You Missed the “No” Muscle

no muscle

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You missed a muscle.

To which muscle do you think I am referring?

I will give you a hint: it is the one we tend to feel most guilty exercising.

Nope, not that one.

No, that’s not the one I am talking about either.

You’re getting warmer…

That’s it; that’s the one! Strengthening your ‘no’ muscle is one of the most important exercises you can do, particularly as we live in this curious COVID-era.

During these quarantine times, it might seem less important to say ‘no’ to things because allegedly we now have “all this time” back in our day.

Here is a little acknowledged fact about the impact of being home during a global crisis: our capacity to produce, perform and engage at our usual level will inevitably look different, and will fluctuate day-to-day.

If you were able to power through your to-do list before 2 p.m. consistently pre-COVID and now you struggle to make it to your home desk on time for your first of many virtual meetings of the day, that is normal.

If you are not usually someone who has a strong morning or nighttime routine and were hoping to infuse some healthy habits into your day to build one, but are struggling to stick to it, that is also normal.

If you are typically someone who loves to engage with your friends, family and colleagues all the time but find yourself dreading your next virtual gathering, that is normal too.

We are home-bound and have somehow convinced ourselves and those around us that we have copious amounts of free-time we must spend productively and/or plan out. I’ve heard students, colleagues, family and friends alike talk about how exhausted, overwhelmed and burned out they feel from engaging in countless hours of virtual classes, meetings, webinars, ceremonies, game nights, Netflix parties and Hulu Happy Hours.

Having the time to do something and the capacity to do something are two completely different things. And if you do not have both, you may find it helpful to practice the art of saying ‘no’ to preserve your energy and honor your boundaries.

Here are some ways to exercise your ‘no’ muscle:

  1. Recognize and honor your own boundaries. Just because someone else has the capacity to host or attend five virtual social gatherings each week doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Not every event — virtual and otherwise — requires your presence.
  2. Remember you are saying ‘yes’ to yourself and your sanity. Saying ‘no’ to something you don’t have time, capacity or desire to do is a ‘yes’ to your own self-care. And caring for yourself and your needs is foundational to showing up as your best self for others.
  3. Find a phrasing that feels natural for you. Saying ‘no’ to someone we care about or respect, or to an opportunity that is beneficial in some way, is not easy. It can make us feel guilty, inadequate, lazy and even fearful the opportunity may not come back around again. The converse, however, involves letting yourself and potentially the other(s) involved down despite agreeing to help. Some of my favorite ways to say ‘no’ and honor my boundaries are:
    1. “No.” Because ‘no’ is a full sentence. Period.
    2. “There is a lot on my mind/on my plate right now, so I cannot help. However, here is a resource that you might find helpful…”
    3. “I am not in a place to take on anything additional right now.”
    4. “Thank you for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I cannot give my best self to this right now, but I can check back with you when things lighten up a bit.”
Angelica Harris
Originally a native of Buffalo, NY, Angelica "Angie" Harris (She, Her, Hers) is a certified health and wellness coach and serves as the assistant director of wellness. Angie received her B.A. in sociology from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and her M.A. in higher education administration from the University of Maryland, College Park. Angie currently serves as the Wellness Specialist for the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. She is passionate about using her skillset to facilitate reflection, provide empowerment, and inspire action with her students and clients. as well as using her experience creating and building successful and thriving wellness programs and interventions to help other colleges and universities do the same.

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