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“Freedom comes when you learn to let go, creation comes when you learn to say no.” Madonna Ciccone

Stress, technically, may not be a “norm” (yet?) in our society but it sure is a very common experience for a vast number of folks. Many of them, consciously or unconsciously, actually choose to live stress-filled lives. One reason is their inability (or unwillingness) to say “no” – choosing, rather, to not slow down and stop living life at 90 miles an hour, or unwilling to make healthy choices for the sake of their own mental, physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological well-be-ing. For these folks, a lifestyle change that includes saying “no” is an overwhelming and fearful challenge? Why?

The need to keep all options open
Rather than reducing or eliminating choices in the face of overwhelming stress, an obsessive need to say “yes” to juggling unmanageable and untold options seems to be an everyday, self-defeating self-management tactic that has so many feeling trapped, exhausted, overwhelmed, depleted, fearful, and over-medicated (chemical and non-chemical) at work, at home, at play and in relationship.

Why do folks need to keep every option open and consider everything and everyone – as one client said to me recently about an event he was considering -“a definite maybe”? A definite maybe! What is that?!

The pain of saying no
Why is saying “no” so painful? Why does every door have to remain open? Why does one need to consider every possible option?


Whether it’s an attachment or add-on (one will never use) for a new digital camera, or a continued relationship where both partners have nothing in common, or staying connected to a blog, or social network to which one hasn’t contributed in weeks, months or even years, or an event to which one has season tickets but never attends, and the like, there’s a “story” that keeps folks feeling attached, a strong pull which seems to prevent one from disconnecting or detaching. Loss feels overwhelming. They use their “story” to rationalize their hanging on in the face of loss.

Exhausted and overwhelmed by daily decisions about, for example, where to eat every night and whom to socialize with, or exhausted by the panoply of activities that are depleting one’s physical, mental and emotional resources, folks either cannot or will not choose to step back and see the self-destructive results that come from their obsessive need to “keep all my options open.”

What is this attachment to staying open, to making every option a “definite possibility?”

FOMO-Fear of missing out
For many, when options go away or when doors close, they experience a certain sense of loss (fear of) of “missing out.” This can be a deep, visceral (they feel it in their gut) and frightening experience. In order to feel they “belong,” or they’re connected, or they’re not missing out on life, or to maintain a much-needed sense of emotional and psychological security and control, they make up stories about why they need to “keep all my options open,” and refuse to let go.

Their attachment to unlimited options, to unlimited choices, unlimited activities – even when they are overextended and exhausted by the limitlessness of it all – is driven by the fear of what might happen if they eliminate just one option or close just one door. For them, this fear is infinitely greater than the distress, anxiety, overwhelm and exhaustion they experience from keeping all their doors open.

Mentally, emotionally and psychologically, many folks would prefer to die slowly from their stressors than face the emotional loss of opting out or closing a door. It’s the devil they know vs. the devil they don’t. Fear of the unknown is too painful.

So, folks work more hours, longer days, take on more and more tasks and responsibilities, spend an inordinate amount of time in constant contact (online and in real time) or texting and phoning on their electronic leashes, draining their time and energy in social networks and blogs, going out eight nights (up until the last few months) a week, spending inordinately on “stuff,” possessing every add-on bell and whistle, staying connected with toxic folks who deplete their energy, agonizing obsessively over social, career and work changes and opportunities just because they need to “keep all my options open.” One person recently told me they “narrowed down” possible choices of places to move to “twenty-five!” Twenty-five! Why? Curious if such folks have an obsessive need to feel engaged and be in control so they don’t “miss out.”

There it is – overworking, overbooking, over-engaging, over-spending, over-socializing, over-exercising, over-committing, over-doing, and in a word,  over-obsessing, driven by their fear of loss from giving up an option, or closing a door.  Stressful and debilitating. It doesn’t have to be. All it takes is the strength and courage to say “no.” Simple, but not easy. You have the right to say “no.”

And, that’s worth thinking about.

Some questions for self-reflection:

  • Is it painful for you to give up options? How so?
  • Do you take an “everything is possible” or “everything is a definite maybe” approach to life to the extent that you’re mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually exhausted, and/or paralyzed, by having to choose among possibilities? What does that approach get you?
  • What would happen if you closed one door, or eliminated one option to a life or work choice you (s/he ) is considering today, this week, this month or this year? How does that thought make you feel?
  • Are you in relationships that are draining or toxic? Why do you choose to stay?
  • At work, do you take on more and more tasks and responsibilities to the extent they are affecting your health?
  • Do you (honestly) engage in blogging and social networking to stay connected and feel you “belong?” How would you feel if you stopped, or cut back?  Is social networking and blogging detracting you from other work, life and family responsibilities? What does social networking get you? Honestly?
  • How do you feel about being alone? Do you feel comfortable and secure in your own skin? Are you OK being in silence?
  • Growing up, were you surrounded by a sense of abundance, or lack?
  • Do you need to have “all the information” before making important life/work decisions/choices? How do you feel when you don’t have all the information? Does it lead you to continually procrastinate?
  • Is decision-making at work, at home, at play or in your relationships generally an “OK” or stressful experience for you? How so?
  • Is your outlook on life generally happy and pleasant, anxious and fearful? Why? (At least up until the last few months, how would you characterize your outlook on life?)
  • Do you always need to be “doing something?”
  • As a child, did you ever believe saying no was impolite, or rude?
  • On  a scale of 1-10, to what degree do you feel you need others’ approval?

(c) 2020, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful. Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.

What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.

I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, or pvajda(at)

You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.