In this episode of The Productive Woman we’re talking about using “No”vember as a time to consider when and how saying no (and yes) is a healthy thing to do, and how it contributes to making our life better.
Knowing when to say no or yes
I’ve seen a few posts (including the great quote above from Life on Purpose Movement!) and articles recently referring to this month as “No”vember, meaning a time to think about things to say no to in order to make your life better. It got me thinking about some things we can choose–this month or any month–to say no to as part of our intentional pursuit of a meaningfully productive life–a life that matters. Saying no isn’t about depriving yourself, but about making space for things that really matter. So we’ll also look at what we can say yes to instead.
1. Destructive Comparison
As I’ve quoted before, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I’ve seen it attributed to writer C.S. Lewis and former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Joyful, happy people are more productive-and many studies show that.
One of the negative effects is that comparison–watching others too closely–can lead to envy, which can drive us to pursue goals we don’t actually care about. We see someone with a certain home or car or job or life and something in us, maybe unconscious, thinks we need that too, and without really being thoughtful and intentional about whether it’s something that actually matters to us.
“The most important thing to understand is that there is a huge difference in energy and outcome between seeing other people’s success and using that vision to inspire you, versus beating yourself up mercilessly because you’re not where they are. If comparison makes you feel worthless and demoralized, unable to get what you want and “deserve,” and you resent others for what they have, it’s time to stop comparing or shift your approach to it.”-from When Comparing Yourself to Others Turns Destructive)
The alternative is to practice being aware when we’re comparing ourselves and remind ourselves, out loud, that the other person’s life is not mine; she’s walking her path, and I’m walking mine. We can (as the article notes) learn from others and be inspired by the possibilities their achievements demonstrate without condemning ourselves for not being where they are.
2. Unexamined activity (things we agree to do for reasons we don’t like)
It often happens around the holidays that we find our schedules full of events, activities, deadlines–whether at work or at home or outside the home. If we have kids at home, we often find their school scheduling concerts or programs or events. Churches often plan holiday programs that members are expected to participate in or attend. Maybe it’s family things–parties or meals with extended family, or gift exchanges. Maybe we are decorating our home or doing extra crafts or cooking or baking.
If they all have meaning for us–bring us joy or contribute in some way to our relationships or our well being–and we’re doing them intentionally and by choice, then these are good. I’m not suggesting that anybody has to stop doing anything that’s meaningful or important to them. I just think “No”vember is a great time to pause and reflect on our calendar and make sure it’s reflecting our values and what matters most to us.
Another blog I read quotes an unknown source for a reminder we all need sometimes: “It’s okay to say no (if you don’t want to do it, if you’re already overscheduled, if you don’t have the time, if you feel forced to say yes, if it doesn’t make you happy, if you’d rather relax).”
An alternative is to give ourselves permission to say yes to the invitations and requests and activities that have meaning to us and no to everything else.
Destructive comparison can lead to this, as we try to keep up with or measure up to the people we’re watching.
In addition, many of us use spending money as a way of dealing with uncomfortable feelings, what Brooke Castillo refers to as buffering. (Some people buffer using food, alcohol or other substances, work, etc. Some of us buy things to make ourselves feel better)
Some of us buy things to make up for perceived lack elsewhere (e.g., boredom or buying lots of stuff for kids to alleviate mom guilt for working too much) or to try to please or impress other people.
Some alternatives to overspending:
- Be more conscious of what we’re spending and why.
- Make a budget and stick to it.
- Do the work to address the feelings and find alternative ways to soothe our feelings or boredom.
There are some great thoughts in a post on the Life On Purpose Movement site, including this one: “If you didn’t need it before it was on sale, you don’t need it now.”
4. Mindless accumulation
This can follow on the overspending thing, but it’s more than that–it’s about mindlessly acquiring things but also about mindlessly holding on to things. We can say no to both and make our lives more peaceful and more productive.
“You don’t have to own things to enjoy them.” and “Everything you buy becomes something you have to manage.” ~ The Life On Purpose Movement
“Your home is an extension of your energy field. This is why practices like cleaning your home, rearranging furniture, organizing your closet, and getting rid of things that are cluttering your space can have a profound impact on your mind, body, and spirit.”- from parenting blog letslassothemoon on Instagram, quoting Maryam Hasnaa
An alternative to mindless accumulation is to say yes to being mindful about what we own and why:
- Invest time & money in experiences rather than objects–for ourselves, for our children, for those we give gifts to
- Start thinking before you buy, and decide, before you pay, where the item will go. Don’t buy it unless you have a specific home for it.
- Practice the one in, one (or two) out rule. You can decide for yourself what categories to exclude. For me, right now, I’m not going to follow that for books, BUT there are other things–clothing, decor items, kitchen gear–that I definitely can do this.
