Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Achieving--and Maintaining--Equilibrium, Part 2: The Art of No

Why do I feel the need to write about this?  Three or four different things have come up over the last few days that have accented the difficulty most of us have finding a balance.  These things got me thinking: do I feel balanced?  Is chatzos helping?  Please don't read that there is one way to feel balanced.  I acknowledge that everyone deals with their circumstances individually.  This is what things looks like in my life.

Yesterday, I wrote about feeling a need to achieve equilibrium in my life.  I said that I felt like I had achieved some sort of equilibrium.  Funny.  It looks nothing like what I expected.

I expected to see myself relaxing, naturally in downward facing dog, with my 7 month old balanced delicately on my back; my husband and my 3 year old mimicking the position next to me.  In this perfectly balanced world, we are posed on top of a mountain and the world is silent.  I feel calm just thinking about it.

But, alas, that is not my reality of balance.  At some point after DS was born, I realized that I would never achieve any sort of equilibrium (zen like yoga bliss or otherwise) unless I seriously pared down my obligations.  I made a list of my priorities and started cutting from the bottom of the list.  So, while I loved dragging out our TV (it was hiding in a closet at that point) to watch Grey's Anatomy on Thursday night, that obligation was detracting from limited time I had with my husband.  Bye-bye Grey's.  And so on, up the list.

I learned something very important about myself-- while some people may thrive on extra obligations, I do not.  In fact, I dread them.  The more I cut, the better I felt. 

Cutting obligations was tough-- especially as I got to chesedim that I was involved with or learning that I was doing.  I learned, though, that paring down wasn't the most difficult part of achieving balance.  The most difficult part is not taking on me obligations to replace the space that I just created.  Which left me with a question: if it felt so great to make cuts in my obligations, why would I ever entertain taking on new things after I spent all of that effort eliminating?  Simple.  I didn't know how to say no. 

I am still learning the art of no.  I got very good advice from a variety of people.  Queen Lieberfolk downstairs gave me a great article with 5 steps to no.  I taped it above my kitchen sink so that I see it all of the time.  A few of the steps really resonated with me:
  • If you dread it before you say yes, say no.  No matter the circumstances.  Taking on any obligation (for me it is anything outside of my family time because that is all I can handle) is draining.  If you dread the obligation before you even say yes, it is a sure bet that you will lose your balance.
  • There is no need for excuses.  I think that many of us feel the need to justify our "no". "I can't because my son's birthday is soon and my mother-in-law is coming and I am leaving the country in a few weeks and my husband works ALL OF THE TIME and I am hardly holding it together and just thinking about taking on something else may throw me over the edge..." is really not necessary.  This one is very hard for me-- I am saying no because I have found that having nothing extra on my plate suits me well.  I have found a good balance with a clear plate.  Not that I am calm all of the time, but I can manage without major freak outs.  Another friend helped me overcome the urge to make excuses-- a script: "I am sorry.  I would love to help, but I am involved in another chesed right now."  No more is really necessary. 
"No" has allowed me to say "yes" to a lot of different things I wouldn't have been able to do before.  For example, this chatzos experiment.  By not taking on extra things, I am able to work on shabbos all week.  I am able to have more guests and be more present for my guests.

I would love to say that my equilibrium allows me to float through my world with calm and grace.  I just don't think that is possible for me.  What my equilibrium has done is allow me to enjoy my top priorities and focus all of my energy where it matters the most to me. 


  1. I think this is most important! Cutting the crap so that you focus on what is MOST important to YOU!

  2. That is exactly right. In my case, the things that I can focus on is minimal. And I have to be okay with that.