Of all of my memories of the 1980s, I firmly remember the massive Saturday morning cartoon event titled ‘Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue’ which was about drugs and featured all of the popular cartoon characters of the day (Muppet Babies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Smurfs, Duck Tales, Alf, Looney Tunes … just to name a few) and a cartoon Nancy Reagan all leading the good fight against drugs. Most of the ’80s featured anti-drug messages and campaigns and a slogan that really was simple but resonates into today:

“Just say no!”

Funny, but the older I get, the more I find this Nancy Reagan advice ringing true about many things in adulthood. How many of us really are comfortable with saying no? I’m not talking about when offered drugs or alcohol, I’m talking about whenever we’re faced with anything we know isn’t good for us such as being over burdened at work, taking on too much at home, in trying to please others and putting ourselves last. Why the heck are we not saying ‘no’?

When talking about health, I often expand on the subject. We’ve gotten to the point of simplifying health and well-being far too much. No longer is being healthy just about eating right and exercising. We know that being healthy has a lot to do with our lifestyle and all that goes with it. Many people, despite valiant efforts, are unhealthy because they are unable to say ‘no’. We’ve become a society of guilt and blame: we can’t do anything for ourselves because we must think about others; because your neighbor’s life sucks, even if you’ve done your best, you’re still to blame; stock market crash? – your fault, global warming – your fault because you can’t convince everyone in your family to go green. Do you see the point? People become overweight and unhealthy due to the burdens they carry and consume and it’s not always about the food you eat – it’s also about the emotional baggage you take on.

Over the past few years, it’s become very clear that people have a hard time doing one very healthy thing: taking it easy. We don’t relax anymore, we don’t take our full lunch breaks, we don’t travel for fun, we don’t even use all of our vacation time! Why not? Usually it’s because we’re afraid to just say NO. Now, I know – people think saying no at work is dangerous in this economy. I disagree. If you’re a good worker, someone who has his or her hands in every area of your office, you’re essential. Especially in this economy, you may be performing the duties and work that 2-3 people used to years (or even months) ago. We’re all working harder in these days which is why we need to take the time out to recuperate, regenerate and relax. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ sometimes – you need to. Saying yes doesn’t always lead to great things at work these days. Remember when people would get raises, earn bonuses, other perks? These days it seems like the only bonus or perks people earn is having a job to come back to each day and health care. So, do your job to the best of your abilities and reward yourself with vacations, down-time or time off to either rest or do something that you really want or need to do. Haven’t you heard that other well-spoken phrase of you’ve only got “one life to live?”

Saying no goes beyond work. At home people are afraid to say no. Spouses either expect their opposite to agree to everything they ask of them, leading to issues, or are on the receiving end of being expected to do everything without argument. For your sanity and the health of your relationship, know when it’s appropriate to say no. Otherwise, you’re never going to put yourself first and your health is bound to suffer.

Saying ‘no’ of course applies to fitness and exercise. At times you have to decline offers to hang out or refuse to spend countless hours behind a desk for the sake of your health. You make the excuse that work gets in the way of you getting out to run, or that you’re just too busy to hit the gym. Really, is that true? Maybe you just haven’t learned to say ‘no’ for the sake of your health.

“Just say no” is something we need to start re-applying to our lives today. We can’t continue on this ‘yes i can; yes I will’ path out of fear of what will happen if we dare speak up for ourselves. Saying no is something I learned to do at the start of my health and fitness kick. I learned to say no to junk food, even when I was surrounded by it or offered it at no charge by an event or family. I learned to say no to meat or dairy when I wanted to go vegetarian and vegan. I learned to silence my conscious and say ‘no’ when I didn’t feel like working out but got out and did a run or some other form of exercise. What have I learned over the year? Saying no opens a lot more doors than saying yes! It’s empowering when you simply spit out the words – it prevents you from being someone else’s doormat and usually helps you figure out what’s really important to you and where all the stress of your life comes from. So take a tip from America’s former First Lady and learn to “just say ‘no!'”

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