Saying No As a Spiritual Practice

This June, I turned thirty-one and had a decidedly more low-key birthday than in previous years (and was super happy with that decision -- this is what your thirties are like, lol). I decided to give myself a day of self-care: I meditated and journaled, had a spa day, and spent the evening having my favorite take-out with my fiance. But one other practice I decided to incorporate into my day was saying no to anything that I didn't truly want to do. And it was one of the most freeing things I've ever done.

I said no to listening to someone vent about their problems (as a therapist, I often feel oversaturated by this). I said no to the internal pressure to eat healthy and let myself enjoy a decadent meal. I said no to answering my work line. I even said no to going to a yoga class because I felt like my practice that day wanted to revolve solely around meditation, and not so much asana. I felt so damn good making my decisions in this way that the practice began to bleed into the rest of my week. I even said no to going to work one day because I felt incredibly nauseous and tired when I woke up that morning. This was a big one -- I usually just power through feeling sick because of how much stress I feel around the lost income of missing a day's work. I ended up feeling well enough to go into the office in the afternoon, likely due to the extra few hours of sleep I got. So, yes I lost some money that day, but I ended up feeling better and more rested, so that the last clients I did see had my full attention. And that's a trade-off I'm okay with. 

Naturally, this challenge to say no more often got me thinking about this practice in a bigger-picture sense: what would our lives look like if we always said no to that which doesn't serve us? I'm inclined to say that a LOT would be different in our lives. Sure, we'd probably get more sleep and be less anxious, but think about the bigger stuff that would shift. Maybe you'd finally quit your boring, unfulfilling job. Maybe you'd break off that toxic, life-draining relationship. Maybe you'd be living in Tahiti. Maybe -- just maybe -- you would be a completely different version of yourself. A version that only says yes to those things that resonate fully and completely with your heart. A totally AUTHENTIC version of yourself.

In the process of saying no, you say YES to what you actually want. I felt free to choose things that made me genuinely happy. And the added bonus of this was a newfound freedom from over-thinking / second-guessing myself... and it felt incredible. To be able to release that guilt which often follows a "no" was so liberating, it made an immediate shift in my mood and energy. It literally felt like casting aside a heavy pair of shackles, placed on me by societal norms, family pressure, people's judgements, and my own ego. Obviously, we can't say no to everything that we don't fully connect with -- life is full of challenges we must accept at times. But think of how many things we COULD say no to, if only we gave ourselves the freedom to do so!

Begin by creating a list of all of the things in your life that no longer resonate with you. It can be as simple as the color of your bedroom walls, or maybe the social event you agreed to go to out of feelings of obligation. Then look through that list and pick one or two items you are ready to say no to this week. Start small, and work up to the big-ticket items. Those little things will begin to add up, and I have no doubt that dedicating yourself to this practice will make space in your life for so much more good stuff.

So, I challenge you to say no more often. To recognize what doesn't serve you fully and choose against it. Even if it's just for 24 hours, how would your life change if you ONLY accepted that which your heart truly and authentically wanted? If you made more room for the things that actually feed your soul? If your heart got the final word, every single time?


Turning Arguments into Productive Convos

Within all sorts of relationships — be it a romantic one or a friendship — communication is key to keep it healthy and positive. Most of us know what it’s like to be in a relationship where things are suppressed. Anger or resentment can boil up to an ugly, explosive breaking point, ending in hurt feelings or worse — a complete severing of the relationship. So, most of us are well-aware of the fact that we need to speak our truths often in order for our needs to be met and to avoid future conflict. 

But how do we share what we’re feeling when what we need to say might be hurtful or hard to say? The truth is not everything we will open up about will be easy to hear, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t essential to talk about. Here, I discuss some ways to open up about tough topics in an honest way, without being sucked into the argument blackhole. Word of warning: these convos might still be pretty tough to have, but that is usually a necessary piece of being vulnerable.

#1: Clarify your most important point (to yourself) before the actual conversation happens.

Oftentimes, a conversation turns into an argument because we veer off into petty details that have nothing to do with what we initially wanted to discuss. When I hear about common arguments my clients have, they all usually have a few things in common: bringing up past events as “ammo” that lead to a cyclical, tit-for-tat style of arguing, that usually escalates to a point where both parties get super heated. At this point, trying to have a productive conversation is pretty much impossible. And you could go on about things that happened in the past for a long time. 

So, go in there knowing what you want to say. The clearer your point is to you, the harder it’ll be to be pulled away by details that have nothing to do with it, and you’re way more likely to stay on track when you know what that track actually is. Before you even have the conversation, fully clarify what you want to say. Peel away the storyline and narrative. Get the message to its most bare-bones point. Starting with “I feel” or “I’m feeling” is always a good idea. For example, if your partner hasn’t made time for you lately because they’re busy at work, you might lead with:

“I’m feeling sad and angry that we haven’t spent much time together. I’d like for us to have more quality time, and talk about how to do that.”

You’re way more likely to have a positive response, as opposed to starting with:

“We never spend any time together because you care more about work than our relationship.” Which leads into…

#2: Stop the blame game.

