I’m not someone who is a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I have nothing against them, but for me, that’s not how I operate. I’m someone who needs a structure and a plan. I make plans throughout the year and have stop points during the year to check on myself and see what is and isn’t working with time to reflect on it all. I’m someone who has always put everyone else before myself. Everyone else’s needs, thoughts, concerns, emotions, and love. I decided that for a year I was going to make some changes, I wanted to grow, I wanted to heal and I realized what I needed to do in order for that to happen. I had to to start putting myself first. Now, ‘putting yourself first’ is different for each person. What may work for one person, may not be beneficial for the next person and I recognized that after trial and error from previous years. I recognized that for me, it was learning how to say no, and for about a year, that's what I did. When I tell people about this, their reaction is one of two; they either think it’s stupid or they think it’s incredibly negative. I guess both can be applicable but this was necessary for me. After doing this for about a year, I can honestly say that learning to say no has been the best gift I could have ever given myself. By saying no, I created healthy boundaries for myself. I know, boundaries sound negative but pause and hear me out. Boundaries are healthy, they help with growth, and the boundaries I put in place were not to keep everyone out. Instead, they were to reorganize the people in my life. It allowed me to identify who to keep at surface level and by removing those individuals I was able to create more space and time for those individuals who were and have been there for me and have and had my best interest in mind. I believe that we often give the best of ourselves to those who don’t deserve it, and that becomes mentally and physically draining. And with that drainage, the important relationships in our lives begin to suffer. The most important one being the relationship we have with ourselves. The more I said no to others, and began saying yes to myself, the clearer my mind became. Over the years, I’ve learned to trust my body. That bad feeling in my gut when I’m around certain people, it’s there for a reason, it’s telling me that this crowd, this space, it isn’t meant for me, and that is okay. That feeling of warmth in my heart, that reminds me that the space and the people I am with, are there to protect my heart and to support me. People in your life allow you to experience different feelings. It’s important to pause, recognize, and identify them all. How is this person making you feel? What are you feeling when certain individuals are around you? Who is around and is concerned about your well being? But before you start saying no, you should keep a few things in mind. For starters, it can become isolating, especially in the beginning. The hardest part of the isolation is the moments of silence you experience. You will have to face the silence and if you are anything like I used to be, the silence is terrifying. Because when everything is silent, that is when you are forced to think about everything, analyze everything and have honest and raw reflections with yourself. But now, I love the silence. The moments when I get to reflect and see what I can do to achieve my goals and analyze what needs more work. Another harsh realization will be who you thought would help you up and who will neglect your new path or make you feel guilty for the changes you are making. Especially if you have been someone who has always made accommodations for others no matter how strenuous it was on your own schedule. If you were the one that always changed your schedule or made accommodations to suit the needs of others and you begin to start saying no, you’re going to receive some backlash for no longer being flexible and accommodating to them. But you will notice the individuals who will give you your space and instead check on you to make sure you’re okay, see what you need and respect your space. In the beginning it feels terrible, and then you just sit with it and feel all the emotions, allow yourself to feel it all. And then realize the wake up call. Be okay with who reaches out, and who doesn’t. Recognize the difference in action and the importance of the words used when you start putting yourself first. There is a huge difference between someone asking, “Where have you been?” and “How have you been?” And those random occasions you make an appearance at places, comments towards you will hit you differently. Small jabs and comments that you may have overlooked before and make excuses for will hit you harder and force you to think if this is someone who is really a friend or simply an acquaintance who you ended up in the same space with. The fear of being left out sometimes makes us stay in spaces that aren’t healthy for us or aren’t at all beneficial for us. When you come to an understanding that not all spaces are the best for you, you realize that you don’t have a sense of missing out but rather you find comfort that the decision you made was the best one for you. I stopped saying no to places or events that had no benefit to me, and if it all impacted my mental health and my sense of safety I immediately said no. Safety is a key point for me. In When I told individuals that someone does not make me feel safe and they didn’t respect my sense of safety, I began to remove those individuals as well. A general note, when someone in your life tells you that a place, setting or a specific person makes them feel uncomfortable or not safe, understand that they are trusting you with their well being and they are trying to express something to you. Do not belittle them, it’s a big deal that they are revealing this to you, so rather than laughing it off or judging them, support them, listen to them. If you decided to take on a year of saying no, please be kind to yourself and make sure you have a plan with the proper support system in place to take care of your own well being. To be clear, saying no, in my case, meant that I was prioritizing myself and my well being. I seeked out a community of individuals who held me accountable to this. And I realized that the only way I was going to achieve this was by learning to say no to others, and yes to myself. We all know the phrase, ‘time is money’, but time is actually immeasurable. When you realize this, you realize that not everyone deserves your time, not everyone deserves your space, not everyone wants to be there with you through your journey, and that is okay. It’s important to recognize who will be there when you are so overwhelmed that you don’t have time to buy groceries. When you are stretched so thin that all you need is to sit with someone in silence, and they’ll sit there without judgement as you sit there in silence. The most important lesson was who do you call when things are going good? There are individuals in our life that thrive off hearing about our struggles, our mistakes, or our misery. It’s something that we have to learn how to recognize because those are the same people that will never be happy for you when something good is happening in your life. Don’t be around those who encourage your sadness and are working to take away your happiness. Don’t be around company that downplay your success, surround yourself with people who are always cheering you on and encourage you to keep winning. Deep down, we know who these people are. These are the people we choose to tell our good news to, because we know they will be genuinely happy with us and they will want to celebrate with us, they won't make us feel guilty or make us second guess our win. Hold onto these people. Anyone who tells you, ‘you’re so lucky that____’ but they don’t know a single thing about you is giving you a clear red flag, trust that warning. Tell your story, honor your story, and don’t let anyone downplay your success and your struggles. Part of growth is knowing what surroundings you thrive in, and what surroundings and individuals stunt your growth. Remember, boundaries aren’t to kick people out. Boundaries help you understand yourself, protect yourself, help you recognize mistakes others have committed in your life so you don’t repeat them. If the time isn’t taken to reflect and be accountable for your own actions, you will become the toxic trait that you are running away from. By saying no, I was able to hold myself accountable for myself and take a huge step forward for my own healing. And now, I can intentionally be present for others in my life.