When I submitted my first article for The Shriver Report, the editor mentioned that she was intrigued about how I could help women truly manage their personal and professional lives.

She wanted to know if I had any tips that could be presented in an article on how working mothers balance the two.

I assured her that I had a ton of tips, each of which could be its own article. I told her that while working with my clients, I usually focus on four main strategies:

1. Manage yourself and your energy

2. Understand and articulate your value

3. Build boundaries that protect your priorities

4. Ask for what you need and want  – at work and at home

In a nutshell, if we could practice these four strategies, managing our professional and personal lives would be much easier. Ultimately, these strategies teach us how to say no to what we don’t want or don’t have time to do.

We become accustomed to saying “yes” because we feel we need to. We feel like we have to go it alone so that no one is inconvenienced.

We stay at work and take on assignments we don’t need to, because we’re afraid that saying no will get us fired. We think: “I can’t leave when everyone else stays.”

The thought of saying no to save ourselves makes us whirl with anxiety. We think: “How could I?”

The idea of asking for more money based upon our value causes us to break out in a cold sweat. We think: “I already have a good salary.”

Asking our husbands to arrange and manage childcare over the summer makes us wonder if it’s really a battle worth fighting. We think: “It’s easier to just do it myself.”

Here’s the thing….

As I contemplated writing the article, I began to realize that these issues all boil down to habits. We are simply in the habit of putting everyone else first.  Habits happen automatically, at a subconscious level. A habit is based on feeling  – not thought, and two things create habits: a trigger and a reward.

Why are we in the habit of putting everyone’s priorities before our own? Because we are triggered by discomfort and rewarded by avoidance. We think we win when we avoid discomfort. But the truth is, we just pile on the burdens which results in overwhelm.

Creating new habits:

Strive to become aware of other triggers besides discomfort, such as fatigue, anxiety, and feeling scattered. And, seek new rewards like peace, rest, fulfillment, and fun.

When you find yourself about to say yes, and there is a pain in the pit of your stomach, pause before you respond.

Stop and think about all your feelings and choices in any given moment.  Step off autopilot and become fully aware of the consequences of your choices.  Then make a decision that triggers a new feeling, and experience the reward that comes along with that feeling. If you experience a feeling of relief, then you are on the right path.

Practice this with me. Let’s see if we can develop new, healthier habits.

This week, I’m going to say “no” by delegating work to my new assistant. It’s going to take practice to get comfortable with this, but I already feel so much lighter.

What will you do?

A version of this post appeared originally on www.foodonourtable.com


About Jennifer: Jennifer McClanahan-Flint offers a variety of solutions for high-achieving, professional women faced with the new territory of transitioning into leadership positions in their careers, while simultaneously transitioning into motherhood.  Jennifer understands the struggles that working moms face every day because she is a working mom herself. Work with Jennifer: Learn more about Jennifer and how to work with her.