As group exercise professionals we are people pleasers. Our goal is to motivate and help as many people as we can through our love for movement in group settings. This love and passion for helping people can be an amazing experience when members tell us how we have impacted their health, made a difference in their lives, or simply commented on a great workout session. However, this passion can also lead us down a road of self-destruction. Causing us to never say no, overcommit, and possibly leading to burnout or worse, overtraining.
What I mean is that this desire to help others can manifest in a way that causes us to feel like we need to help everyone; that we need to teach every class that comes our way; or that being at only one facility is just not enough. We say YES to every class that we are offered, from subbing to permanent time zones. Often these classes though are ones that don’t make our hearts sing. They are formats we don’t love, time zones we dread, or at a facility that is not convenient. However, we say yes as we feel guilty turning it down. This guilt often manifests in a fear that if we don’t say yes then we will not be offered another opportunity. Therefore we “suck it up and deal” with these classes; often to the point of dreading the drive, hating the hours, or even causing us to get so burnt out that our passion for teaching starts to wane.
Reasons we say yes
Harvard Professor William Ury explains in his book, The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, that there are three responses we give when someone asks us to do something we don’t really want to do.
- Accommodation: We say Yes when we want to say No. This usually comes when we value the relationship of the person making the request above the importance of our own interests.
- Attack: We say no poorly. This is a result of valuing our own interests above the importance of the relationship. Sometimes we are fearful or resentful of the request and overreact to the person asking.
- Avoidance: We say nothing at all. Because we are afraid of offending the other party, we say nothing, hoping the problem will go away. It rarely does.
Instead of saying yes in these manners, we need to focus on giving a positive no. This simply means approaching a no like we would a feedback sandwich; with a Yes-No-Yes approach. For example:
“Thanks so much for the opportunity to teach that class, however, at this time I am not going to be able to commit to it on a regular basis. I do really enjoy teaching the crew at XYZ gym, so definitely let me know if anything else opens up, I would be game for chatting on it”
Why you should say NO
Saying no sucks. It is hard, it is challenging, and it makes us feel like a bad guy, but without having a satisfying work-life balance, your passion and desire for teaching will be drained. Some reasons for saying no include the following:
- Allows you to teach the class formats you LOVE
- Keeps you from cursing an alarm clock at 4:45am
- Gives you time to focus on other priorities such as spending time with family
- Ensures you are not getting yourself into an overtraining state by teaching too many classes
- Reminds us that we are not super-human and need to take breaks like normal people
- Gives us a schedule we are excited about each week
Take it from me…
I say all this not out of speculation or assumption, but out of pure experience. There have been more points in time that I can count that I have accepted a class simply because it was hard to say no. This has caused me to,
- Sub 6 classes on a single day (on top of my normal schedule), simply because I wanted to help people out.
- Driven 45-minutes one direction to teach at a club simply because they offered me a few classes.
- Caused me to get certified in a format that I didn’t love simply because the club needed more instructors teaching it.
- Woken up at 4:30a after getting home at 9:30pm.
- Not taken the time for my personal health, workouts, or vacations.
- Only given myself 15-minutes between classes at 2 gyms across town from each other.
Over time, all of this caused my passion for teaching to go from one of excitement and pleasure to a point of simply going to teach because it was on my calendar. I would find myself cursing the alarm clock (and myself) for agreeing to a 5:45am class at a club nowhere near my house. That dread would start the night before, slowly build to dreading it for 24-hours, and finally to a point where 2-3 days prior to the class I was considering finding a sub. That is no way to approach teaching a class.
Thus, I had to learn the really hard way that sometimes saying no is actually the best thing you can do for you and the club. It is hard. I still struggle with it (for me it is the constant battle of not accepting classes after 4:30pm, I purely dread them when I have to do it on a regular basis), but I am learning how to be better at using the words “sorry, I am not working at that time” as a way to let people know that even though I really want to teach, that I am “closed” during certain hours.
