Why Saying Yes to Everything is Not Always Helpful

I have a strength in saying yes. Ask me to do something for you and, if I can do it, I can almost guarantee that I will say yes.

The thing is, however, that I tend to say yes without boundaries. I don’t always pause to think of how many yeses I have offered, or what those yeses mean for me and my time. I look at my calendar, and I work crazily to wedge another commitment into it without noticing that the commitments, whilst important to me and something that I really want to do, may be depleting me.

I am sure I am not the only person who does this. We seem to live in a crazy world where it can sometimes be a competition to fit as many things into our lives as possible. So, we become caught up in doing everything, saying yes, and not noticing whether that yes is helping us.

The problem is that this can become a cycle that does not serve us well. I hold myself to high standards with regard to honouring my commitments. When I over commit, I run myself ragged meeting all of my commitments because my standards won’t allow me to let my commitments drop. I then inevitably become exhausted and need to take time out to recover. Even then, I don’t say no to new commitments, and so the cycle often starts again, often before I have fully recovered from the previous bout of exhaustion.

I can now see that I have been unwittingly falling into a cycle of sacrifice.

Service or Sacrifice?

In their book “The Unopened Gift: A Primer in Emotional Literacy” (2017), Dan Newby & Lucy Nunez offer interpretations of the emotions of service and sacrifice:

EmotionWhat we say to ourselves in this emotionThe action we are predisposed to taking from this emotionWhat we are taking care of from this emotion
Sacrifice“I do for others in ways that deplete me”To care for others while disregarding our own needsTo give up ourselves for the sake of others
Service“I do for others in ways that nurture us both”To provide for others in a way that does not deplete meTo know what for me is acting in a caring manner towards others

Sacrifice, then, is like withdrawing money from a bank account without putting money back in. Every time we take money out, we leave less money in the bank account. If we keep taking money out of the bank account without nurturing the bank account, there will be nothing left. This is what happens when we become unwittingly caught up in a cycle of sacrifice; we keep giving in a way that depletes us. If we remain in that cycle, we become exhausted, potentially with nothing left to give.

Although this may mean that at times sacrifice may not be serving us, it doesn’t mean that sacrifice is wrong. Sacrifice is useful because it allows us to put others first in situations where that might be needed. However, when we are in a cycle of sacrifice, it may be worth asking ourselves whether this is useful.

In service, we take care of others while nurturing all parties, including ourselves. Referring back to the bank account analogy, if I was serving my bank account, I might consider only participating in free activities three weekends in four because doing this would ensure that my bank account is nurtured and not depleted. In the same way, being in service of others means that we are helping them in a way that also takes care of ourselves without depleting us.

Just like sacrifice isn’t necessarily wrong, it is important to note that service isn’t necessarily right. Both are useful in their own way. The key is to understand which emotion is going to serve us best in any given moment. It could be either of service or sacrifice.  Using the bank account analogy, if I am paying for a new car today, then sacrificing savings in a bank account may be more useful than servicing those savings. On the other hand, servicing the savings in the bank account may be more useful than sacrificing them while I am saving up for the car. It is the same when we are choosing whether to operate from service or sacrifice in our everyday life. Sometimes service will help us, and sometimes sacrifice will help us.

What I Have Learnt About Service, Sacrifice and Saying Yes

Having now had the distinctions of service and sacrifice made available to me, I can see that my cycle of saying yes is unwittingly coming from sacrifice. I have been filling my calendar with yeses without considering the impact on me, which is depleting me and leading to exhaustion.

What if instead, I started to respond to requests from the emotion of service?

From the emotion of service, it feels possible to respond to requests in a way that enables me to nurture myself and others. For example, I can put boundaries around how many hours a week I want to make available to others. I can also put boundaries around the time that I have available for each commitment. All of a sudden, I feel as though I have the possibility of making a counter-offer or even saying no available to me.

It might be that sometimes, it will still be useful to operate from sacrifice regarding requests for my time. However, this then becomes a conscious choice to operate from sacrifice, rather than unwittingly being my norm.

Practising Service and Sacrifice

Like everything, learning to use our emotions in a way that serves us takes practice. It is often not until we really experience and practice our emotions that we become skilled in using them effectively. This is understandable, because it often requires unlearning some of our earlier lessons in life.

After almost a lifetime of operating from sacrifice, it is fair to expect that it is going to make more than knowing about service and sacrifice for me to learn how to use both emotions effectively. To start this process, however, I have started to pause before responding to requests. I then ask myself some questions:

  1. Do I choose to respond to this request from service or sacrifice?
  2. What does operating from my chosen emotion mean for how I respond to this request right now?

I have found that, by pausing to ask myself these questions, I am now consciously choosing to accept whether I will nurture or deplete myself. This feels incredibly useful.

Bringing it all Together

If you are finding that your commitments are exhausting you, perhaps it might be useful to ask yourself whether you are accepting those commitments from the emotion of service or the emotion of sacrifice. Which emotion will serve you more usefully? How will you use that emotion to respond?

Newby, D. and Nunez, L., 2017. The Unopened Gift: A Primer in Emotional Literacy. USA: Daniel Newby.
Newby, D. and Watkins, C., 2019. The Field Guide to Emotions: A Practical Orientation to 150 Essential Emotions. USA: Daniel Newby.

Feature photo in this post is by Drahomír Posteby-Mach on Unsplash

This article has also been posted on my personal blog: https://anontologicallife.com  

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