Tag Archives: feeling good

Feeling Good about Feeling Good: Part 3 – Learning to Say NO Now.

Saying no is really difficult. Many of us feel guilty, get defensive, or just can’t do it, cave in and say “yes.” We then spend the entire time that we’re doing whatever it was that we didn’t want to do kicking ourselves and regretting all the things we could have been doing with that time. It’s not easy to feel good about feeling good if you’re doing something that you don’t like, didn’t want to do, or just couldn’t get out of. But still, “no” is so final, so absolute, that we shy away from it. Learning to say “no” will liberate you and free you up to say “yes” when you really want to too.

It’s far easier to create a “soft no” like “I would but we’ve got a lot on our plate right now with Billy being sick…” But there is a power and a freedom to just politely saying no without an excuse, and to meaning it.  So when someone nominates you for that committee that sounds awful, for baking cupcakes for the entire grade, for doing the backlog of bookkeeping for the church/charity/neighbor, just say “No thank you.”  And then stop talking. At least that’s the goal.

The Most Dangerous Word in the World

Psychology Today did a wonderful article about saying “no” entitled, you guessed it, The Most Dangerous Word in the World. This article explains that even seeing the word “no” causes your body to release dozens of stress hormones and neurotransmitters. This produces an altered state (really!!) that immediately influences and impairs logic, reason, communication and language processing.  In fact, the word “no” is considered to be under the blanket descriptor of “negative thinking” along with thoughts of disease, calamity, death, social problems, etc… It really is this big.  (Just as an aside, we don’t get this much of a neurological bang with “yes.” In fact the article estimates that we need to have five positive thoughts to counteract the weight of the one negative one. Sigh.)

When you look at the evidence it isn’t any wonder that it’s difficult to say “no.” We are social animals after all. We aim to please.

The Power of “NO” – an Exercise in Boundaries

A couple of years ago TIME magazine did a fantastic article on learning to say “no” without the story, the excuse, the drama (remember the drama? If not refresh your memory about your drama/story here) Letting go of the excuses, the reasons (usually a little bit untrue) why you can’t do something, is absolutely liberating. It’s also really great in terms of creating a solid boundary that then allows you the space to do the things you actually enjoy and value. This article has some great suggestions. One is practice some polite ways, without excuses, to just say no.  They suggest:

  • “I’m sorry – not today”
  • “I can’t this time”
  • “That won’t work for me but I’ll let you know if anything changes”
  • “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I can’t right now”

It’s still polite, you can smile and say it, but it’s also clearly “no.”  Is it easy? Well… no.

Learning to Say “No:” 7 Steps to Help You Get to No Now

This is a learned skill. It’s a life-enhancing, productivity-boosting, boundary-establishing wonder-tool, but it takes a lot of practice and some serious baby steps.  Here’s how to get to “no” effectively.

Learning to say no can be scary, but so very rewarding.

Learning to say no can be scary, but so very rewarding.

  1. Consider your priorities. This doesn’t happen when you’re in front of a person asking you do do/be/buy/sell/produce something that you’re not interested in. This happens now, in a quiet space, where you have time to think about what really matters to you. This might be time with your kids, it might be the concentrated productive effort you need to get a big project done, it might be your health. It could be anything, but you need to know what you really, truly value right now because every time you say “yes” and don’t want to, you’re taking away from this thing.  This is what saying “no” allows you to protect. This is what you’re building the boundaries around.  If you don’t know what matters then you’re not going to work very hard to protect it.
  2. Make the Commitment to Yourself.  You know clearly what is important to you, now it’s all on you to protect it. You have to decide that you’re willing to do some kind of scary personal growth work.
  3. Practice. Just like everything else, saying “no” takes practice and it’s probably best not to start when your overbearing boss drops another project on your overburdened plate. Or when your pastor nominates you for some great thing that you really don’t want to do. Start by saying “no” to the overly pushy sales person at the department store. Say “no” to dessert, even though the waitress was really nice. Say “no” to your best friend (who already knows you’re practicing and supports you fully). For sure say “no” to the creepy European gentleman who wants to put lotion on your hands in the mall (what is that about?!?)
  4. Prepare some scripts. So that when you panic, you have something to say. This isn’t anything complicated, it’s the short, sweet, polite “no” that we talked about above.  “I’m sorry, I can’t right now” or “Not today, but thank you” are my personal favorites.
  5. More Practice. Practice using your scripts. Make sure they roll off your tongue easily and with a smile. No excuses, no junk, just “no.” Keep practicing in low-importance situations where the stakes aren’t high either way.
  6. Be Prepared to Disappoint some Folks, and to Impress Others. There will be times when you will genuinely disappoint someone, and that is hard as a human. The reward, is that you protect the thing that matters most to you. If disappointing that other person matters more than your most valued thing, then go back and say “yes” but 99.9% of the time it won’t.  Also be prepared to receive a surprising amount of respect.  When you can say a polite, sincere “no” it’s an act of power. It’s also a sign of authority, leadership and personal strength. People notice.
  7. Find Strategies for the Boundary Pushers.  Some people will always push, always.  I have a beloved friend who is one of those people who can get me to buy something I’m lukewarm on just because she’s there and shopping with me. Or have another drink I don’t want, or get dessert when I’m already full, or whatever. It’s not because she’s mean, or has bad intentions, it’s because she’s a bucket of fun and I just enjoy her company so much I end up saying “yes” to random crap. The best strategy with her was to confess – I told her I was practicing saying “no” and that I love her dearly, but was going to be saying “no” a lot more and really wanted her support. She stepped up like a champ. Obviously that won’t work with the pushy call from the charity or the neighbor who sells real estate who really wants to list your house, but there will be different strategies for those people. Just single out the pushy people in your life and give it some thought.

