Are you a yes-aholic? How to break out of the yes-aholic spiral.


Do you know someone who’s a yes-aholic?

That is, someone who always says “Yes” and drops everything no matter what they have going on. The yes-aholic doesn’t seem to know the word “No” – their default response is to say yes to any request.

This may seem very caring and like a lovely thing to do…….until its not.

That is, until this default behaviour starts doing harm – either to the yes-aholic themselves and/or to those around them.

It might even be you who’s a yes-aholic?

For people who are addicted to saying “Yes” (and lots of us are!) there can be serious consequences for our mental health and well-being, our effectiveness and our relationships.

We can also enter into a yes-aholic downward spiral. What’s that I hear you ask?

When our default is to say yes, we often respond automatically and then go away and think, “Why on earth did I do that?!” This can lead to resentment towards the person we’ve said yes to. Dr Brene Brown says that feelings of resentment flag to us that we haven’t enforced our own boundaries so we turn our feelings outwards to someone else.

We can also feel shame and direct this inwards towards ourselves – “I’m hopeless, why do I keep doing this to myself?” or “I feel guilty for feeling cheesed off with the person who asked me to make the cake for the school fete when I really don’t have the time or the inclination”. Or as coach Jessi Kneeland says, “We should all over ourselves.”

In her blog she writes, “As a culture, we are often held captive by the internalized voice of what we think we’re supposed to do and be. We use the word should so frequently that it takes the place of more accurate and powerful phrases like “I want,” “I can,” and “I will.””

Jessi says, “Shoulding all over yourself sucks. It not only breeds shame and feels awful, it also actually keeps you from making positive changes.

Feeling guilty and overwhelmed breeds inaction and stagnancy, so the more you feel like you “should” do something, the less likely you’ll actually do it.

Not taking action toward your goals makes you feel worse about yourself of course, adding to your feelings of shame and overwhelm. Which naturally brings about more “shoulds”.

This resentment, blame and shame can lead us to get into victim mode where we feel we don’t have any agency over our own life. Like we’re clinging desperately to a raft on a fast-flowing river where its all out of our control. We can’t steer the boat, all we can do is to hang on for dear life and be at the mercy of the current.

All our time and energy is spent on resentment, negative self-talk, wishing ourselves somewhere else and so we lose effectiveness and power.

Its not healthy for us and its not healthy for those around us.

It’s at this point that we can get stuck in a downward, yes-aholic spiral.

So what’s the solution?

  1. Do some self-reflection and an audit on what you’ve said yes or no to. Remember when you say “Yes” to something, you’re saying “No” to something else. And when you say “No” to something, you’re saying “Yes” to something else. So get clear on your boundaries and get clear on what you want to say yes to and what you want to say no to. You may then need to take some action and get rid of some things!
  2. If your automatic habit is to say yes, and you haven’t built up your “no” muscle enough then maybe develop a hack to help you press the pause button before answering yes or no. One of my clients wrote herself a sticky note that she put on her computer to remind her of what her go to response needed to be when someone asked her to do something. It read, “Thank you for the offer. I’ll have a think about it and get back to you”. In doing this she was able to then go away and truly decide whether this thing was something she really wanted to do. Now this has become her automatic response.
  3. You may have said yes and then realised it doesn’t work for you so another solution is to go back to the person and say no. A client resigned from her well-paying job as it was crushing her and she wanted to get her real self back and spend more time with her family. The week after she left, a person from her old work rang and asked her if she would be able to review 24 planning applications and they couldn’t pay her as they didn’t have the funding so could she do it for a $300 stipend. What did she do???? Yes my friends, she said Yes! Why? Because she wanted to be helpful and didn’t want to let people down. Then she started to feel resentful and realised that this was a big project that was going to take her away from the very things she quit work for. So after some reflection and angst about how the other person would respond she rang them back and gracefully withdrew. The other person totally understood and all was fine – the world didn’t end. What a major break though for her in her self-determination, assertiveness and putting her own needs first!

So what can you do to break the downward yes-aholic spiral? How would your life be better if you did? What would change? How would you feel? How would your relationships change for the better?

I’ve become certified in a great new coaching tool that explores 10 core components of emotional intelligence (EQ) – its called the Emotional Capital Report. Introducing formal EQ initiatives helps leaders and teams to foster an environment of psychological safety within the workplace. This encourages people to operate at their best, giving them the freedom to find even more productive ways of working without being fearful of the consequences. The ten competencies of an Emotionally Intelligent Leader are:

  • Self-confidence
  • Self-reliance
  • Self-control
  • Self-knowing
  • Optimism
  • Self-actualisation
  • Adaptability
  • Relationship skills
  • Empathy
  • Straightforwardness
  • Broadly, better EQ skills among leaders have been proven to drive employee engagement, increase productivity, and lower staff turnover rates. Among employees, enhanced EQ skills can lead to better sales performance, increased morale, and better customer service.

EQ can be measured and developed and it is dynamic. It is not simply our ingrained personality but a set of learned secondary responses. These responses, if strong enough, will be able to supersede our “default” or primary response. What my two clients did in the examples above was to use self-knowing to break out of their default patterns and develop their EQ to make different decisions that benefitted them and those around them. You can see that further developing EQ competencies like straightforwardness, relationship skills, self-control, adaptability and self-confidence would also greatly assist a yes-aholic to become more effective.

If you’d like some help to develop your EQ, perhaps break out of the yes-aholic spiral or disrupt some other old patterns that might be holding you back, I’d love to chat further about working together.

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Cynthia Mahoney

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