No one has ever gotten mad at me for saying NO to a request (okay, one client did, but she had other issues). Instead, I have learned the art of saying “thank you, but no thank you” and being grateful for the opportunity. Showing that you are grateful can go a long way in maintaining that relationship and still valuing your time.
Here are 11 Steps to take in learning to say NO to commitments.
11 steps to nicely saying NO
- Find your yes. Understand that each time you say no to a commitment is giving you time to say yes to something else. Whether that yes is better opportunities, more time with your family, the chance to do something just for you, or simply extra hours of rest, knowing that yes will make saying no much easier.
- Establish “working hours”. As contractors and freelancers we often get sucked into thinking we can, and should, work all hours of the day. Instead of seeing yourself as an open schedule, create your ideal working hours and stick to it. Thinking of your schedule as a retail company with open/closed hours will better allow you to say no when asked to do something outside of those hours.
- Value your time. Much like establishing working hours, valuing your time is important. We only have so many hours in the day, and we shouldn’t spend each of those working. Spending time with family, friends, in leisure, and resting are just as important as the little bit of extra money made teaching a class.
- Be nice to yourself. Being nice and saying yes all the time ultimately hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time, they will continue to do it. But if you set limits, they will learn what you are willing to say yes to and what you tend to turn-down. This allows you to do those things that let your heart sing, and avoid those that don’t.
- Simplify your commitments to allow time for what you love. In order to establish working hours and value your time, sometimes you may have to resign from some commitments in order to simply do the ones you really enjoy. When considering resigning, ask yourself these simple questions, they will let you know what is right.
- Am I fulfilled by it?
- Does this help me personally reach my goals?
- Does this help me professionally reach my goals?
- Do I get joy and pleasure from this?
- Practice saying no. As silly as it sounds, practicing saying no even at the drug store, can help you feel more comfortable saying no when it really matters.
- Don’t apologize. More often than not we say no by saying “I’m sorry but…” as we think that sounds more polite. While it is great to be polite, apologise just make your no sound even weaker. It is like the kid who said the dog ate their homework. An apology is just another excuse for why we are guarding our time. Instead of apologizing simply be polite, but firm, about your working hours.
- Stop being nice. Yea, that’s probably the hardest one to wrap your head around. I’m not saying turn into super bitch, but instead avoid saying yes simply to not say no. Again, find ways to be polite when letting someone know that the opportunity just does not fit with your schedule and values.
- Pause and get back to people within 24-hours. Instead of saying yes right away, ask if you can have 24-hours to review your calendar and commitments and see how it can work. That way you can really take the time to consider all the benefits and pitfalls of saying yes. Then if you legitimately can’t do it, you can simply say”Thanks for the offer, however after checking my calendar and giving it some thought, I won’t be able to commit to this at this time. Please let me know of other opportunities in the future.”
- Maybe later. Indicating that right now the time may not be right for you to take on that new class or that format, but that you are interested in future opportunities is a great way to leave the door open and maintain that relationship.
- “It’s not you, it’s me”. As silly as this sounds, that old break-up line can work wonders in helping you say no to something. If you realize that an offer is a good one, but just not right for you, at least not at that time, then simply say that. Let the person know that you think it is a great idea, but that you are just not the right fit. Maybe you have a person in mind who would be a great fit, let them know that as well. Providing them with a solution can help you feel good having helped them, while not saying yes simply because.
Saying NO can (and will) be difficult. However, finding the balance of saying no to those classes, time-spots, or facilities that just don’t allow your heart to sing will ultimately allow you to flourish.
Had some crazy experiences saying YES to something you really wished you had said no to? Let’s hear it in the comments below.
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BS: Exercise & Sports Science
NSCA: Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
ACSM: Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C)
Yoga Alliance: 200-hr RYT
ACE: Group Fitness Instructor
Balanced Body: Reformer Level 1 Coach
Schwinn: Indoor Cycle Instructor
RRCA: Running Coach