Learning to say no can be daunting, but in terms of the payoff it’s the best thing you can do for yourself. It helps to build personal strength, self-respect and positive feelings in your life. Most importantly it gives you space around the things that really matter to you – whether that’s time to do the things you like, money for things that really matter to you, or any other valuable commodity that you are preserving

Feeling Good about Feeling Good: Part 2 – Ignoring Cultural Negativity

Feeling good about feeling good isn’t easy – in fact most of us feel just a little bit guilty or self-conscious when we’re really truly happy.  Our culture doesn’t look favorably on true joyfulness – maybe it’s the puritanical roots?  I talked a lot about it in the first post in this series, which focuses on the personal drama we create.  In this post let’s focus more on the drama and negativity that is culturally conditioned, because as it turns out, there’s a ton of it.

Step 2 to Feeling Good: Ignoring Cultural Negativity

The great myth of Western culture is that we are more financially blessed and privileged as a society and so it logically follows that we must also be happier than other societies, and that those two things are related. Like the happiness maybe comes from something we’ve earned, or bought or treated ourselves to. This isn’t the case. In fact, a remarkable body of research called the “World Happiness Report” found that financial factors play a small part, but social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity and the perception of corruption also have big roles to play. The World Happiness project essentially does a mountain of research to determine which countries are the happiest and how that happiness changes with large world events. The results are highly surprising. Here’s a look at the top 10 countries (U.S. came in #13 if you’re curious) and the key showing what each color represents:

Feeling good about feeling good - the top 10 happiest countries according to the World Happiness Report. (see link in text).

Feeling good about feeling good – the top 10 happiest countries according to the World Happiness Report. (see link in text).

THese are the factors that matter in happiness - financial wellbeing, social support, health (as life expectancy) generosity, honesty or corruption of the society you live in and the general angst of your country, summed up in "dystopia."

These are the factors that matter in happiness – financial wellbeing, social support, health (as life expectancy) generosity, honesty or corruption of the society you live in and the general angst of your country, summed up in “dystopia.”

All well and good, but what does this mean for our own happiness?  Here are a few key points, in the form of actions you can take to boost your happy:

  •  Stop Watching the News.  Especially North American News. Why? Because sadly journalism is a huge industry now and the thing that makes news sell is fear or moral outrage.  More people watch more news if it’s scarier, more shocking or more directly threatening to you and generally that means spinning information to have the maximum impact. News is made scarier, bigger, more fearful,  more threatening, more anger-provoking or inciting. This is not because the world is more fearful, only because news is a business and fear sells. But really, do you need more anxiety hormones coursing through your bloodstream? Really?
  • Let go of Crisis Planning. We are kind of a nation of catastrophizers – everything is going to be something awful. The media has some impact on this because if you listen to the news it sounds like there’s going to be a terrorist showing up on your street at any moment. It’s also just human nature to fear the worst and for god’s sake we have a whole industry of Worst Case Scenario Survival Guides and Zombie Apocalypse Kits. I mean really. Ironically in the World Happiness Report (I’ll call it WHR for short) countries that were impacted by some crisis actually became happier if the social structure was strong (and unhappier if it wasn’t, which leads us to our next point).
The report provided evidence of an interaction between social capital and economic or other crises, with the crisis providing a test of the quality of the underlying social fabric.
If the fabric is sufficiently strong, then the crisis may even lead to higher subjective well-being, in part by giving people a chance to work together towards good purpose, and to realize and appreciate the strength of their mutual social support; and in part because the crisis will be better handled and the underlying
social capital improved in use.
  • Help Your Neighbors.  That whole “social fabric” thing that they’re talking about it something that you and I can actually impact.  Social fabric is strong if you’re in a community that would get out there and make sure everyone has food and water if the sh*t really did hit the fan. It’s weak if you feel like everyone in your neighborhood would get their gun to safeguard their food and water from looters.  So how do we live in a society with good social fabric? Start simple by being a good neighbor and society will follow.
  • Don’t Judge. Sure sure, haters going to hate, but you don’t have to be one of them.  The WHR shows that freedom to make life choices is a really big deal for happiness and that includes the freedom legally but also socially. This means if you don’t feel like you can do what you want to do (even if it’s legal but socially unacceptable) then your happiness is impacted. Likewise if you’re adding to someone else’s feeling of not-being-able-to-do then you’re making them less happy (and yourself as well).  At the end of the day every human on this planet is doing the best they can with what they have so being a little easier on them would help all around.
  • Fix What You Can, Drop Everything Else. Someone else said this better than I will ever be able to, so whether you’re a religious person or not, I’m guessing you can grok this:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and  wisdom to know the difference.

