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Archive for May, 2008

Saying “No” when you need to

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

As two-year olds, “no” was our favorite word, and we pronounced it with great confidence. What happened? As adults we take a two-week guilt trip every time we say it in any meaningful conversation. It’s an important word to use, yet we avoid it like lima beans.

A big piece of the problem lies in the idea that saying “no” is not nice. When you get to be a big kid, you learn it’s important to be nice. Nice is more important than honest, fair, or reasonable once we move into adulthood. Nice can be deadly if you’re doing too much.

Being effective with how to say “no” is essential. Life is more vibrant when we don’t take on things that aren’t ours to carry. Saying “yes” to the wrong things doesn’t do right by the people making the requests either. Agreeing to do it because someone else asked you to–when a different approach is needed–is a lie. Lies complicate relationships. This particular lie also takes away that person’s chance to learn to achieve whatever the real solution was. They rely on you instead. You lose. They lose.

The saddest part is that when we do say “no,” it tends to be to those who don’t deserve it, especially ourselves. We say “no” to the fun and “yes” to the work. “No” to what we like and “yes” to what others prefer. (And then we wonder why we are stressed!) We say “no” to the people who deserve our time and “yes” to chores no one else wants to do. We need a better set of rules for this.

Here they are:

Rule #1.Be honest.

Is this really yours to do? If not, who should be doing it? Is that person available? If not, why are you the one asked to handle it? And then there’s the biggie: Is this important enough that anyone should be doing it?

Rule #2.Be authentic.

Do you believe in what you are being asked to do? Do you really want to do it? Is it truly your responsibility? Or is “yes” just easier? “No” takes more courage up front but “yes” takes a lot more time to be finished with the request.

Rule #3.Stay the course.

Even when you know you need to say “no” it’s easy to be derailed by sweet talk. Be alert to the folks who tell you how great you are at whatever they need done. A lot of us believe we HAVE to say “yes” to anyone who asks nicely. Not really. We just need to say “no” nicely.

And that’s the other part of this.The courage to say “no” often doesn’t come until we are at the boiling point.  Then “no” is lobbed like a hand grenade. Saying it as “the last straw’” often has catastrophic results. The big fight that results just isn’t worth it.  Too long delayed,“no’” is almost always part of a major explosion. Not pretty. Not good. So instead of learning how to use the word at the right time, we decide not to use it at all.

Say “no” when you first become aware it’s the right answer. Be specific.“No.I can’t take on the fundraising chairmanship.” (You can add “Sorry” if you want.) Say it gently. “I’d love to do something with you, but not that movie.” And particularly, with kids and teenagers, you have to say it clearly or they will still hear “yes.” “No, you can’t do that” is more effective than “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

What about the situations where the person you have to refuse is difficult? You still have to say it. And you have to learn to say it calmly and with confidence again and again—even if that person is verbally abusive. Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection is a great resource for these situations.(The subtitle is “How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed or Desperate.”  That pretty much covers the bases.)

Do say “yes” to what’s important. Say “yes” when it makes your heart sing. But “no” is a good answer, too. Believe it and mean it and say it with grace.

Stress: The Instant Ager

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

(This article by Mary Lloyd appeared in the April 2008 edition of the online newsletter Put Old on Hold. published by Barbara Morris.)

One of the biggest issues we face as a culture and as individuals is stress. There’s a lot said about it. Some of it is well meaning baloney. It goes like this:  Stress stalks us. We have too many demands and too little time to honor them.  It’s unavoidable. There are so many people who rely on us that self care is impossible. Life is out of control–we can’t change any of it.

If you buy that, you are–if you haven’t already–going to make yourself sick. Perhaps VERY sick. And you are going to look really old really early. The premise itself saps your vitality.

Whenever we assume stress is external and we can’t do anything about it, we make ourselves VICTIMS. Being a victim is hard on the body and harder on the spirit.  That’s why victims tend to look older than they are. Same deal with stress. Have you ever caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror when you were in the meatgrinder of too much to do? Who’s that grumpy old person scowling back?

Job, kids, spouse, parents, community. It adds up in a hurry. But the amount of stress within each of those categories is a function of what you are telling yourself and how you behave as a result. There may be a huge number of demands in your life, but remember who put them there. YOU.

If you’re subscribing to any of the following “truths,” it’s time to ditch them:

  • Things should go the way I want. This is a major stress inducer. A lot of what happens in life isn’t what we wanted. Work with what’s going on instead of spending your energy being upset that it’s not what you think should be going on. Your “should” does not equal what “is.” Thinking it’s supposed to is the express lane to Stress City.
  • I need to do everything the best I can. A while ago, I found a list of stress busters from someone else’s meeting. It included the words “Some things are worth doing poorly.” What a revelation! Sometimes, a quick pass is enough. Or as my sister advised, “Nobody’s going to notice you haven’t dusted if they’re eating good food and laughing.”
  • You must take care of those you care about. This is tragic .Kids get zero practice dealing with everyday difficulties because they have cell phones and can just call Mom. You’re not doing them a favor by solving problems they could handle. Likewise, you are not helping the company by covering for an ineffective co-worker. Nor is it wise to bail your friends out again and again. Let people feel the consequences of their choices so they can learn to make better ones.
  • I give; others take. This is a recipe for resentment. There has to be a balance—get and give. With babies, it may be their trust and innocence, but older kids should contribute to the family effort. It’s great to collect money for the starving children in the Sudan; it’s even more essential they learn to do their part at home. That goes for everyone in the household. Playing video games or watching TV while someone else does all the work should be against the law.
  • To be worthwhile, my days have to be jammed full. No. Downtime is the best beauty treatment you can give yourself. The chance to read, meditate or go for a walk is better for you—and the world—than another commitment. Leave some gaps in your calendar.
  • There’s no time for me. Yes, there is, but it might not be an entire day at the spa. Do something just for yourself everyday, even if it’s only flossing your teeth when you don’t think you have time. Take a “two minute vacation” by getting lost in the pleasant memories of a favorite place. Drop your shoulders and take deep breaths at every red light. Smile when you see yourself in the mirror. It doesn’t have to be big to help you stay serene.
  • My stress is from other people. Nope. There are stories galore about people who manage to stay centered in the most horrific of circumstances. Stress is a CHOICE. Or perhaps more accurately, stress comes from the choices you make all day long. Make wise choices and you can tame it for good.

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Welcome to Real Retirement Planning!

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Yes, you need money to be able to retire. But you need a whole lot more and it’s about time somebody starting blogging about that. So here I am, at your service. My name is Mary Lloyd and my mission is to make sure people live the years after retirement on fire and on purpose. You don’t have to save the world–unless you really want to. But you do have to do things that are really important to you if you want to have a good life once it’s time for “the good life.”

I write, speak and teach about this topic because we all need to plan for more than bunco parties and time with the grandkids once we no longer need to show up for work everyday.  My intention with this blog is to get people thinking about retirement differently–and more completely.

As a culture, we tend to look at it as a benevolent form of termination. You are done. You will still have money in the bank every month, but you don’t have to do anything to earn it any more. The typical reaction to this is to claim the right to do nothing with gusto–and then jam anything you can find into the day so you can brag about how busy you are.

What we need to do instead is think about how we really WANT to spend our time. And then to follow through to make those things a major part of everyday life. Leisure is only pleasant as an antidote for work. We need to find the things we believe in strongly enough that we want to work on them “just because.”

Mining Silver–that is my hope. That each of us finds our own unique value–our silver– and uncovers how to use it after work becomes an option.

Having enough money is a key piece of living the “retirement” stage of life well. But having enough meaning is even more crucial. That is what we will explore on this blog.