On saying “NO”

No.

I have always hated saying it to people, especially those who might judge the essence of who I am inaccurately, as a result. Ultimately, it’s always run counter to my character to disappoint.

But this past weekend, I did just that.

I said “no” to someone.

I said “no” to giving more than I could provide.

I stood within the integrity of my initial offer of generosity and refused go beyond it.

I refused to compromise my boundaries or to take time away from my precious family in order please someone else.

And it felt good. Really, really good.

In our current culture that encourages us to say “yes” at all costs, it’s not an easy thing to do, to say “no.” There are books, movies, podcasts, and movements dedicated to inviting, embracing, and devoting ourselves to “yes.”

In fact, I would consider myself a recovering “yes-person,” a pleaser or Obliger. In her recent book, The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin describes an individual of the Obliger tendency as someone who “meets outer expectations, but struggles to meet expectations they put on themselves.” Many of my past decisions have been guided by the following tenant- above all, ensure that people like you.

Whenever I have had to disappoint people, fallen short on another’s expectations of me, or had to draw a line, the decision has weighed heavily on my heart, slipped its way into my dreams, and left me sleeplessly second-guessing my choices. For too long, my decisions could be summed up by someone else’s evaluation of them. In the past, I have often ignored the signposts of my intuition, feeling compelled to meet exterior demands on my time, performance, and ability because the alternative meant letting someone down.

Disappointing someone might result in judgement.

Judgement could give way to dislike.

Dislike could lead directly to un-lovabliity.

And In my mind, there was nothing worse.

But not this time. I made the decision to say “no” with absolute clarity and peace of mind.

As time marches on, I have questioned the need to derive my value from pleasing others. Lovability, I’ve learned, comes from an inner sense of worthiness and belonging, not from external reinforcement. The truth is, the more you attempt to meet external expectations, the further you drift from your own path of purpose. The more you stay true to your integrity, the more you uphold your self-trust, the more loveable, worthy, and valued you wind up feeling deep inside.

It’s one thing to know this, intellectually. It’s an entirely different experience to put this into practice with actual, unpredictable, reactionary, tangible humans.

It was Thursday morning and I had just finished contacting beneficiaries for an upcoming charity photoshoot event.

These days, photos play an integral role in creating, sharing, documenting, and preserving memories. The cost of family photo sessions can be astronomically expensive and that cost can be a barrier to entry for lower-income or single-family homes. In the spirit of the Small Act Big Impact initiative, I thought it would be fun to offer a handful of single-parent families (from the non-profit 1 Up Single Family Resource Centre) a mini-session photoshoot and a single edited digital family portrait as a keepsake.

No ulterior motive.

No business marketing scheme.

Zero personal gain beyond the joy of using my hobby to genuinely add value to people’s lives.

That morning, several of the individuals I would be photographing reached out to thank me or share their stories in anticipation of the shoot. One of the single-moms emailed me, stating, “This sweet surprise feels like one of those little nudges to let me know I’m doing the right thing and being rewarded in this recent decision of mine to leave an unhealthy relationship and change everything for me and my children.”

I was feeling excited and honoured to be providing a service that might bring happiness to people who could not otherwise afford it.

Ping! My thoughts were interrupted by the signal of another email entering my inbox. One of the recipients, whom I had not yet met, had presumed that because the photoshoot was free, there was a catch. Her assumption led her to believe that doing the shoot would result in some benefit to me personally or financially, so she took it upon herself to make several bold demands of my time.

Acknowledging her wishes, I kindly declined and stated that in order to fulfill her expectations, I would be compromising important time with my family; furthermore, I assured her that because of the nature of the project, any benefit to be would be of the heart, not financial.

She responded almost immediately, proceeding to compare my “services” to other for-profit company ventures and marketing campaigns. In closing, she snidely asserted that the free offer was hardly worth her time, and that unless I could deliver on her list of demands, she wouldn’t be attending the shoot. Looking back now, I think her goal had been to shame me into submission. This was not a negotiation she was willing to lose.