– Reinhold Niebuhr

  • Give Away. Generosity is a simple step to happiness that you have complete and utter control over. You can choose at any moment to give something to someone, to be generous with kindness, with your smile, with laughter, with love.  And it makes YOU happy. You feel good when you help others feel good plain and simple.
  • Practice Pronoia.  I *love* the whole concept of pronoia as visioned by Rob Brezsny. Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia and involves the deep seated belief that the Universe is conspiring to shower you with blessings.  Sure, you could expect the worst, but this is far happier. It is just as likely that the Universe is sneaking up on you to make all your dreams come true as it is that it’s out to get you so might as well engage in some constructive fantasy of the former, rather than the latter (I wrote a  whole post on this too).
  • Learn Optimism. There’s a whole body of research that suggests joy is a talent that you can practice, cultivate and increase just like any other talent.  Let’s do that and start feeling good about feeling good. In fact, there’s a whole book on it.

Feeling Good About Feeling Good: Part 1 – Dropping the Drama

I’ve been seeing an alarming trend a lot in clients, friends and myself. It seems like everyone feels just a little bit guilty when they are feeling good.  Somehow as humans we are a little bit unsure that we deserve to be happy, or healthy, or whole or generally unburdened.  There’s kind of a resting level of guilt, anxiety and martyrdom that everyone acknowledges, recognizes, and accepts as their due.

It’s not quite social acceptable to actually feel good, be optimistic or have a positive world view.  Although it is socially acceptable to put on a brave face, to soldier through, and to rally under pressure. But why? And more importantly, how do we stop buying into that ridiculously destructive collective insanity? We’ll make this a series, because I’m guessing we can talk a bit about it. 🙂

Feeling good about feeling good. Un-learn your story today to get a little breathing room in the feeling good department. Lovely photo from Renesis on wikimedia commons.

Feeling good about feeling good. Un-learn your story today to get a little breathing room in the feeling good department. Lovely photo from Renesis on wikimedia commons.

Step 1 to Feeling Good: Allowing Yourself The Benefits of Drama, Without the Drama.

Here’s the thing. You love drama. You will deny this, but at a fundamental level all humans do. You LOVE drama. You crave it (I do too). Here’s why:

  • Having drama means you’re important enough to have drama – this meets our craving for status, influence, recognition.
  • It means your lire is exciting in some way (even if it’s a bad way). Internally this has a lot of value for all of us humans – we like to have interesting things to talk about. This is also about status and recognition, but also just good socializing.
  • It means you have an excuse to be “too busy” to do the things you didn’t want to do anyway or to take on the extra projects/duties/responsibilities/crap that you didn’t want to take on anyway.This allows us a graceful way to say no, because saying no is really hard.
  • Drama gets sympathy points from everyone else, and on some level we all love both sympathizing with someone else, and also getting sympathy. This is sort of what makes us human, and a community. This meets a big need for care and community from the people around us.

So – the goal here is recognizing when we really have something going on and honor that – make time and space, take what we need and be human. Also to recognize when we’re just creating drama, exaggerating a situation, or making excuses. Sometimes there really is drama and that’s life, but lots of times there really isn’t and in those moments we can just drop it.  Differentiating can be incredibly difficult, but it’s so liberating to stop making excuses, gossiping about yourself and your problems, and just be.

Recognizing when you’re Creating Drama

If you can learn to let go of the story and find what you need in another way, then things do actually get a whole lot simpler. It becomes easy to answer the question “How are you?” with a “great” rather than a dramatic story about how bad/busy/stressed/tired/overworked/crazy/etc… you are. Or to answer the “how are you” question with a “crappy” if that’s the real answer.  There doesn’t have to be a story, sometimes it’s just crappy. But all in all, letting go of your story makes it easier to just feel good. To feel good about feeling good even. Here are some ways to recognize when you’re making something more difficult than it needs to be:

What is Your Story?

