Learn Two Simple Phrases to Reduce Overwhelming and Stressful Situations
I watched the second hand go around the clock: tick, tick, tick. I could see the stack of papers waiting: tick, tick, tick. My phone buzzed; a meeting I had forgotten about starts in 15 minutes: tick, tick, tick. An email arrived with another assignment: tick, tick, tick. Someone needing help knocked on my door: tick, tick, tick. I forced a smile and invited the person in—tick, tick, tick. I think to myself: Why does everything happen at once?
Have you ever felt like this?
Overwhelmed and stressed out is a motto too many people have turned into a daily mantra. What is one to do in a world where everything is needed now, and most people juggle multiple roles simultaneously?
I was talking to an individual, gutted by life and feeling guilty for not living up to his usual overwhelmed and stressed-out standards. He wasn't getting as much done at work and seeing his family and friends less. He came to me for help with his guilt and to help him get back on the circus wheel of too much to do. What he left with over a couple of visits was something entirely different.
The "N" Words.
I asked him, "What would happen if you stopped saying 'yes' and started saying 'no'?" He looked confused, as if "no" was a dirty word. I asked if he wanted to be doing everything he was currently burdened by. His answer: "No, but I feel guilty for not saying 'yes.'" He could obviously say "no" as I heard him use the word. We talked and talked some more, and nothing was working. So, I looked at him and said, "I need you to take this assignment over for me. I can't get to it by the deadline." He was flabbergasted, "I have just been telling you what is happening. Why would you ask me to do more?" I told him, "If you don't want to take care of yourself and say no, why should I care to help you?"
I could see the light bulb go off in his head. The reality of what he had allowed came into focus. He looked at me and politely said, "No. My load is full, and I won't be able to make the deadline if I take the new assignment on." I smiled. He left. While there were a few bumps on my colleague's new road of "no," the stress and strain were slipping away from him, his laughter more frequent, and he had more time for his family and friends.
The same colleague revisited me a few weeks later, still on a high from learning the word "no." However, now there was a different issue. His position had changed, and with it, the level of responsibility and volume of assignments increased. Deadlines were looming, all due around the same time, and he was frozen, fearing where to begin. The increased workload and responsibility were not the real issue. He was on the standard learning curve of a new job, but honestly, all of it was freaking him out, and he lost focus and let fear take over.
I had known this person for many years and fully believed in his capacity to do the job and handle the workload. He just needed to get going and not let the false narrative of fear consume him. He was looking at the totality of the work which had to be completed instead of the necessary next step. I asked him what was due next. He stated the answer and then said, but so and so is more critical, and it is expected shortly after the first assignment. "Which one is causing you the most stress?" He replied the more crucial task. "Then do the critical task first," I said, "so the pressure can be released and then move on to the necessary next, the next item which needs completing."
While adding "no" to his vocabulary was a game changer, he needed to learn the other "N" words: "necessary next." Most people I know who are hounded by the tick, tick, tick of the clock need to understand the terms "no" and "necessary next" to help silence the blaring tick of the clock.
"No" and "necessary next" allows us to set boundaries. Jesus set boundaries, and you can too. Jesus even said "no," as seen in Matthew 12:38-39: "Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from you." He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." (NIV) Moreover, God says no to each of us as He does not always give us what we pray for.
Turning to "necessary next," Jesus had a lot of work and a short time to accomplish it. Yet, instead of worrying about the totality of the workload, He simply focused on the "necessary next" and taught others to do the same. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34 (NIV)
Think about areas of your life where you need to begin saying "no." How can you communicate "no" in a kind way and begin to establish boundaries? Give saying "no" a try this week.
If you feel burdened with numerous tasks, ask yourself, "What is the necessary next? The next thing which needs accomplishing?" Complete this task and then ask yourself the question again and then complete that task. Keep going till you feel the pressure relieved.
Prayer: Lord, help me love myself enough to learn to say "no" and do the "necessary next."
Remember, God values you and sent Jesus to bring you peace.
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