Are you aware of how to say yes to yourself — and how good it can make you feel? Usually, we think of “no” as the harder word to summon. But when we find a rare moment in the midst of a hectic day to put our feet up, or when a friend offers to take something off our plate, “yes” is exactly what we need — yet struggle most — to say. What gives?
“Society tells us that busyness is a measure of our character and ability to be successful and productive,” notes happiness expert Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of The Sweet Spot. “But it’s a lie — one that women are especially influenced by because we’re so invested in other people’s perceptions and approval.”
How to Say Yes to Yourself
This habit of automatically penciling in another task whenever there’s a lull in the daily grind doesn’t just rob us of a moment of peace — it causes us to miss out on the revitalizing perks of wandering, playing or being still. “When we’re not laser-focused on a task, we’re able to tap into a very powerful part of the brain responsible for generating creative insights and making fresh connections,” explains Carter. That means taking a break can actually make us happier, more productive and more efficient when we go back to tackling our to-do’s.
The key to shifting out of a go-go-go mind-set and learning to say “yes” to yourself, says Carter, is first identifying the roadblock that keeps you locked in busy mode. Read on for the simple tricks guaranteed to quiet your inner taskmaster and help you get the downtime you deserve — today.
"I’ll feel guilty."
Roadblock: At a dinner party the hostess urges you to relax and mingle, but you feel obligated to help clear the table. “Women tend to be more interpersonally focused, and we see our role as being a caregiver and supporter of others,” observes Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “So although we might enjoy feeling cared for, we feel guilty switching roles and being on the receiving end of others’ care.”
The Antidote: Flip the script. To quiet the guilt you feel about not helping, Przeworski advises looking at the situation from the host’s perspective: “After she gives you permission to enjoy yourself, the first thought is, Really? Is that really what you want?” By thinking back to a time when you were hosting and gave your guests similar assurances, you’ll be able to realize that she really does want you to enjoy yourself. Plus, notes Przeworski, when you allow others to reciprocate with hospitality and generosity, it builds bonds that strengthen relationships.
"I don’t deserve it."
Roadblock:A loved one surprises you with an offer of a spa day, yet instead of elation, your immediate reaction is to feel unworthy of the gift. “We get in the habit of not thinking of ourselves because we are so focused on meeting everyone else’s needs,” observes Przeworski. “Over time, that creates this core issue of not being able to see ourselves as valuable enough to take time and space for our own interests and desires.”
The Antidote: Question the thought. The best way to escape this mental trap, says Carter, is to challenge the thoughts fueling your insecurity. For instance, if you feel you don’t deserve a spa day, you might reflect on all you do for your loved ones, or recall how you gave your spouse the day off from his duties for a fishing trip just last week. “We can easily get swept away believing our thoughts,” says Carter. “But questioning them opens us up to the idea that we don’t have to believe what that inner voice is saying.”
"They need my help."
Roadblock: When a friend in your volunteer group offers to take over your planning duties for the fund-raiser, you know you should say “yes” to free up some time in your overpacked schedule. But you can’t shake the worry over how the event will play out. “Conscientious types are used to being the responsible ones,” notes Przeworski. “It can be very difficult to step outside of that mindset of This is who I am. I am someone others rely on to get stuff done.”
The Antidote: Look for examples of others’ successes. Thinking of past instances in which you left a project and others pulled it off with flying colors can quiet lingering anxiety, says Carter. For example, you might recall a time you got the flu and coworkers stepped in and finalized the presentation without any snags. “Women think others expect them to always be ‘on,’” admits Przeworski. But recognizing that the success of a team does not rest solely on your shoulders will give you confidence to drop the ball and let others shine.
"There’s not enough time."
Roadblock:Often, we pass up the chance to work in the garden or at our crafting table when we find a spare moment because it seems like there are better ways to use the time. “We tend to get into this bind where we think, Unless I have an hour or two hours, this isn’t worth doing, but that’s one of the most destructive thoughts in terms of taking time for ourselves,” notes Przeworski. “Most of our responsibilities are continuous, never-ending tasks, and the pleasure you’ll get from doing something you enjoy lasts much longer than the satisfaction of checking off a to-do.”
The Antidote: Just dig in. “We have this constant pressure to be self-sacrificing; it’s the struggle of If I do this, does it make me a worse mom, daughter or spouse? Isn’t there something else I should be doing?” says Przeworski. “So it’s crucial to think, You know what, no, I’m going to work in the garden even if it’s just for 5 minutes.” This initial push can be enough to help you overcome hesitation. Then the joy of the activity becomes self-reinforcing. “Sometimes just getting yourself going is the hardest step, but once you’ve started, you find that you’re really enjoying time away from it all.”