John Masterson: Get an early start on just saying 'no'

Zsa Zsa Gabor

Here is an early New Year resolution for you. You may as well make it now because, unless you are an exceptional person, you will fail.

It came to mind as I listened to a thirty-something stay-at-home (her words) mummy give out yards about her fellow thirty-something mummies, not all of whom stayed at home. Over the years, my friend had been an easy mark for anyone who had a child-minding problem. She picked other children up, took them home, fed them, delivered them where they needed to go and didn't make much of it. There were times she thought it was a bit much but she never complained. "Being taken for granted is part of the human condition," she used to tell me.

Until the tables turned and she needed a bit of help. She had to go to hospital for a routine procedure but was going to be out of action for about 10 days and her husband couldn't cover all of it. If anyone was owed favours, this woman was. You would have thought there would be a committee to set up a roster to see her through. Not a bit of it. One after another, they were "too busy" and "would love to but couldn't that week", etc etc etc.

The scales fell from my friend's eyes. She was going to add a few new words to her vocabulary which would include "no" and "not this Wednesday". She was going to put a new person first. Herself. She is far from alone in not being good at saying "no".

Some of you might also be a bit Oklahoma and "just be a girl who can't say no". Kissing was Ado Annie's favourite game. And far be it from me to suggest that you might be worthy of that salacious insult delivered by Dorothy Parker about a female guest at a party: "That woman can speak 18 languages and she can't say 'no' in any of them". I am not sure if it was about Zsa Zsa Gabor. No. I am thinking of the much more mundane day-to-day things that we, male and female, promise to do and regret as soon as the word 'yes' has left our mouth.

We all get ourselves into situations where we wonder how we got there. How often do you hear people say that all they had to do was say 'no' but that they got talked into something. They have nobody but themselves to blame. Many of us do it over and over again. Perhaps it is that we are eternally trying to please people. Or perhaps it is because we are a bit flattered to be asked. But whatever the reason, there are a lot of us who are very bad at saying 'no'.

One of my pet hates is going to meetings. I have no problem with a good businesslike session where everyone knows what decisions need to be made and a good chair drives it through. Sadly, they are a rarity. Knowing how bad-tempered an unstructured meeting makes me has been useful. It means that my default position when asked to join any committee, however worthy, is 'no, thank you'. I also know I will not be swayed. I do like to suggest someone else who would do a better job and drop them in it. All the better if they would like to be asked. I have never heard of any venture that did not do well because of my absence. So everyone is happy.

The results of not saying 'no' are glaringly obvious. Too many commitments leads to problems. You don't have enough time for the family. You arrive home late and fall asleep in the chair. Worse still, your golf handicap may go up. You need to draw a line and know your limits. And your priorities.

Like many things in life, a page with a line down the middle is a good start. The things you enjoy on the left. The ones you want to cut out on the right. Then act on what you see. Maybe you should put it in the diary each year. This is the best month. Just think of it as NOvember.