How do you honor yourself when someone needs your help?

I had a coaching session with a client recently and her story struck a chord with me; I've been in the same situation many times before, as have many I've talked to. Here’s what she shared:

“I had to make a phone call to tell a friend that I changed my mind about helping her.”

I asked if she remembered how she felt about the whole experience from beginning to end and when she said yes, we broke down each step and how she felt at each moment: realization, preparation, communication, after. 

The hardest part for this client was the moment of realization; that if she proceeded to do what she had committed to, she was making a significant personal sacrifice that she was uncomfortable making.

To honor herself, she said, made her feel ashamed.

“Like I wanted to leave my body” she said.  Her shame was followed by a few hours of anxiety and fear on how to talk to her friend without upsetting her. In the end, she chose honesty and respect to communicate her change of heart.  In doing so, she felt better, stronger and significantly less stressed.

Why is it that we universally have a negative reaction to honoring our own needs? 

A mother feels shame for leaving her kids to have an afternoon to recharge.  An employee feels guilty taking a 1.5 hour lunch break even though he’s going to put in a 12 hour day.  We agree to something that conflicts with what we need to do for our family, our life, our sanity - and we feel guilty for asking for that time back, or angry at ourselves for giving it up in the first place.

Honoring yourself is hard work. It’s also necessary.  

Here are Three Painless Ways to Put Your Needs First:

1. Ask questions. Your goal is to be get as many specifics as possible on what you are being asked to do. Write down the answers. What is the request? How long will it take you? When do they need it by? What's in it for you? Double check with the requester if anything is not clear and ensure that you have all your questions answered.  

2. Take your time making a decision. Ask "When do you need to know by?" Your answer should always be no if someone is pressuring you to decide too quickly for your comfort.  Review the answers to the questions you gathered in Step 1. and ask yourself: What other things can you be doing with that time? What on your list gets delayed if you say Yes?  How does that make you feel? This can be hard for some.  My suggestion is to have someone else read the task (that you wrote down in Step 1) out loud to you.  Pay attention to how you feel.  If there is a pit in your stomach or your head hurts - you should say No.  If the ask makes you smile and you feel lighter, you should say Yes.

3. Be clear on your answer.  When you come to a Yes or a No - deeply understand why you are saying YES (My heart feels full with love, it makes me super happy to help, I would regret it if I didn’t do this…) or why you are saying NO (I can’t possibly imagine fitting anything else into my schedule, I can’t sacrifice the time, it would delay an important goal of mine, it makes me nauseous to think about helping).  Knowing your why will help you craft your response.  Be as honest and respectful as possible. It will also help the other person to understand your decision and hopefully stop them from pressuring you to change it.  I would also include your why if you say Yes.

In the long run, the goal is to only say yes to those things that perfectly align into your life, heart and soul, but life is not perfect. For those times when you feel like you can’t say no but deeply regret the decision - the best thing to do, for everyone involved is to be honest and honor your own personal needs.  

If you don’t, no one will do it for you.

Take Action:  Next time someone asks you for help, use the tips and questions I recommend here to ensure you can make the best decision possible.

The benefit?  You'll clearly understand what you are getting yourself into (or not) and whyYou'll also be able to better set expectations when others ask for your help. Most importantly, you'll benefit by putting yourself and your needs first.

This week, feel: Dignity.