“No” is a Complete Sentence – and Other Steps to Self-Care

I recently spoke to my boss and told her that I could not continue working as hard as I have been. The impact of working too much was taking a toll on my body—specifically my back which structurally starts to misalign when I am under too much stress. It has cost me a lot of money and time to keep putting it back together again. I feel like Humpty Dumpty on the wall and every time I fall off the pieces are getting harder and harder to put back together. After a culmination of events two weeks ago, I had to stop and consider what I was doing to myself and to make a commitment to better self-care. By the way, I work for myself and am my own boss!

Almost everyone I know or work with has similar stories to mine. We are doing too much and don’t have enough down time. In fact, I never run across anyone who says they feel balanced between work and rest.  Notice I didn’t say “work and play” because sometimes our play can be as overwhelming as our work. This lack of balance often occurs because of the difficulty with saying “no” or “that’s good enough.” And the root of the problem appears to be, at least in part, the inability to understand the need for rest.

So let’s take a closer look at these concepts—rest, no, and what’s good enough. They can be profoundly healing yet amazingly difficult to incorporate into our lives.

Let’s start with “rest”

Even after I made the commitment to do less and take better care of myself, I was talking to my Mom on the phone on Sunday and discovered another layer of difficulty in achieving my self-care plans. She asked me what I was going to do on Easter. I told her I was going on a walk, was going to fix brunch, and then I would probably catch up on some work. Her response struck at the core of the issue and busted my belief that I knew how to do this self-care thing as well as I’d like to assert. She said, “It’s Sunday and it’s a day of rest.” 

Oh shoot! Rest!? That sounds like a great idea but what does it mean? For me, it meant that I decided not to work on Sunday and to take a hot bath with magnesium salt. I set the alarm for 20 minutes to make sure to get maximum effect. After the bath, I took a short lie down. I didn’t sleep but I let my body rest. I really did feel restored.

The word “rest” has been showing up a lot for me lately. In the book Love and Rage by Lama Rod Owens, he says the following:

I also teach people to refrain. I think we’re over engaged in things that are not meaningful. You need to actually rest and take a break. And that’s such a cornerstone of my practice. Just take breaks, to refrain from emails and social media, and just to be alone, to be silent, to limit all of these distractions around me, so I could actually have time to restore.  

Later he makes the distinction between resting and sleeping. They are not the same thing. Resting is about “letting go, letting be, dropping things, and resting the mind.” You might just sit and watch the birds outside the window. Or, sit on the patio and look at the trees, the flowers, or the people–whatever is passing by. I find that resting is particularly restorative when I’m out in nature, but it can happen in your apartment, your home, or even at the airport.

Take some time to reflect on your experience of what it means to really rest and restore. How does that happen for you? Or, if this is a completely alien concept, how could you go about exploring it for yourself?

“No” is a complete sentence

This statement is also from Lama Rod Owens and it resonated throughout my body when I read it. “No” is a complete sentence. Wow! You don’t have to explain yourself or say you’re sorry that you can’t do something. You can simply say “no.” For many of us, learning this kind of “no” would be life-changing. Just say “No.” Instead of the slogan for staying away from drugs, it could be the new slogan for staying away from addictive work, social media, busy work, and other meaningless distractions.

Of course, there are circumstances when you probably don’t want to say “no” because the consequences would be too high, like losing your job. But, I’m sure we could all say “no” more often without deleterious effects and actually experience some extra space in our lives to breath more deeply, rest our minds, restore our bodies, and, as cliché as it sounds, smell the roses.

Often, you are your own worst enemy.  Practice saying “no” to the constant activity and put places of pause within your day. These resting periods can be as short as a minute or as long as you want. Of course there are demands of your work and your family, but often times we drive ourselves more than we have to because we think “no one else can do it as well” or “if I don’t do it, it won’t get done.” When you stop doing things, you might be surprised at what happens. You might discover things don’t always need to be done or that you leave room for someone else to step up to the plate.

That’s good enough.

What is “good enough?” Well, for one thing, it is less than perfect. And while that might sound frightening to my fellow perfectionists, it is certainly something I am learning to embrace. Perfectionism is an impediment to rest. Embracing “good enough” gives you the mental and emotional capacity  to rest.

The never-ending pursuit of perfection leaves you no time for anything and sucks the life blood out of you. Perfection is predicated on the belief that it can always be better so you can never win or rest until it’s better. It is the mindset of do more, never stop, never be satisfied, not enough. It will exhaust you until you have no more to give.

Reflect on what would be “good enough” the next time you do a project or activity. Lean in to how that feels. You might notice a little relief.

Putting it all together.

In order to take care of your whole self, you need to rest. You need to discover what rest means to you and experience it on a regular basis. You don’t do rest. You rest.

By learning to say “no” more often you are claiming the right to focus on the things that bring you meaning. You will engage less with what you do just to please others and because you think you need to do those things to be liked. You will learn to like yourself instead.

You will practice with letting go when things are “good enough” and not be constantly propelled by an ideal of perfection. “Good enough” feels like a warm glove on a cold winter day. It’s soft and soothing.

Of course, I am not perfect at self-care but I’m working at being “good enough” at it.  As a result, I am noticing that I have more time for meaningful conversations, unstructured play, and joyous rest.