Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, take regular exercise, stand up at your desk, sit down to eat, keep a journal, throw out clutter, meditate to soothe your mind, do crosswords to stay mentally alert ~ the media is full of advice and check-lists dispensing wisdom on how we should be taking better care of ourselves. In this rat-race of a world, if we're to stay happy and productive the solution is ... Well, another thing to add to our already depressingly long to-do lists, right after buying the inevitably wrong gift for a 21st birthday and finding the athlete's foot cream for your other half.
As well meaning as this tsunami of turmeric-infused advice is, in reality we only need to do one thing.
Essentially, we need to learn how to say no.
Such a small word ~ usually only deployed when we're playing a desperate hand in Scrabble ~ yet why do we find it so difficult to say?
You might be thinking, "That's rubbish, I say no all the time. Why, only this morning I declined velvet cake with my soy latte. And let me tell you, the barista sighed extremely heavily."
Well, yes. As Brits, there's no doubt we're getting better at the inconsequential nos, the nos that are unlikely to carry repercussions and emotional fall-out; those nos that feel like a small, quiet defiance; the nos that bolster our crumbling sense of autonomy and self-determination in a society increasingly moderated and steered. The easy, no-strings-attached nos.
But I'm talking about the fuck-off nos. The nos that shiver and then crumble unspoken under the pressure of childhood patterns, family and societal expectations, the need for external validation, and a shaky sense of self. The big, fat, fuck-off nos that, if called upon, flip the stomach, induce insomnia, regret, doubt and self-recrimination. The royal bastard of nos that incites gossip, delighted character-assassination, opprobrium, retaliation and judgment. Phew.Those ones.
Why the hell, you're now asking, would you want us to do that? Are you mad? HAVE YOU FALLEN ON YOUR HEAD?
Settle, friend. Didn't you know that no is the new yes? It's saying "Hell, yes!" to yourself. (Can we get this gold on a fridge magnet?) This doesn't give you licence to ditch your responsibilities and become an insufferable Lord or Lady No of Upper No-bloody-wayington. We all have stuff that needs doing and yeah, sometimes we do just have to suck it up.
However, if you're saying yes and then begrudging every second in its execution then you need to ask what's going on. Does your resentment make your heart sing and your soul shine? Does the person you've said yes to feel the warm glow of your care, love and attention?
Ahimsa - non-violence - the first of the Yamas, the first limb of yoga. Physical, mental, spiritual, verbal violence not only to others but to yourself. Because yeah, that's what you're doing by saying yes and then being a bitch about it; you're holding yourself up at knife-point and nicking your own handbag.
Ahimsa is inextricably linked to the idea of karma. Whatever you put out into the universe has consequences which can find their way back to you in the most surprising way. Karma has a way of seeing the true nature of things and sends the lessons we need to learn. Are you able to hold open your arms to receive its gift or do you need to adopt the brace position?
So saying no can be a supreme act of kindness to both you and the person you appear to have knocked back. And then when you do say yes, it comes from the heart, from a place of genuine compassion and acceptance, not from the ego and all its attendant fears of being labelled an unhelpful nob-head.
Go on, try it. Be that person who says yes to saying no.