Sometimes there is a story that they (or I ) tell over and over in some version that becomes sort of routine.  It’s the story you don’t have to think about, you just tell, and it usually gets an emotional reaction – sympathy, moral outrage on your behalf, something.  Often it starts with a phrase like “You wouldn’t believe…” or “Guess what’s happening now…” or “Listen to this…” and the other person responds by emoting. In many ways we are mutually entertained by this, but we also kind of get stuck in the cycle of that being the way things are because we’re getting positive reinforcement. The relevant question to ask when you notice your story, is:

Is this the way I actually want to be in the world? Or am I perpetuating a story that doesn’t need to exist?

I’ll give you the example that I am working on letting go of – this is my “story”.

You wouldn’t believe how busy I am! I’ve really bitten off more than I can chew between [insert random obligation here] and [another random obligation] I feel like I hardly have any time at all. And now my boss is asking me to [yet another obligation].

My typical story is all about being busy. SO busy. SO VERY busy. And it’s usually told as a bid for sympathy and also a bit of a brag, all rolled into one. Which is recognizably absurd – I know. Ironically it has taken me years to notice that this is my story, and as much time to sort out why.  As it turns out it’s because I perceive my value in the world to be about the things I do – the activities and the accomplishments and the ways I’m productive in the world. So by being so busy, I”m also being “so valuable” (sort of sad, right?)

The most absurd part is that while I’m telling that story I continue to perpetuate it – I take on more projects, I say yes to the next random obligation, I sleep less and try to do more.  CLEARLY this is me creating my own drama and recognizing my story can help me to stop telling it.

Letting Go Of Your Story

To start letting go of your story you have to start to recognize what you personally get out of it. This is different for every person and requires some painful soul searching. Here’s the list of things I think I get from my story:

  • Value – by telling this story some part of me feels valuable – I’m doing things.
  • Emotional connection– other people express sympathy for my workload – it’s a way to know that people care about me and to feel connected.
  • Kudos – doing it all with a smile makes me “brave” or “good” or some other undefinable something.
  • Excuses – I get to say no with good reason to the things I really don’t want to do.  I Don’t even have to say “no” I can say “I would love to, but…”

For me letting go of this story means finding other ways to get or do those things, better ways. As absurd as it sounds this is actually deeply emotional work. For most people, the story that they tell is reflective of some deeply held beliefs about the world and their place in it, and it’s usually a kind of dysfunctional way of going about it.

  1. Recognize Your Story – this has to be the first step. You can’t change it unless you see what it is.  It’s harder than it looks and the best way to figure it out is to ask your friends. Not acquaintances, but the people who have known you for years. They will know your story right away and if you give them permission, they will usually be able to tell you.  Make sure you ask when you’re in an emotional place to actually hear them and not get defensive about what they say because it can be hard to hear.
  2. Pay Attention When You’re Telling It – start to notice what you feel when you’re telling your story.  Notice how the other person reacts and how that makes you feel. Check in to see if there are benefits that you get out of this.
  3. Build Your List of Things You Get From Your Story – you have to know what you’re getting out of it to be able to change it.
  4. One At A Time Find Other Ways to Get Those Things – this is the really hard part, and it will be different for every person. I”ve used a number of tools to separate my emotional feeling that my value is in what I do (not who I am) with the logical recognition that this doesn’t make sense. This has included Byron Katie’s “The Work,” hypnotherapy, meditation and a lot of personal contemplation (not to mention years of homeopathy and the occasional counselor thrown in there). It’s also included growing enough of a spine to learn to say no (we’ll do a whole post on that).
  5. Un-Learn Your Story – practice not telling your story. Recognize the situations when you would normally launch in, and don’t.  It feels awkward to not say it, it feels like there’s a weird conversational faux-pas happening, but just don’t give in. Practice first with friends and ask them to give you gentle reminders when you’re launching into your story.  Ask them to help you notice.
  6. Be Gentle With Yourself – this is far more difficult than you think it’s going to be.  It involves looking at your own most vulnerable pieces. The parts of you that learned something in childhood that your adult brain now has to sort through.
  7. Start Feeling Good about Feeling Good – this is what it’s all about.  You’re dropping your story so that you can let go of dysfunctional ways of getting what you need. This is about learning to feel good without using drama as a crutch. It’s about learning to feel good about feeling good and not letting guilt (about being happy) get in the way of actually being happy. We humans are crazy hairless monkeys, so we might as well enjoy it and not get all neurotic.

It can be tremendously liberating to let go of your story, but it also takes time. Just be gentle with yourself and ease your way into feeling good about feeling good.