Has someone ever asked you to do something and your inner voice told you to say "no", but you still said "yes"? It might have been a small ask like meeting to have a cup of coffee or a larger commitment like a party invitation or taking on a work project.
It has happened to all of us at one time or another and it usually lends itself to a whole lot of mind clutter. How you ask? Well, when you say "yes" when you want to actually say "no", you now become conscious of that override, the regret or the second guessing that results, and that takes up and occupies valuable mental real estate.
The reasons why we say "yes" when we mean "no" differs a bit for each of us, but at the core of it is people-pleasing behaviors we learned when we were younger. It often stems from a childhood where you didn’t want to disappoint or you were seeking validation.
Let's take a deeper dive at why you might be saying "yes" to asks when you really don't want to and some actions you can take to break the cycle. A learned awareness around why you react in such a manner can help decrease the mental clutter that accumulates because of the inclination to say "yes" more often than you should.
you are seeking approval from others
Many of us desire the approval of others or are afraid of being rejected or not liked by someone. You may have learned early on that being agreeable was how you received positive attention. As you got older, you may have continued to use this behavior to make friends or please employers and colleagues.
you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)
Humans are social beings, so you might find yourself saying "yes" because you have a fear of missing out. FOMO is a very real phenomenon and an anxiety that is based around a concern that an exciting or interesting event may be happening that you aren't a part of. It often is roused by posts from family and/or friend's on social media. People who are extremely concerned with what others are doing may find themselves with feelings of depression/anxiety, low self-esteem, and loneliness.
you feel guilty
You might say "yes" when you mean "no" out of some sense of guilt or obligation to your family, friends or someone at work. You might find yourself feeling like you have done something wrong or have failed to do something if you say "no" so you say "yes" to avoid experiencing those burdens.
okay, so now what?
It's normal to want to be well-liked, but worrying too much about how others view you can be self-destructive. Regularly craving approval from someone else or tying your self worth to what you believe other people think of you is a slippery slope.
Micki Fine, M.Ed., L.P.C., and author of the book, The Need to Please: Mindfulness Skills to Gain Freedom from People Pleasing and Approval Seeking, says that “attempts to please others can never yield the experience of unconditional love because the effort made to earn it means it isn’t unconditional.” Fine explains that this bad habit can become compulsive and addictive because feeling loved and valued is so crucial.
be aware of your patterns and retrain your brain
The first step to tackle any type of change is simply to acknowledge that you have something that needs work. Bring some deeper awareness to your actions to see how often you are engaging in people-pleasing behaviors.
By becoming aware of what may have previously been a subconscious response, you can begin to retrain the neural pathways in your brain. Training these pathways is like putting up a stop sign (or at least a caution flag) in your mind reminding it that there is a different path it can take, one that is more aligned with your personal wishes and desires.
Be kind to yourself as you start to retrain yourself as becoming aware of patterns and actually changing them takes time. Shutting off your autopilot mode is not easy, but it is most definitely a fruitful endeavor.
learn to say "no"
Learn to say "no", albeit graciously. It is such a powerful little word, and as toddlers we all seem to have no trouble using it and yet somewhere along the way many of us turn into adults who seem to have an absolute allergy to the word. It takes practice like any other skill but saying "no" can be quite liberating.
consider working with a therapist
If you are struggling with understanding the motivation behind always saying "yes" or if it is causing significant trouble or stress in your life it might be time to see someone who is best suited to help you with solutions. It is important to have boundaries and balance in your life, and that includes what you say "yes" and "no" to.
We all say "yes" at times when we really don't want to, but making that decision the exception rather than the rule goes a long way in honoring yourself and your own worth. Doing so is a great way to contribute to keeping the clutter in your mind's "closet" at a minimum.