Think about the last time someone accused you of something. You probably became defensive, right? That’s because reacting defensively is a natural response to a threat — which is basically what someone is doing when they blame you of something. Whether it be a threat to your integrity, capabilities as a partner, or even your ego, it’s all a trigger to defend yourself. 

Think of blaming as pulling out a gun on someone. What would the most common reactions be to that scenario? It’d likely be to either pull out their own weapon, run, or freeze and shut down. The same is true about blaming someone. None of those reactions will get you to a productive place within the conversation. Avoid accusing people of “making you feel” a certain way, and try to not use words like “never” and “always.” Take responsibilities for your own feelings and actions, while clarifying that you need help on their part to smooth over the pieces that are in their hands to change.

#3: Don’t curse, disrespect, or hurl insults. But really — just DON’T.

The most obvious of tips, I know, but it is worth repeating. Whether your partner is the fiery, ball-of-rage type or the shut-down and slink-to-my-room type, an insult or cursing them out is a sure-fire way to get them to that place of disconnection. The chances of a productive conversation when this happens hit complete rock-bottom. Remember, disrespect can be hidden as passive-aggressive comments about your partner’s worth, so careful with those as well. Disrespect in this form can sometimes hurt even worse than an f-bomb, especially if they are aimed at your partner’s character (or your opinion of it). 

“You’re lazy and irresponsible — no wonder you didn’t get that raise.”  Ouch. That can leave a way bigger wound that calling someone an a-hole.

And yes, we are all human and sometimes we mess up. So, if this does happen, apologize as quickly as possible. Say that it was wrong, and never, EVER justify the action. No one on the planet wants to hear (or will agree to!) why you were "right" to insult them.

#4: Call a timeout when necessary. But remember that calling time-in at some point is just as important.

Arguments will happen, and things might escalate to a level-ten fight sometimes. If this happens, recognize that nothing good will come out of continuing to talk. Say to your partner you need a break; stating that you need to tap out rather than just leaving is essential in not making someone feel like they’ve just been abandoned. It’s even better to state a time frame in which you’ll be ready to return to the conversation. This way, both of you know it will be picked back up at some point, and hasn’t just been flung under the rug. 

For example, if you or your partner are starting to yell or you feel yourself becoming too angry, say something like, “I think it’d be good if we took a ten minute break from this. We’re getting really heated. I’ll step outside for a while, and we can come back and talk in a bit.” Then actually come back and talk when you’re calm. Take as many breaks as you need so that the conversation stays productive, and to make sure you're always a safe distance from the danger zone. 

#5: Negotiate a fair and flexible compromise.

Hopefully, through honest, non-blaming, and vulnerable conversation, we can get to a place where both parties have stated their needs. At this point, it is on each individual to take ownership of their responsibilities to make the situation better. Move past your pride and state what you know you can change (yes, you! Not them.) 

For example, in the working-too-much scenario, the partner who feels deprioritized can acknowledge that they’ve lashed out about the problem and blamed the other person for “always” choosing work, when they know that probably isn’t the case. They take responsibility for their part -- no matter how small -- so that the other person doesn't feel like the entire load of “fixing” the situation is on them, making it more likely for them to take responsibility too. While being the first person to take the high road isn’t easy, you’re setting the stage for your partner to mirror your level-headed behavior and own their stuff too.

Then comes the compromise part, and taking actual action to remedy the problem. This is where you talk about action items that can help both of you have a more positive experience with the situation next time. Be ready to present lots of options, knowing that things won’t always go perfectly well. 

For example, a weekly date night could be a great idea to help solve the quality time problem, but it could be unrealistic for a couple who has children or often work evenings. So, what to do when we can’t do option one? You guessed it: think of a Plan B (e.g. “if we don’t have time for date night, we can pick a movie on Netflix to watch together, once the kids are asleep.”) It may seem like overkill, but even making a Plan C is a good idea. An example of this might be a simple 10-minute check-in on each other’s day before hitting the hay. This way, no matter what, both parties know how they can take even tiny steps towards bettering the situation, rather than throwing out any efforts to fix the problem because life got hectic (which, by the way, it always will).

~

At the end of the day, arguments are bound to happen. However, arming yourself with tools to de-escalate, speak with clarity and respect, and own your own stuff will greatly help your chances to turn that argument into a productive — and maybe relationship-changing — conversation! And remind yourself to approach any hard talk with patience, kindness, compassion, and many, many deep breaths.


Fulfilling Career vs. Healthy Relationship: Can the Two Co-exist?

I recently got the chance to speak to an amazing group of bright, young entrepreneurs from my home-city of Austin, Texas. A good majority of the people in the group were single, and in the throws of navigating the modern dating scene. They brought me on to speak to the challenges that young people face when trying to form serious, loving relationships while at the same time, pouring their hearts and souls into their dream jobs or passion projects. Austin, like most modern, tech-driven cities, is full of people like this: movers and shakers with innovative ideas and blossoming companies. So, it made sense to me that almost everyone in the group had some sort of challenge when it came to relationships, mostly revolving around how to balance their busy day-to-day, while at the same time making or maintaining intimate and healthy connections. Here are some of the topics that came up, and my take on how to navigate these tricky waters.