I was stunned. I reread the email, believing I’d missed something or that maybe she was joking. And as I did, I felt an angry red heat rising in my chest, travelling up my neck, and spreading across my cheeks. I felt sickened by the skepticism lacing each line of her message, distain and entitlement emanating from the text like destructive radioactive waves.

For a moment, I began questioning my own adequacy. Maybe, she was right! Maybe what I was offering wasn’t enough. She wanted filet mignon, five-courses, and white-glove service, but what I was offering was a warm, soul-infused, hearty bowl of soup.  Briefly, I felt the need to explain myself, to make her understand that there was no catch! I wanted her to see the purpose and intent behind the shoot. I wanted desperately in that moment for her to know, see, and understand me.

But then, I realized something…

Our world is in crisis right now and we have all become victims of uncertainty and scarcity.

We have collectively become conditioned not to trust people.

We have learned that in order to survive and protect ourselves, we must read between the lines for the ulterior motives, because everything that seems too good to be true always is.

We want to win, not lose. Therefore, we continually play anticipatory offense to win the game, at all costs.

We have been acclimatised to our dog-eat-dog world by becoming takers. We have been trained to believe that since everyone else is taking, we might as well, too. Our appetite has become insatiable because there is never enough. The scarcity story plays out in all aspects of our lives.

There are not enough jobs.

There is not enough time.

There is not enough money.

There is not enough sleep.

There is not enough stuff.

Not enough,

Not enough,

Not enough…

We feel we need to negotiate by asking for more than we deserve because that’s the only way to get what we need.

We actively eliminate humanity from our interactions to protect our tender hearts and, in doing so, we become ever more disconnected from the heartbeat of the world.

And so, I understood that this woman was simply a casualty of our current culture. Compassion and empathy edged out the anger.

As I crafted my response with a more open heart, I was reminded of Dr. Maya Angelou who once said: “You teach people how to treat you.”

My goal was not to please. My goal was not to win, either. My goal was to stand strong, with respectful integrity and say “no.”

So, I did.

 

 

36 Questions, 90 Minutes, and Two Stories of True Love that Defy Even the Biggest Skeptics

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Just 36 questions. That’s supposedly all it takes to fall in love. Intrigued? So was I…

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I feel the urge to share a fascinating strategy I just recently learned from The Science of Happiness Podcast (produced by the University of Berkeley and PRI) for creating intimacy that has been proven to have wide-ranging implications not only within budding and romantic relationships, but could also be applied to the creation of deeper platonic bonds with friends, family, students and coworkers.

Two Stories

Before exploring the tactic, itself, we’ve got to rewind to 1997 in the Relationships Lab at Stonybrook University, New York, when psychologist and researcher, Arthur Aron invited two complete strangers into his lab to sit across from one another for a 90-minute period. They were instructed to take turns asking each other 36 specific questions based-in “sustained, escalating, and reciprocal personal self-disclosure, which culminated in a period of staring into each other’s eyes for a period of 4 minutes.

Can you say, awkward?

The results were nothing short of surprising. This contrived scientific set-up seems to have no connection whatsoever with the realities of Real Life; therefore, it would seem logical for anyone to be skeptical that any successful connection could be achieved under these conditions. Here’s where it gets fascinating…

Despite the initial discomfort and seemingly inauthentic nature of the situation, the strangers he invited into his lab kept in touch and 6 months later, the couple invited all of the study’s researchers and assistants to their wedding.

Again, it’s hard not to be skeptical. How could 36 questions and a 90-minute period in a lab which accelerated intimacy truly serve as a strong enough foundation for long term love? Enter Mandy Len Catron, a Vancouver-based writer and professor at UBC. Having recently suffered relationship heartbreak, she learned about the study and vowed to give it a shot, more out of skeptical curiosity than expectation. Finding a willing participant, a gym acquaintance who also had an inquisitive and experimental nature, she wrote about her experience in her popular New York Times post, To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.

