In a world dominated by “yes,” it can be hard to say no, especially for people pleasers. However, constantly saying “yes” can ultimately lead to burnout, stress and feeling overwhelmed.
As an online student, you especially need to be aware of your decisions and obligations to others, as you are adding a serious commitment to your existing workload. Florida Tech Instructor Jarin Eisenberg writes that being an online learner “will inevitably require a sacrifice in other parts of your life… For some, that might mean missing a family event to complete homework or take an exam. For others, it might mean reducing their workload or not taking on new responsibilities. For most, it likely results in reducing the amount of time spent on leisure activities.”
In all of the examples Eisenberg lists, there is an element of saying no. Saying no to attending a niece’s choir concert. Saying no to taking on a special project at work. Saying no to a night out with friends. While saying no to these things is difficult, there are benefits of saying no and steps you can take to get more practice at it.
The Benefits of Saying No
While saying no can seem counterintuitive at best and difficult at worst, there are many benefits to saying no, especially if you are an online student. Typically saying no to someone else means that you are saying yes to something that matters to you.
Focus On Yourself
Sometimes, you have to say no so that you can focus on your own goals and responsibilities. For example, consider that a friend asks you to come over this Saturday to help paint her dining room. Your automatic response is “Yes, I’d love to,” as you want to help your friend out. However, in reality, you have a research paper due that Sunday, and you know that you should complete a final draft of it on Saturday so you can have the required time and space to edit it on Sunday.
In this example, you need to stay focused on your goal – completing this paper, getting a good grade in your class and earning your degree. It isn’t about turning down a friend – it’s about staying persistent in your pursuit of higher education and freeing up your time to put forth your best effort.
As Florida Tech grad Janessa Aarsvold says, sometimes it’s necessary to emphasize how important your degree is to you when the time comes to say no:
“Events and functions will come up and you may have to tell them you cannot attend because you have a test or homework. Oftentimes they get upset because of the constant denials to invites. They need to support your endeavors; not make you feel guilty.”
Turning down family and friends can be very challenging, but it is also an important component of setting boundaries. As mental health therapist Jennifer Rollin writes on Huffington Post, setting boundaries is a critical component of having healthy relationships and an overall sense of well-being.
For online students, this can mean re-establishing household roles with your family, which is what Jessica Rodriguez, Class of 2018, found helped her:
“My husband would make dinner, tend to the kids and do many other things when I was unavailable to do so. My kids would make themselves food, wash their own clothes, clean and give me time when I needed to get homework done. There were even times when my mom would bring me food, clean my house, wash my dishes and take my kids just so that I could concentrate on my work. I would not have been able to see this degree through if it wasn’t for them.”
Improve Your Life Balance
Maintaining a work/life/school balance is essential to not only student success, but also to having a healthy lifestyle. According to Psychology Today, organizational psychologist Adam Grant states that, “Saying no is especially huge in establishing a work/life balance. Without that ability, work will cannibalize your life.”
Since being an online student often means having to cut back in other areas of your life, saying no can help you find the time to dedicate to your studies while still having the opportunity to do other things you enjoy.
Marla McGuiness, Class of 2017, stresses the importance of finding a balance.
“The online program, one of the things you have to do is you have to have a balance. If you can balance your life and your schoolwork, and hopefully you have support from your people who are behind you, you can accomplish anything. You can do this – you can work full-time, you can go to college and you can still have a family life.”
Don’t Overextend Yourself
Online education is often not as easy as students expect because they underestimate the time and dedication involved. Earning a degree is a serious commitment, one that you are choosing to further your career opportunities and advance your education. To make the most of it, it’s important not to overcommit yourself in other areas of your life.
For example, let’s say you have a discussion board post due on Thursday and an assignment due on the weekend. However, you decide that week that you are going to take on an extra report at work, you’re going to hang out with your friends on Friday night and you’re going to a family brunch on Sunday. Suddenly, your week has filled up and you don’t have time to watch the lecture videos and do all the reading in this week’s course module. Since you have overextended yourself in the other parts of your life, you are going to skimp on the course materials and turn in homework that does not demonstrate your best effort. Ultimately, you are not making the most of your education.
Saying no to some if not all of these requests can help you stay focused on the things that matter so that you can give them your all, rather than overcommitting and not doing any of the things you committed to that well.
Steps to Saying No
While it can be hard to turn off the automatic “yes,” here are some steps to start saying no:
Don’t Immediately Say Yes
Instead of saying yes on autopilot, replace your response with an “I’ll think about it.” This not only takes the pressure off and gives you time to assess the request and consider your other priorities, but it also helps minimize upfront yes’s that later turn into apologetic no’s.
Manage Your Feelings
Instead of saying no in an angry or stressed tone, try to say no with an air of calmness and pleasantry. That way, your no doesn’t turn into a dramatic event or offend the requesting party.
Saying no can take practice, so rehearsing your no’s, especially when it comes to refusing a boss or family member, can be helpful.
Commit to Self-Care
Ultimately, if you want to care for yourself and focus on what is best for your personal and professional development, your ability to say no will become just a part of your commitment to improving yourself and focusing on what’s important to you.