10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Saying Yes

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By Julie Ryan

Those of us with illnesses like Fibromyalgia, ME/CFS and Lyme Disease talk a lot about the importance of saying no, but sometimes saying no just isn’t an option. Or, so we think. We are quick to think that we have to say yes when we really don't. Many times, we say yes without thinking and without asking the right questions of ourselves and of the person asking for something. 

Before you say yes, ask yourself:

  1. Is saying yes in your best interest? Sometimes you're going to have to say yes even when it's not in your best interest but not always. When my mom was sick and called me up needing something I dropped everything, regardless of my interests, because at that moment she was the most important thing. It's not always the case, though. If she just called me up and said "go have lunch with me" and I wasn't feeling well or was busy with work I'd say "no, I have to _____ today." When my husband totalled his car a few years back, I was still at the worst of my illness, but when I got that call I threw my shoes on and was out the door. However, had he just called and said "go have dinner with me," my answer would have been a resounding "I can't." We have to weigh our values and decide whether what we are saying yes to is really more important / better for us.

  2. Is it worth the opportunity cost? Evaluate what you will have to let go of, in order to say yes. Is it really worth it? Is what you are giving up, of so little importance that you can just pass on it?

  3. Do / Will you have the energy to do it? Will your cup be full enough to give what is being asked? Often with chronic illness we really don't know how much will be in our cup at any time. We don't know if a week away we'll have the energy to attend an event. We need to consider this before we agree to do something. Sometimes it's better for everyone to say "I'm really not sure if I can do that. I can pencil it in, but I can't make any promises." It's better not to commit than to do something halfway or to have to back out at the last-minute.

  4. Am I the best person for this task? Sometimes we are just so excited to be asked to do things that we forget that we may not always be the best person for the task. Think about whether you really have the skills and time to commit to the task. Do you know someone who might be a better person for the job? If so, share the opportunity. If you feel you can do some aspects but maybe not others, you can always agree to do certain things and either ask the person who gave you the opportunity to find someone else for the remainder of the task, or you can ask a friend who you know can handle it to help you out.

  5. What's at stake? What does the person asking you for this favor really want? Is it as simple as what they’ve asked for or do they want more? Are they asking you for this favor just to get in the door and ask for more later? Not long ago an acquaintance asked me for help with an event. It was a small online event, and they asked for help with a very simple task that was no big deal to me. I thought it would only take a few minutes during the event and since I'd planned to participate in the event anyway, it wasn't out of my way time-wise. What I thought was a five-minute task turned into two-plus hours of work (mostly outside of the actual event). By the time I was done, I was annoyed and vowed to never say yes to this person again. I could have made more of an effort upfront to make sure that we were on the same page about what she was looking for, and we probably both would have been happier for it.

  6. Can I think about it? Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you have to say yes right now or the offer will be pulled away from you, the best option is probably to say no. Chances are that if someone (usually a salesperson) is presenting you with a buy now or lose the opportunity scenario you are probably better off to say no. But, it's not just sales people who do this to us. Sure, there are a few valid scenarios where a quick decision is the only way (say your friend has an extra ticket for a show tonight; they can't wait around for you to make up your mind, so consult your calendar and your energy cup quickly to see if it's an option). But most of the time that need to make an instant decision is a false need. There should be time to really consider the ask and decide if saying yes or no is in your best interest.

  7. What do you really want to do? What you want to do matters. It's important. Why is it so often seen as selfish and terrible to just say "no, I don't want to"? Too often we say yes to things because we think it's what someone else wants, and we want to make them happy. But is it what you want? I've heard so many stories (and been involved in too many to count) where someone has said yes to something thinking it's what the other person wanted only to find out that the other person only brought it up because they thought it was what person #1 wanted. Really take time to consider whether the thing you are being asked to do is something you really want to do. If it's not (and if it's not one of those cases where no isn't option) then say no.

  8. Would you do this for yourself? For that matter, would you ask someone to do this for you? Too often we end up doing things for other people that we wouldn't even do for ourselves, let alone think to ask someone else for. Often, we do these things without being asked at all, but rather because we offer (out of a misplaced desire to be loved, to be the good friend/child/parent/etc). But seriously, why are we doing things for others that we wouldn't even do for ourselves? I love my mom and would do a lot for her, but I can barely clean my house, so I'm not going to offer to clean hers. That said, if I can afford it I might offer to pay someone to clean hers.

  9. Will saying yes hurt you? This is a big one for those of us with chronic illness. Too often saying yes will actually hurt us (whether in the short-term or the long-run). My mom is the queen of saying yes to way too much. Rather than finding out if someone else would do it, she's just going to do it and assume no one else will. But when it comes to things that will hurt her or things that will help her (or her children) avoid further hurt she knows when to make the right choice. I can learn a lot from that.

  10. Are you being taken advantage of? How many times have you said yes to a situation only to have that same person come back and ask for something else, then something else, and so on. They've learned quickly that you will say yes so they are going to keep asking. I know some very (too) nice people who allow themselves to be taken advantage of time and again. They are kind-hearted people who just want to help others, the problem is that they don't realize that by continually saying yes, they have passed the point of helping and moved into the point of hurting both that person and themselves.

What other questions do you find it helpful to ask yourself before you make a commitment?


Julie Ryan, a regular contributor to ProHealth, is a fellow Fibromyalgia Warrior, freelance writer, and blogger. In addition to Fibromyalgia, Julie is currently diagnosed with Endometriosis, Migraines, Cluster Headaches, and Hypothyroid. She shares her journey, along with inspiration, and information on her blog at http://countingmyspoons.com

You can follow Julie on Twitter and Facebook.

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