If It’s Not a Hell Yes, Then It’s a No

For years, I said yes to things I didn’t dig. Jobs. Volunteer opportunities. Friendships. Activities. All of it. I said yes because I thought my work, my contribution, or my presence would make someone else successful, make them happy, and help them reach a goal. But the by-product of spending time and putting effort toward things that didn’t align with my passions but that helped someone else shine? It sucked my energy. I finally got wise and started filtering my decisions using my personal mantra: “if it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a no.”

personal mantra

Let me be clear…

I’m not implying that we shouldn’t ever do things we don’t want to do. That is a ridiculous insinuation because probably half of adulting is doing things I don’t want to do. The playdate I don’t want to schedule. The yard work I don’t want to do. The carpet I don’t want to replace because the dog decided to use the stairs as a chew toy. The sport I don’t want my kid to love because it eats up our family’s evenings and weekends with practices and games. That’s not what I’m saying.

How never saying no has negatively impacted my health…

Always saying yes was taking a toll on my health in ways I didn’t even realize. It contributed to my depression (“if I don’t get out of bed, I don’t have to do that awful thing I committed to doing”). It made me grumpy. It led to migraines (“I know it’s hot as hell at that art fair, but it’s tradition that we go on the first Saturday, so I don’t want to upset tradition.”) It resulted in hearing loss (Stress + pulling giant weeds out of the yard on a very hot day = hearing loss for me, which is another story for another post). It dictated my schedule, taking me away from my peeps to do stuff I resented doing. It kept me in painful, energy-sucking friendships for way longer than I should have stayed. It bound me to low-paying jobs that I never enjoyed because I wanted to lift up the people who hired me. It sucked me into volunteer obligations that left me feeling unappreciated and used, because I believed in the cause but was blind to the people with whom I would be serving.

I finally got wise…

Saying no is a gift. Saying no is healthy. Saying no sets boundaries. Boundaries are self-care in action. (Huge plug for Dr. Henry Cloud’s book series, Boundaries.) Saying no is freedom to allow myself to focus on the things I want to spend my time and energy doing, the things that fill my soul’s gas tank. Saying no keeps me from doing things I enjoy at the time but the consequences make me feel terrible – eating too much sugar (migraine), drinking too much alcohol (migraine), attending a concert without ear plugs so I can feel non-geriatric (hearing loss), doing yard work in the middle of the day because I have time, but it’s hot as Death Valley outside with 107% humidity (migraine + maybe hearing loss).

The filter in action…

Here’s how “If It’s Not a Hell Yes, Then It’s a No” has become a filter for many decisions in my life. Take this completely fictional example:

  • “Hey, Karen. We really need help with this thing. It could be really impactful. Whaddya say?”
  • My thought process…
    • I believe in this cause.
    • I possess the skill to do the thing they are asking me to do.
    • My contributions could move this effort forward.
    • HOWEVER, the team I would be working with is full of people who suck my energy – negative Nellies of the worst kind. They consistently complain about how the whole world is against them, no one appreciates anything they do, everyone who doesn’t contribute sucks, etc.
    • Would I be happy spending hours doing this instead of spending time with my family?
    • Would participating in this opportunity fill my soul’s gas tank?
    • In 10 years, will I look back and wish I had said yes to this?
    • Is this a HELL YES?
    • THEN IT’S A NO.

The hardest part is saying the words…

Putting a decision through the filter and getting to no is the easy part. The hardest part of adopting this philosophy is finding the courage and grace to actually SAY NO. This takes practice, resolve, and, sometimes, thick skin. It’s hard to say no when you feel like you’re going to let people down. I have developed some language to help me honor my boundaries. It’s not rocket science, nor is it anything we haven’t all heard before…

  • “Thank you so much for thinking of me. I can’t commit to that right now. Please keep me in mind in the future.”
  • “I’m flattered you’ve asked, and I so appreciate the offer, but I’m not in a position to take on another commitment right now. Thanks so much and I wish you the best of luck finding someone!”
  • “I wish I could do xyz, but I have learned that I will pay for that decision later. Adulting is a bummer, isn’t it?”

Embracing my mantra has been one of the most freeing decisions of my life. I’m still mired in some things that give me grief on the regular, but I believe in my commitment, and before I said yes, I put them through the filter. They passed, so I said yes.

I would love to hear if you have a personal mantra!

Born & raised in the KC metro, I now live in OP with my husband, 8yo son, goofy Golden mix & grouchy geriatric cat. After graduating from KU & spending over a decade as a buttoned-up corporate person, I quit my job, pierced my nose & hunkered down to raise a kiddo. Here we are, 6 years later, & I love spending my days writing, volunteering & planning our next far-flung adventure.