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Enough: How to Set Limits and Say “No” - by Tad Lusk, LPC

Enough: How to Set Limits and Say “No” - by Tad Lusk, LPC

“[Focus] comes from saying no to a thousand things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.”

– Steve Jobs

One thing that high achievers, busy people, and perfectionists tend to struggle with, almost more than anything else, is getting overcommitted and overwhelmed.

There are so many times when busy people wish they could say no to staying late at work, taking on an extra project, joining another committee, going to that networking event, but end up doing it all anyway and feeling burned out.

Another huge downside to all of the overworking and overcommitting (besides the obvious fatigue) is that it contributes to the feeling of “time crunch” and never having “enough” time.

The illusion of “not enough”–whether it’s how much you’re doing, how much you’ve accomplished, or how much time you have–is a major source of unnecessary stress.

Yet many clients I’ve worked with have told me that setting limits and saying “no” is an even bigger challenge for them.

So why is it so hard for so many of us to say “no”?

When it comes to the difficulties many people have setting limits and saying no, there are some common fears that are usually at play. Here are just a few:

“They’ll get mad at me.”

“I’ll get in trouble.”

“They’ll be disappointed, and I can’t stand disappointing people.”

Any of these look familiar?

Most of the time it comes from a good place: you’re a conscientious person who doesn’t want to give less than your best. You set high expectations for yourself, and anything less seems like it would be falling short, letting yourself and others down, or “failing.”

Yet if you’re a “caretaker” who always puts others’ needs first while neglecting your own, you eventually can become so worn out that ironically, it’s difficult to help or take care of anyone at all.

But the bottom line is, when you can’t say no or set limits, you take on too many obligations, spread yourself too thin, and become overworked, scattered, and stressed.

I can relate. More than once I’ve been guilty of biting off more than I can chew.

But when it comes to the worries about falling short or letting others down–perfectionistic hallmarks to be sure–it’s important to keep a couple things in mind.

We often expect much more from ourselves than we do of other people.

Similarly, other people usually aren’t holding us to the same impossibly high standards that we hold ourselves to. It’s about mindset and keeping things in perspective.

Learning to set reasonable limits on your work and commitments is a key skill in dialing down the stress and regaining control of your life. Below you’ll find some tips on how to do this.

Try It:

  • Learning to set limits takes practice. Practice saying “no” at least once this week. It could be an invitation to an event that you don’t really want to go to, an “extra-credit” type of assignment at school or work, or a favor. You can say no politely, and respectfully, and simply state that you can’t do ___ right now.
  • Practice setting at least one limit this week. For example, you could put a limit on the amount of time you spend working at home, or a cutoff time for how late you’ll accept calls or emails. Remind yourself that it’s for your own sanity, and part of taking good care of yourself.
  • Write down any fears or worries you have about setting limits and saying “no.” Now challenge those fears by writing down all the ways they might be irrational or inaccurate.
  • Prioritize: if something absolutely needs to be done right now, then do that first and temporarily take your focus off of the other items. If there are any tasks that can wait until tomorrow, let them go until tomorrow. Remind yourself that it doesn’t make you a bad person. The world will keep turning, the sun will rise tomorrow, and you can get it done then.

What Do You Think?

  • What commitments do you currently have that you consider “essential?”
  • What commitments might be non-essential?
  • How might you feel if you had more time to yourself?


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