Saying no isn't easy. Even if we already have a lot on our plate and already feel time-crunched, we say yes to supervising a new project at work, planning a friend's baby shower, organizing a camping trip, editing a colleague's grant proposal, teaching a weekly yoga class, joining a weekly pub trivia team, feeding the neighbour's cat, and volunteering at church. For various reasons--it's hard to say no to our boss and colleagues; we don't want to miss out on a cool opportunity; we don't want to disappoint our friends, partners, parents, or children--we often say yes to requests, opportunities, and activities when we might be happier or less stressed out if we said no.
I read a line a few days ago that I'm going to keep in mind the next time I'm having a hard time saying no:
Saying "yes" to more things that we can actually mange to be present for with integrity and ease of being is in effect saying "no" to all those things and people and places we have already said "yes" to.
This line (from Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Though Mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn) resonated with me because non-present is exactly how I feel on days when I've said yes to too many things. At the end of the day, even as I'm congratulating myself for being so efficient and productive, I usually realize that I missed something important that a client said, that I barely remember a conversation with a friend or colleague, or that I ate all three meals on the subway.
The idea that saying yes too often is really a way of saying no is great because it means that saying no is a way to say yes to established commitments and priorities. For example, say you and your partner have reserved Sundays for family time with the kids; when you're regretfully say no to brunch with friends, you can remind yourself that you're saying yes to your family. If you're supervising two projects at work or teaching two classes and you're receiving pressure to take on a third, you can remind yourself that saying no to a third class or project is a way of saying yes to the first two.
The next time you're having a hard time saying no to a request or opportunity, consider all of the things you'll be saying yes to. Let me know if if helps!