Do you often find yourself overwhelmed with commitments? But why is it so difficult to push back against so many demands?
One of the ingredients of stress is losing the ability to control how much we commit, personally, to doing for other people. It’s not so easy, and it requires two rather particular kinds of skills: one is the ability to say ‘no’; and the other is the capacity to say ‘help!’. Two simple words, but ones which many of us have a great deal of trouble in saying.
We all talk a lot about work-life balance, an idea that requires that work takes up a finite space, rather than expanding to fit all the available time in your life: evenings, weekends, even holidays. Being able to politely decline to take on a particular task because you already have other commitments (arguably this is better than saying you are ‘too busy’) is a key to taking control of the quantity of work you are doing. And so too is the ability to ask for help. If there are only so many days before a certain deadline, and it will take more hours than you have available, it follows that hitting the deadline will require more people getting involved. All hands to the pump, as the saying goes.
That sounds easy enough in theory, but why is it so difficult for us to make this happen? Let’s look first at how difficult it can be to ‘push back’ against someone’s demands. This can unleash a lot of emotional factors that will quickly get in the way of plain rational thinking. It could be that, for a whole multitude of reasons, you have learned through life that doing your best to please other people in every possible way is the key to being liked – or more crucially, being loved. Or alternatively, the idea of saying no has become edged with a lurking threat of conflict, and anxiety over where this could lead. Or there could be other completely different reasons in play.
And what about the thorny issue of asking for help. Why is it difficult? Sometimes, it can feel like an admission of defeat: we are not up to doing the job on our own, so in some way it reflects badly on our capabilities. We may have learned, earlier in life, to value hard work and gritty, individual determination, and asking for help becomes, in that framework, the same as saying ‘I can’t cope’ or ‘I am struggling’.
A useful way of looking at this situation is to think about yourself as a unique individual who happens to have a job doing X or Y. In other words, for part of the day, you go to work and take on a role that you have been given, in return for a sum of money paid at the end of the week or month. That role involves a set of responsibilities and tasks, and sometimes, to ‘operate’ the role, whatever it is, will require other people to get involved. Framed in this way, your request for help is simply highlighting a mis-match between the requirements of your role and the resources you have.
But these rational ways of looking at the situation don’t always stick. If the inability to push back or get help is deep-rooted, it may be time to look at how some of your beliefs were formed, and whether they still need to apply, decades later.
Saying no to a bad idea can be tricky.