend. But are you answering yes because you have the time and the mental capacity, or are you just answering yes because you have the time?

The point I’m trying to make is that not all of your idle time needs to be filled. I want you to know it’s okay to say, “Nah, I’m relaxing today” or “Nah, today’s my reading day,” or just say no without any explanation. Any real friend will understand that everyone needs self-care, and anyone who doesn’t…well, you might need to re-evaluate the friendship.

The road to being a good person starts with being good to you. Take away the negative connotation that’s on the word no and start to see it as a tool you can use to project your time and mental health. Once you’re good to you, external acts of kindness will pour out organically, and because you’ve established a kindness to yourself, you’ll know your limits.

Starting with being a good person to you also will manage the expectations of those who ask you for favors. People pay attention to how you treat yourself and how you treat your time. Remember, they will normalize your willingness. But that same line of thinking has a reverse effect as well. They can also normalize respect for your balance once it’s established.

Here are 3 practical ways to be more mindful about your time:

Make yourself a priority

  • You can’t pour anything out of an empty glass. Make a conscious decision when you have time for yourself to take that time for YOU. If you know you every Saturday between 2-4, you’re not doing anything. Make that YOUR TIME. Put it on your calendar as meditation time, reading time, prayer time, Netflix time, whatever you need to re-energize yourself. Be intentional with making yourself a priority.

Take the Yes Test

  • Keep track of how many times you say yes when someone asks you for something or to do something for them. Just keep a tally for the rest of the day, or if you can for the rest of the week, then count it up after a few days or at the end of the day. Look at your total and compare it to how you’re feeling inside. Are you feeling a bit exhausted? Well, how many Yeses did you give out? How much of your bandwidth did you spend on doing favors for people?

Journal How You Want to Feel for the Day

  • Set your emotional expectations at the start of every day. Set your emotional expectation for yourself for the day by saying, “I’m going to feel happy and balanced today” then, throughout your day, if you encounter anything that interrupts the emotional expectation that you set for yourself for that day, then chances are that’s something you should probably say no to that thing if you can.

And to be realistic, if it’s something that you can’t say no to because it’s in the scope of your responsibilities, then I want you to stop and think about healthy ways to manage it that won’t lead to burn out. Can you push other things around on your agenda to make space for this project or this task? Is it something that you can delegate? Is it something that you can collaborate with someone on?

Let’s try to be more intentional with how we spend our time and our energy, and let’s prioritize being good to ourselves.

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