The Cost of Never Saying no and What it Means for Flourishing
Do you ever have one of “those” days? The kind where you have to work late, get the kids to sports practice, magically conjure up dinner, and finish up a work project that’s due in the morning? We all know the feeling.
Let’s face it. By the end of the day, we often make an exhausted leap for the finish line … only to start it all over again the next day.
When did we get so overburdened?
And how much longer can it go on?
The fact is, life rarely ever gets LESS busy. It steams along, picking up momentum until we’re ready to drop.
How do you know when you’re in over your head? Perhaps it’s when “the complexity of our world has surpassed the complexity of (our) mind.” This has nothing to do with our intelligence level, but rather our place in the world and how we function in that space.
Feeling Drained but Pushing Onward
Being overburdened leads to burnout. In fact, more than half of the workers who stayed at their jobs during the “Great Resignation” (which began in early 2021) had to take on larger workloads as a result, and many experts are now fearing a “Great Burnout” as a result.
But why do we let ourselves get in this predicament in the first place?
Experts say that our society tends to work harder and harder, instead of drawing back and thinking deeply about WHY we do this and how we could approach things differently.
Where does the Problem lie?
We can’t say no. Why is that?
It’s a question that has doubtlessly been asked on countless therapists’ couches, but it’s also a question that plagues almost ALL of us, and deserves a hard look.
Although the answer is quite subjective and open to interpretation.
What we DO know, is that Harvard’s model of flourishing includes six areas:
- Happiness and Life Satisfaction
- Mental and Physical Health
- Meaning and Purpose
- Character and Virtue
- Close Social Relationships
- Financial and Material Stability
If you’re wondering which of those six areas is the catalyst for overworking and becoming overwhelmed … one possibility for our overburdened lifestyles might be found in our meaning and purpose.
The BBC reported that millions of us overwork—and thus overburden ourselves—as a sort of “status symbol” which gives meaning and definition for our lives. Because in the world’s eyes, overworking makes us look successful.
“We glorify the lifestyle, and the lifestyle is: you breathe something, you sleep with something, you wake up and work on it all day long, then you go to sleep,” says Anat Lechner, clinical associate professor of management at New York University. “Again, and again, and again.”
What to do About it?
There are many ways being overburdened can impact your life. This ranges from forgetfulness and mental fog to difficulty concentrating on basic tasks and impaired problem-solving abilities. “Cognitive fatigue” makes us less effective in any situation, prone to distractions, and impairs our thinking processes.
Harvard Business Review recommends the following tips for combating the reality of being overwhelmed and overburdened:
1. Set boundaries: Leave the office by a certain time or make yourself deprioritize certain types of work. This can also be applied in your personal life as well, limiting certain relationships or activities that seem to take over everything.
2. Challenge your perfectionism: you don’t have to do every task “above and beyond” what is expected and knock it out of the park every time. Just get it done. “Done is better than perfect” is a good mantra to allow yourself to hold onto.
3. Outsource/delegate: It goes without saying that many hands make light work. So, get some help! It doesn’t make you less of a person to ask for help. Give parts of your tasks to others so that you can concentrate on doing your best at fewer tasks.
4. Challenge your assumptions: If you don’t do this task, right this minute … will the world really fall apart? Probably not. But in our heads, we often build up unrealistic scenarios for the fallout that will occur if we don’t work, work, work, or say YES to everything.
5. Recharge: This one is obvious. Your phone can’t run indefinitely before needing a power-up, and neither can you. Take time to relax and focus on what you value most.
6. Start easy: Tackle the easiest (and important) tasks first. This boosts your confidence. “When you sweat the small stuff, you loose sight of your destination.”
Finally, above and beyond all else, you need to learn to say no. Which is, of course, usually easier said than done, and takes practice.
Experts at Psychology Today recommend the “sandwich method” as one way to start training yourself to say no. As part of this method, begin with a positive comment, then deliver your “no,” and then follow it up with another positive comment.
For example: “I’m so honored that you thought of me. However, I won’t be able to make that commitment. But let’s connect the next time you’re in town.”
It’s important, at the end of the day, to find your validation in self-care, positive affirmations, or even by engaging in activities you’re good at and that you enjoy doing, instead of trying to find your meaning and purpose in being overburdened and busy.
Our thoughts also play a key role in our happiness and our feelings of being overburdened. So we need to take the time to find ways to nurture and improve our mindset. This kind of self-care can reduce our burden of stress and obligation and increase our overall flourishing.