The college experience is full of opportunities. There are new people, new places, and new activities every day. How can students say “no” when there are so many options to join teams or clubs, attend events, volunteer, and plan activities? Saying “yes!” to everything seems exciting at first, but can lead to serious burnout. And, when you make a commitment but fail at keeping it, or do it halfway, it may have been better to just say “no” in the first place.
Before deciding what to add to your schedule, evaluate where you are with your current commitments. Take an inventory of your obligations to see if you have time for new ones. List them in order of priority and pay attention to what’s at the bottom. Start by saying “no” to those, or begin to set good boundaries moving forward.
Here are three simple phrases to remember when considering future commitments, and some advice for those who need to find the courage to say “yes” instead.
1. “No” is a complete sentence.
Isn’t it interesting that most people feel the need to explain their reasoning before saying “no” to a commitment? Especially for people who over-think situations or replay them in their minds, it can be painful to think about what should have been said or how it could have been said differently. We might feel that the person who invited us will feel rejected or take it personally if we don’t immediately accept an invitation.
Remember that all students experience feeling overwhelmed. In one study, 78% of university students admitted they experience some degree of psychological distress due to overcommitment. Simply be honest and say that you can’t take on anything new at the moment. You don’t even need to apologize for not committing! Saying “no” is enough. By communicating your decision clearly, you show that you value yourself and have the confidence to say what you need.
Tip: Literally put time on your schedule (old school planner or digital calendar) for personal time or recharging time. Then you can say with full honesty, “I have something else on my schedule during that time.”
2. Saying ‘yes’ to one thing is saying ‘no’ to another.
What are you giving up by agreeing to a new commitment? The commitment might seem small, like going to a last-minute concert instead of doing school work, or long-term like joining an intramural sports team that plays on the only night you can visit your family. Knowing your priorities will help you determine what is worth saying “no” to. If your number one priority is family, you will say “no” to commitments that conflict with family time. If your number one priority is your career, you will say “no” to more things that don’t help you fulfill your goals. Your priorities are up to you, but knowing them makes the decision to say “no” much clearer. Also, consider that what you’re saying “no” to might be sleep or exercise — not just an activity.
Tip: Make a vision board or write a personal mission statement to keep you focused on your goals. If you want to go the extra mile, research showed that people are 42% more likely to achieve their goals simply by writing them down on a daily basis!
3. You become what you surround yourself with.
There is a quote that says, “You become what you surround yourself with… Choose carefully. Your environment becomes you.” Another great saying goes, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” Studies have shown that peers greatly influence decisions about our health and how we spend our money. The same goes for our behavior.
Yes, you may experience some FOMO while watching videos of friends at the event you said “no” to, but are they the friends you want to be connected with? Are they people you will keep in touch with after graduation? Everyone (not just college students) should choose to associate with people who have the qualities we most want to develop in ourselves.
It would make sense then, that the people we surround ourselves with will be doing the kind of things we actually want to spend our time doing. If we want to go into ministry, we might be found at an outreach event with our pastor. If we want to develop creativity we might spend time with artists. Even if we’re not sure what we want to do as a career, we can still identify people who have qualities we admire.
Tip: When you’re invited to commit to something new, ask for some time to think about it. Consider whether or not the person inviting you, or the group you’ll be joining, reflects the kind of person you want to become.
Maybe you’re skimming this blog and thinking, “This does not apply to me at all. I never over-commit myself.” The thing is, having trouble saying “no” or “yes” are both based on fear when it comes down to it – usually the fear of rejection or the fear of failure. Whether your typical reply comes from your personality, your upbringing, or your situation, both responses take courage! Find something you love and go for it.
Most universities offer great opportunities like athletics, music and theatre, intercultural programs, student leadership, clubs, organizations, and intramurals. Many colleges also have ways for special groups to get involved like PSEO or Early College and commuters. Find one that fits!