What do I do when my partner and I have differing work schedules? Is prioritizing my job over my significant other ever okay?

My answer to this is be flexible... and ask the same from your partner. Although we would like to think that our partner should always come first, the reality of life is that it's not always going to be easy to do this. Sometimes, there will be pressing deadlines, important meetings, or essential networking to be done, that may have to come in front of spending time with your partner. That being said, how we approach these moments of negotiation is the most important. Make sure your partner knows when you need to commit time to work over them. In other words, don't surprise them at 5pm with a phone call saying how you have to work late yet another night, especially if they were expecting to have a nice night at home with you, binging on Netflix. Communicate clearly what your schedule will look like, as much as you can. And if it's one of those weeks where you're working overtime several nights in a row, make sure to set time aside for your partner once you get over the hump. Schedule a night or a weekend where you can promise them some solid quality time to catch up, and then commit to it. No excuses! This way, your partner never feels left in the dark about your workload, and also has the reassurance that once you're done grinding away, they can expect a solid chunk of quality time spent with you.

How do you feel about dating apps, and is meeting someone this way superficial / worse than the "natural" way?

I've heard many a success story about couples meeting on dating apps and having happy, healthy relationships (and even marriages!) so I'm definitely not one to knock out the option of using them. What I do tend to see with people who spend too much time on these apps is what I like to call "dating burnout." The amount of people you can talk to, and potentially date, using these apps can literally be endless. You could go on a date every day of the week with a different person if you wanted to. I suggest however that, for the sake of your mental well-being, you don't. People who overwhelm themselves with date after date tend to get jaded very quickly, and their outlook on relationships becomes negative and pessimistic when they've had a long string of bad dates. Think about it this way: one bad date stinks. Twenty bad dates? No wonder you're downing that bottle of wine, while you lament to your friend about how "everyone out there sucks." But in reality, this is the way dating works: we very rarely meet our special person when we expect or want to. And lining up ten dates, in the hopes that one is your soulmate, is a sure-fire way to disappoint yourself and also become completely negative about what's out there. So I say, everything in moderation and always value yourself and your time. Go ahead and hop on Bumble, but be super choosy about who you decide to invest some time in (even if his pictures are amazing). Someone being able to take you to dinner should be a rare honor  -- not something any cute guy with nice abs can do. And if you do feel that burnout coming on, take a dating app break. Delete them from your phone so you're not tempted to hop on and swipe, and just go live in the real world for a bit. It worked pretty well for oh, about thousands of years, didn't it? Living in fear that you might pass up The One if you don't swipe right is no way to go about things. Your anxiety will go through the roof, and your heart will be put through the ringer. Be patient and kind with yourself, and reassure that itchy finger that not swiping DOES NOT equal ending up alone at forty, with ten cats and no lover in sight. 

Should I wait until I feel more "ready" to date before embarking on a relationship? My life feels too busy right now!

While this feels like the "smart" thing to do, it's also a completely ridiculous expectation. Realistically, the odds that the right person will conveniently come along, right at the perfect time, when we've got our career squared away to where we want it, are slim to none. It's basically like yelling up at the sky for an icecream cone, just because you're ready to eat one, and expecting it to fall into your hands just because you asked for it.  The workings of the universe don't care where you are, and waiting until all your ducks are in a row before opening up to the possibility of a relationship could mean that you're potentially turning away some wonderful opportunities and people. Also, no ducks stay in a row for long. Life is messy, complicated, and the complete opposite of linear, so if you're closing your heart off until your career or job feels just right, you might end up waiting forever. If what you actually want is love, then put that energy out there, no matter where you stand in your life. Who knows -- you may end up meeting that special person when you're at your lowest. This doesn't mean you should turn them away or reject the opportunity until you're in a "better place." Time waits for no man, and neither does a potentially awesome partner. Challenge yourself to be vulnerable and honest with people about the challenges you're facing, and you might be surprised at who chooses to stick around despite your "shortcomings." Pro-tip: these are usually the keepers!

What's your best advice for someone who hustles hard at what they do, yet who wants to be a great partner at the same time?

Make sure you're with someone who supports you fully and completely. Starting your own business, building your career, and working your way to the top are no easy tasks. And the last thing you need is someone who resents you for it, or weighs you down with their inability to root you on. A true marker of a good partner is someone who always wants to see you succeed and thrive, even if this may mean a bit of time taken away from them. There has to be an understanding that this balance can never realistically stay at 50/50, and that truly caring for someone means sacrificing time together for the sake of seeing someone be fulfilled in ways outside of the relationship. We are human beings comprised of many parts, and one of those integral parts is the dream-chaser. We all have him or her living within us, just aching to reach for the stars. Your partner should echo this energy. Find someone who understands your passions, supports you every step of the way, and reassures you when you fall. And as far as being a good partner yourself? Read back everything I wrote, and then go do that for your partner too!