- If you have a lot of a certain category, consider planning time to purge, and do good in the world by donating items that are in good condition to a charity that can use them: clothing to a program that helps prepare women for new jobs; toys to a shelter; books to your church’s library.
When I speak about isolation, I’m not talking about solitude or spending time (even a lot of time) alone. Those are good things we all need to some degree and that have benefits to us and our productivity. I’m talking about saying no to walls that keep us separated and disconnected–walls that are built in some cases because of shame, comparison, resentment, misunderstandings, or lack of empathy.
Social media, which ought to enable conversations with a broader circle than we could meet in person, seems to do the opposite. One article about loneliness and its impact on workplace productivity notes that “61% of Americans reported they felt lonely in 2020, and more than a third reported feeling a general sense of emptiness or disconnection from others when they are at work.”
A study a few years ago out of the University of Pittsburgh, which focused on young adults between the ages of 19-32, found that “people who reported spending the most time on social media — more than two hours a day — had twice the odds of perceived social isolation than those who said they spent a half hour per day or less on those sites. And people who visited social media platforms most frequently, 58 visits per week or more, had more than three times the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week.” (from an NPR article, Feeling Lonely? Too Much Time on Social Media May Be Why, citing a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine)
The study’s authors warned us that the results don’t necessarily mean we should all stop using social media and acknowledge that more research was needed to understand the reasons and how it translates to other age groups. BUT we’ve all experienced the negative aspects of social media–feeding feelings of inadequacy, heated and insulting arguments with people you know and those you don’t
What we’ve learned is that social media, and even video conferencing like Zoom or Teams, can’t replace face-to-face connection with other human beings. A Forbes article titled Loneliness Is Crippling Workplace Productivity: Here’s The Leadership Prescription cites one study’s findings that “Respondents who interacted with others daily, for instance, had an average loneliness score that was nearly 20 points lower than those who never did.”
“Technology has created the illusion that workers are connected, when in reality they feel isolated, lonely, disengaged and less committed to their organizations when overusing or misusing it…” ~ Dan Schawbel, author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation
Chris Bailey, the author of The Productivity Project, wrote a post on the Lifehack website called The Top 10 Things I Learned about Productivity Living in Total Isolation for 10 Days. #6 on the list: “Digital connections provide a much smaller return than real connections.”
He goes on to say: “Real connections are deeper, more valuable, and provide greater returns as you invest more time and energy into them. The problem is, and maybe you’re like me with this, I invest way more time into my digital connections than my real connections.”
This is even more pronounced and problematic if our digital connections include exposure to, or participation in, the harsh, negative, and divisive “conversations” that seem to dominate most social media platforms. I can’t be sure which is the cause and which is the effect, but what I’ve seen is we seem to have lost our ability, as a society, to empathize with or even tolerate people who don’t believe as we do. It feels like society has become more stratified, more deeply divided along ideological lines, and that can leave us disconnected, blocked off from more and more people, our circle of “acceptable” people getting smaller and smaller.
I want to say no to this isolation and disconnection. I want to say yes to listening more–listening to understand rather than to refute–and not being too quick to dismiss people who think differently than I do. I want to say yes to opening my heart and my home to more people, to both broaden my circle and go deeper with some. Intentionally make time for in-person time with the people I love (my mom, for example).
6. Surrendering your power (not as woowoo as it sounds)
What comes to my mind is passive worry–stewing about things I either can’t or don’t do anything about. I have a tendency to think about this and I know I’m not the only one. When I do this, I’m surrendering power over my own life.
I’m thinking about that Span of Control concept we talked about with Carey Lohrenz in episode 365. If we are thinking about things outside our span of control–things we cannot do anything about–then we are not taking any productive action about the things that are within our span of control. We see ourselves as powerless because our thoughts are focused on things we actually don’t have any power over.
Instead, when we catch ourselves worrying, we can pause and ask, “What can I do right now?” Find something, no matter how small, that’s within our power to do, and then do it.
There are lots of things we can’t control or even do anything about. We can’t change other people, and sometimes we can’t change our circumstances (at least not right away). But rather than dwelling on those things, turn your mind to figuring out what you can do.
What do you think?
What are you saying no to this “No”vember to make room for a better yes? Share your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me!
Resources and Links:
- Four Crucial Reminders to Keep You from Overbuying This Holiday Season
- When Comparing Yourself To Others Turns Self-Destructive
- The Stress of Social Comparison
- What happens when you stop comparing yourself to others
- How Loneliness Affects Employee Productivity
- New To Lasso The Moon, My Friend — START HERE!
- Loneliness Is Crippling Workplace Productivity: Here’s The Leadership Prescription
- How Loneliness Affects Employee Productivity | Made of Millions Foundation
- The Top 10 Things I Learned about Productivity Living in Total Isolation for 10 Days
- The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey
- TPW365 with Carey Lohrenz
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