They decided to meet in a bar (not a lab), proceeded to spend the next two hours passing her phone across the table, and taking turns posing each other the questions. She compares the process of entering and creating the vulnerable space together through the content of the answers to a frog being boiled in water. By the time they reached the second and third tier of questions, they were already invested…and by that point, it didn’t feel that uncomfortable. The truth is, she said she found herself enjoying learning about herself through the questions, the shared experiences, and the opportunity for self-expansion. Self-expansion, she describes, is the ability to” incorporate others into our sense of self. Some of the questions, which focused on thoughtfully complimenting the other person, were especially challenging.

When launching the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Kindness Challenge with students of all-ages, I’ve usually ask them to give each other compliments at some point during the presentation. Without fail, their compliments wind-up being superficial in spirit, or in other words, safe. The point of the exercise is to draw their attention to the discomfort of the task and to ask them to challenge themselves every day to practice their compliment-giving muscle.

The habit of giving heartfelt compliments makes us vulnerable. It has the potential to open us up to being hurt. When we really look at people, we truly see them. When we see others, we also see ourselves. It can be scary. Ironically, that process of becoming vulnerable enables others to know you. Catron remembers that on the other side of her initial fear, she wound up feeling unexpectedly brave, courageous, and connected to the man sitting across from her.

When it came time for them to stare at each other silently for 4 minutes, they both agreed that it felt too intimate and strange for the bar, so they relocated to a nearby bridge. “What I like about this study is how it assumes that love is in action…it assumes that what matters to my partner matters to me…because he let me look at him.”

I’m sure you’re all wondering…did they fall in love? The answer? Yes. Although, she attributes the love they have to more than just the study. “Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we made the choice to be.”

Mmmmk…so how does this relate to me? Practical uses for the 36 questions beyond awkward singles experiments that, let’s face it, require the willingness and vulnerability of a stranger:

We all have relationships. Period. Whether they are romantic or platonic, we could all use a little tune-up, right? Researchers out of Berkeley University have found that these (adapted) questions have incredible applications with team-building, creating lasting employee relationships, and can mend broken race/gender relations. Adapt this 36-question list to suit you.

  1. When you’re on a road trip, use the questions to get to know your family, friends, or kids better.
  2. Use the questions as a basis and reminder for developing compliment-giving within the classroom. And when it comes to children, it is essential we give them the platform to develop the confidence and trust needed to practice the art of giving compliments within the classroom and at home. (If this interests you, check out the lesson I’ve written on teaching about Compliment Circles in the classroom).
  3. Remember that going ‘deep’ should be preceded by mutual vulnerability, which should function to bring you closer. Brené Brown always urges us to share your stories only with those who have earned the right. Not everyone has earned the right to your vulnerability. It has to be mutual. The power balance has to be equal in order for this to be effective.
  4. On that same note, if you’re thinking these 36 questions are great ‘first-date’ material, I would strongly urge you to reconsider. Both people have to be willing, consenting participants. Springing these questions on an unsuspecting fellow human will likely not result in favourable outcomes!
  5. If some of these questions seem too personal for the office or workplace, you could always channel the spirit of wanting to get to know those around you better by falling back on the ready-to-go The Curiosity Project question cards.

[An aside about these cool cards: I was recently introduced to the Curiosity Project by Elizabeth Milder, a successful entrepreneur and creator of Queens of Expansion, who just recently interviewed me on her 5th episode of Queens of Expansion Vlog and podcast. Check her out on the socials when you get a chance. Her work to create  a community of like-minded women, supporting each other to achieve greatness in the world is inspiring and awe-inspiring! She is definitely someone to be watch. I’ll be posting the link to the podcast when it comes out on Saturday! Let me know what you think.]

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The 36 Questions: 

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Set I

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set II

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

16. What do you value most in a friendship?

17. What is your most treasured memory?

18. What is your most terrible memory?

19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

20. What does friendship mean to you?

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?

22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

Set III

25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “

26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “

27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

As always, let me know what you think or how this influenced you. I always love feedback!