Though we all have exactly 24 hours in a day, why does it seem like some days I’ve been short-changed? There have been many days that I’ve worked diligently and when the dust finally settles at the end of that day, I’ve had nothing to show for it. This is a mystery I like to lump in with all the missing socks in the dryer.

If we did an accounting of all the flurried activity in our lives, would we find any meaning there? Whenever I’ve taken time to do this accounting, I’ve been radically disappointed that all my busyness didn’t net me more satisfaction. When I focused on my patterns, I found a singular habit contributing to my frantic activity and its resultant weariness: I was addicted to saying “yes.” Whenever I was asked to do something I answered in the affirmative. It didn’t matter whether I wanted to do it, had the skill it required, or even if I had time to devote to the activity. I always said yes.

Why do we say yes, taking on tasks and responsibilities that we don’t really want? I’ve identified four reasons we might fall into this trap.

Fear of missing out is not new but with the rise of social media, it seems to be more centrally located in our consciousness. This fear compels me to say yes to going out with friends when I really want to lay on my couch and recover from the day. It might even motivate me to take on running the school bake sale because not doing it might leave me out of the “mom loop.” I may fear losing that promotion at work if I don’t say yes to every request of me or suggestion to me, that my boss makes.

I think we women may be more prone to guilt than men. In my small study sample, which includes only myself and my husband, I find this to be strikingly consistent. Maybe it comes from our genuinely good intentions to meet every need of the ones we love most. Finding out we just don’t have the unlimited capacities required to make this happen is a real downer. I fight against this notion with every fiber of my being. Still, we continue to take on more and more, striving to make sure eveyone on our watch is happy and feeling guilty when we don’t succeed.

When others around us are desperate for help they sometimes manipulate us with flattery, or begging, or even lay on the guilt to induce our cooperation. This is a particularly difficult situation to say no to. It’s made more difficult when the request comes from someone we really like or admire or is around a cause we really believe in.

Comparing myself or my own availability with someone else’s is a real killer. I forget that the president of the PTA’s kids are in upper elementary while mine are all under age seven. There’s a huge difference in my availability and discretionary activity when children are younger and less independent. But that won’t stop me from saying yes if I’m comparing myself to her based purely on hours of contribution. I might also need an ego boost, I mean kids are not great at giving positive feedback! So then I might compare my abilities to someone else’s and decide I would do soooo much better than she would, which results in another yes from me. Now my to-do list is extremely unweildy.

The thing about these motivators for “yes” is that they’re all externally oriented. Shouldn’t my “yes” be intrinsically motivated; coming from my heart?  If I believe that by serving others I am serving God for a heavenly reward, then my heart must be serving from the pure motivation of love. These external motivators rob me of that privilege. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says that each of us must give as we’ve decided in our heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. He’s affirming that our motivation to serve must come from our heart’s desire to genuinely love God and people. Period.

Those of us with a “yes” addiction rarely take the time to discern what our true motivations are. Maybe you’re living by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If this is driving you, it can be difficult to recognize that there is an appropriate time to say “no.” To this I would say the first commandment, which Jesus affirmed, is to love God first, with all our heart, soul, mind. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). If I am saying yes to everyone else’s request, I ‘ve got my loves out of order and am not putting God first. God should get first right to my time, both alone with me and then in directing my service to others. If I am saying an automatic yes to you out of compulsion, I cannot be loving God first.

A great tool for overcoming the “Yes” addiction is a personal mission statement. This is a tool for discerning what my personal values and priorties are. Taking time to write these down creates a consistant framework by which to gauge those opportunities I may say yes to and which I must then, decline guilt free! I’ll be writing about Creating A Personal Mission Statement soon, so stay tuned to your inbox!

Have you ever struggled with any of the motivators listed above? How do you deal with them? I hope you’ll share it with us in the comment section below.

Posted by Lee Ann

Hi, I'm Lee Ann, an extrovert; perpetual learner; book collector; Jesus-follower; A “doer” in recovery; Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Greater Denver, CO

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