directory-973992_1920A client was puzzling about her work/ life /health demands. She told me about a little dish she keeps on her dresser with the word “yes” printed on the bottom, and that is what she sees every morning and evening. “I want to say ‘yes’ and not deny myself any opportunity!” she exclaimed. “I want to be somebody that my work team, and my friends and family, can count on — so I say yes.”

“But,” she continued, “I’m exhausted and I am not feeling on track with my self.”

No kidding. How could she be on track? If we lose the power to say no, our “yes” creates a great energy suck without giving us much back.

Here are three reasons that “yes” becomes our default.

We say yes because we’re trying to control what other people think of us.

We want others to like us, include us, see us as a team player, someone who shows up and doesn’t disappoint. Yet we can’t really manage others’ expectations or perceptions. In addition, we often have perceptions of others that aren’t accurate. Brene Brown in her book Rising Strong has a description of this process she calls “The story I’m making up.” We can “make up” stories based on a raised eyebrow or a feeling of being ignored. When we check out those perceptions, we often find the person is not mad at us, or disappointed or rejecting — they are preoccupied with their own life situations, and were not dismissive or angry. Before you say yes based on an inner story, take a moment to check it out.

We say yes because we haven’t taken the time to know what is best for us right now.

We all know the holidays are coming with increased demands on our time and attention and precious energy reserves. Maybe you have the habit that several of my clients have of agreeing to every invitation, recreating all seasonal traditions, and feeling that every request must be honored. I urge them to take a few moments several times a day to pause, breathe, and say: Do I really want to do this? Do I want to spend my energy this way today?

This is a practice of staying in the moment, allowing your body — not just your mind — to respond. When you live with chronic pain or the physical drag of illness, it becomes a habit to override your body’s requests until they become demands. Try practicing taking sips of your energy rather than gulps as a daily practice. Then, when it’s worth it,  you have some reserves to send!

We say yes because it’s easier.

Ah, the path of least resistance. I have heard this many times: “It was just easier to say yes than deal with the fallout.” What fallout? Someone’s feelings get hurt, you are pressured, and it’s too much work to stand up for what you want, the little voice that tells you “it really doesn’t matter — don’t’ make a fuss.”

Except that it does matter, because this is another time you are spending your reserves in a way that you don’t want to, or neglecting what is best for you.

The antidote to this is practice. Get a friend or use your mirror and imagine that person who you “can’t say no” to, and develop a script. “No” is a full sentence, but you may want to add a little flourish around it — “No, but thanks for thinking of me.” “Not this time but I’ll be glad to think about it in a few weeks.” Don’t practice creating excuses — you don’t need them. But you do need to imagine the person who puts the most unwanted pressure on you, and then rehearse your crisp clear response!

Saying no clears the way for your “yes” to be meaningful — and even fun. It is a way to steward your body’s needs, and allows you to choose what will be best and enjoyable. The holidays are the prefect time to begin!