Last year when my life went all haywire (more on that here), a friend sent me a book that I have since dubbed Getting-Over-It-For-Dummies by Sarah Knight.*
In that book, Knight discusses how much time we all spend (*waste*) making the same well-intentioned but personally-destructive decisions over and over again, even when we know we get no pleasure out of them. Basically, we say yes way too often. Examples:
- You go get a latte with your co-worker every morning even though you don't really enjoy the conversation or the coffee.
- I invite all my long-distance friends to visit any time, all the time, even though having visitors stresses me the f*ck out.
On top of that, there are times that we do make the right-for-us decision and manage to say no, but then we spend a lot of time/energy feeling bad about it (or being told we should feel bad about it) after. Examples:
- I always say no when my friend invites me to his open mic gigs, but I also always feel bad that I'm not showing up to support him.
- You never donate to your family members' Kickstarter campaigns to fund their pets/vacations/pets' vacations, but then your mom calls to nag you about it.
What Knight is getting at here is that saying no to people is often really, really hard, even if we're doing for the right reasons. To combat this, she offers a fairly straightforward tool for how to stop putting yourself in these situations:
In a nutshell, a personal policy is a way to make decision once, stick to it indefinitely, and divorce it from all of that messy emotional baggage of ~*feeling bad about it*~.
How do you make personal policies? Well, it's pretty straightforward:
- Come up with a list of things you immediately or always-after-the-fact wish you had said no to every single time you say yes to them.
- Rewrite that list, starting each item with "I have a personal policy against _____________."
Seems too simple, right? Let's try an example:
Every time I agree to schedule a meeting at 8am, even though I normally don't go into the office until 9am, my whole day is a disaster.
Personal policy against meetings before 9am.
Now, I know everyone isn't lucky enough to make decisions like that in their jobs, so here's a personal life example:
Every time you catch up with your bff from college she suggests happy hour at a fancy cocktail bar with $2 off drinks, but you end up spending $60 in two hours and wrecking your budget.
Personal policy against happy hours...
Personal policy against happy hours that don't offer at least 50% off prices...
Personal policy against cocktails that cost more than $10.
The exact personal policy you develop is flexible, what's important is that you use personal policies to set boundaries that (a) eliminate anxiety and (b) help you move toward your goals and happiness in life.
So now that you've got the hang of it, here are a few ideas for things to develop personal policies around:
- 6am cycling classes.
- When you talk to your parents.
- When you respond to work emails.
- Buying co-workers kids' popcorn/cookies/magazine subscriptions.
- Monday night happy hour.
- Potluck dinners.
- Brunch before 10am.
- G-rated movies.
- Buying wedding gifts that cost more than X amount of money.
- Talking work/politics/Game of Thrones on Facebook/Instagram/Slack.
The trick for using personal policies is to develop them in advance and to always say that they're personal policies when you use them, for example "No, thank you. I have a personal policy against ______."
As soon as you say, "No, thank you. I don't like _______," you've lost the battle, because that person is going to want to understand why you don't like the thing they've just asked of you and try to change your mind. For some reason, not liking things brings you under some kind of messy moral judgment that creates more anxiety than you started with. But personal policies incite respect for boundary-setting and strength.
If I could attribute the bulk of my decrease in stress and anxiety last year to one thing, it would be personal policies. At first they can feel selfish, but in the end they are so, so liberating. Declaring your personal policies is simply announcing your boundaries and establishing them in the world. And people appreciate when you tell them what you need and how much you can handle.
So give it a try and let me know how it goes, loves. I'll have Personal Policies 201 up soon.