By Mariam Qizilbash
One of my favourite things to do is to sit with my Mom and listen to stories from her childhood. Whether she’s regaling me about the time she and my aunt hid in the bushes and wiggled ties onto the road–scaring the bikers into thinking the ties were snakes!–or simply the fact that all the neighborhood kids would stay out and play until the sun set every single day, I’m always bewildered by how simple her life was compared to today.
“We didn’t have any cell phones or TV,” she says. “But we had our imaginations, so we were happy.”
I used to think it was impossible to recapture the beautiful simplicity of my Mom’s childhood, so I didn’t even try. I spent four hours a day on whatsapp and instagram, and my social calendar was so jam-packed that I double-booked more often than not. I thought I was just your average twenty-something professional. But as I approached thirty, my calendar began filling up almost as fast as my happiness disappeared, I decided to do something pretty radical…
I started saying no to pretty much everything.
I figured if happiness was doing what I loved consistently, and if all the time I spent on social media and endless social outings were keeping me from doing those things, then all I had to do was limit what limited me. Which meant getting really good at saying no.
Back in my Mom’s bucolic youth, ”no” was pretty easy—there was nothing to say no to! But in the modern world, I found that you need a strategy.
LEARNING HOW TO PROTECT MY TIME
Being a people-pleaser in recovery, I found it next to impossible to protect my time at first: I usually committed to at least 6-8 plans per week. But even when I saw everyone I wanted and needed to, I had no time for myself and was always exhausted. The worst part of all was that I was never really present when I was with friends; my mind was constantly occupied with the piling list of things I needed to get done when I got home or the next plan that I had committed to. My happiness, sleep, and peace of mind were all casualties of an over-booked life.
So I decided to do three things:
1-I strictly limited social media and email checks
I didn’t realize how much time I spent on social until my coach challenged me to quit everything for a week. I seriously didn’t think I could do it—I bargained with him and pleaded for at least an hour a day. But he wouldn’t budge. And when the week was over, I finally felt free. Not only did I gain up to four extra hours per day, but I was finally able to concentrate on my goals and work without interruption.
2-I said no to more plans in order to free up some nights to myself
Saying no to an invite felt rude. I immediately felt guilty, as if I were letting that person down. But I’m learning to understand that relationships should be stronger than that—they shouldn’t be affected by me declining one plan in order to better myself. I’ve also come to understand that I deserve to have people respect my time just as I respect theirs. So I set a limit each week for the plans I would commit to, and I forced myself to say no to anything past that limit.
3-I put boundaries around the plans I did commit to
When I made lunch plans with a friend in the past, it would normally take up my whole afternoon because I wouldn’t want to be rude and end the plans early. But I was being even ruder to myself by sitting there, smiling, and putting off my self-improvement for another day. Now I plan my days more precisely.
I carve out a set amount of hours that I’m willing to dedicate to my social plan and I stick to them. For instance, if I someone asks me to lunch, I give them one hour exactly. This ensures that I’m focused and fully present the entire time I’m with the person. It also ensures that I don’t neglect my other personal obligations.
The result? More engaging and fulfilling relationships with my friends and family. My days have started to feel more intentional which has given me a newfound feeling of purpose. I’m respecting my time and, in return, other people have learned to respect my boundaries.
SO HOW DO YOU START?
Plan your days.
Each night, before you go to bed, reflect and jot down the main things you want to accomplish the next day. Consult these items in the morning and make sure they all happen. Seriously. If saying yes to drinks after work will mean that you won’t be able to apply to that job you really want, say no to drinks. You can always reschedule for a time that makes more sense to you.
Saying no to a plan and then realizing later that you can make it is much better than saying yes to everything and then having to cancel. We’ve all been guilty of having to cancel on a plan. But at the end of the day, isn’t it better to exceed an expectation than fail to deliver on one? So don’t commit right away. This way when you do say yes, people are even more enthusiastic about it because they weren’t expecting you to come in the first place!
Don’t feel guilty. Your time is allowed to be yours.
For many of us (myself included), feeling guilty is a natural emotion when we say no to an invitation. But if you can’t make it, you can’t make it. People say no all the time. It’s okay to say no if you have other, more pressing, things to do—even if that’s simply reading a book you’ve been putting off, or sitting down to plan out your week. Your friends and family will learn to adjust to the new boundaries you’ve established. In fact, they’ll respect you more for them, and your guilt will disappear as you get more confident and practiced in saying no.
Take it from someone who has just recently adopted this new philosophy and way of life, you will slowly start to feel more confident and in control. There may be moments where you slip back into your old ways and that’s okay—it’s natural, even. Just reflect on what made you slip and resolve to be more confident and decisive with your next plan.
So go on, lead that self-directed life! Watch the opportunities that come through taking full ownership of your time. And when in doubt…say no!
Special shout out to Mariam Qizilbash for her first post on Millennial Success!!! I hope you thought it was as brilliant as I did. Mariam was also recently published on Thrive Global, which makes her voice an increasingly important one in the self improvement community. If you caught the “favourite” at the beginning, it’s because Mariam is technically more Canadian than Celine Dion 😉
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