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Wellbeing | Inspire

Live Your Best Life By Saying “No”

By The Yoga School | September 27, 2018

Because when you realise you can’t please everybody anyway, your life begins to change

I still remember how it felt the first time I brought home my report card and I got full marks for everything. My mother kissed me so many times and hugged me so tightly I thought I was going to burst. It wasn’t the first time she praised me, of course, but it was the first time I was rewarded for being good at something tangible, rather than something like chewing with my mouth closed or keeping my toys after I’m done playing with them. The pride that beamed on my mother’s face also made me happy for making her proud.

At school, I was a favourite amongst teachers and in their words, I was “the classmate to call if you have problems with your homework”. I was also taking several classes outside of school, and I was good at them. Each time I went for abacus class, the other parents would come talk to me and ask me to help “influence” their children to be more like me. And my piano teacher even told my mother when I was just 10 years old, to consider sending me abroad to further my studies and even possibly, to pursue a career in music.

To be honest, I can’t even remember if I enjoyed any of those classes, but I definitely enjoyed the attention and commendation I got from my parents, teachers and peers. More significantly, I grew up letting other people’s approval of me shape my identity from a very young age. I yearned to be liked and the only way I knew how was to be good at what I did, be it school or piano or abacus, and so I worked for it.

However, life gets a little more complicated when you grow up; I just hadn’t realised it yet. Fast forward to when I was 23, at my first job and needless to say, I was a total yes-man: I volunteered myself for extra tasks, worked over-time and ran all sorts of personal errands for my boss. I even backed out on a trip with my close friends (I had been looking forward to it for months as it was the first trip we planned for) to take on a last-minute work trip. I wanted to prove that I was willing to do whatever it took. And I was the same when it came to personal relationships. I wanted to be accepted, and so I put up with friends and boyfriends who were selfish and only looked out for themselves.

Eventually, I was worn out – physically and emotionally – and I was unhappy. I was in my late twenties when I finally decided: no, I would not be bogged down by people who weren’t adding value to my life the way I was contributing to theirs, so I cut those so-called friends loose. And I left a job that was consuming me with negativity. I decided to prioritise me, which was the best decision I’ve ever made. It was as if all the rules that I thought I had to live by were shackles wearing me down, and I was instantly freed.

Turns out, when you make yourself the priority, amazing things happen because it changes the way you perceive yourself and the world around you. But finding the courage to take the first step is tough. Here’s how I learnt to say no to negativity – and yes to a whole new world of possibilities:

Lesson #1: Understanding why it is hard to say no
It is human nature to want to belong and we all have the same desire. The fear of disappointing people, losing your friends and becoming unpopular is totally normal and should not make you feel inadequate.

Lesson #2: Accept the fact that you can’t please everybody
Be it your friends, family, co-workers or someone you’re dating, the people in your life all want something from you. But it’s up to you to decide the value of each relationship because some people bring joy while others just end up bringing you pain no matter how hard you try. The sooner you come to accept this fact, the earlier you’ll begin to see the world through new eyes.

Lesson #3: Realise that you are the most important person to you
We speak about self-care and how we should take time out to connect with ourselves, be it something as simple as taking a relaxing bath or meditating to clear our thoughts. However, the full intention of self-care cannot be fulfilled if you are plagued with toxic people and dissatisfying relationships. Pay attention to what your intuition tells you because more often than not, the voice inside you knows what’s best for you. Pick up a new hobby. Stop wasting time on people who aren’t worth it. Take some time off work and travel. Because you can only take care of the people you love when you take care of yourself first.

Lesson #4: Those who really matter will respect and stand by your choices anyway
If you’re stuck in a job that pays well but does not inspire you and literally sucks the life out of you, quit. If you’re in a relationship that isn’t filled with love and respect, leave. Because you can get by with less and you won’t be lonely even when you’re alone. The ones who truly care for you, will stick with you through it all.

*Editor’s note: Thanks to Joan Cai for sharing her story with The Yoga School.
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