We all have those people who tend to be higher maintenance for us than others. These people tend to make their problems our problems; their urgencies tend to become our urgencies. They don’t seem to sense when they are crossing the line, and they distract us from our true purpose. They care only about their agendas, and if we let them, they’ll continue to take our time and attention for granted.

Of course, all of this would imply that the problem is them, and we know that’s not true for a few reasons. First, when we are proactive, we know better than to blame others. Second, we know that the problem is never out there, but always within. Therefore, the real problem lies with us, not them. It’s because we allowed those things to happen in the first place. Remember, we cannot change others (nor do we want to), but we can teach them how to behave with us. That is directly within our control. Third, this boils down to prioritizing your life over others. It’s the “oxygen-mask” principle which says we can’t help others unless we first help ourselves. We need to “take care” of ourselves first before we can help others.

Deal-breakers are types of requests or activities from others that we refuse to say yes to unless they somehow overlap with our own priority or agenda.

It can be any time you feel violated in terms of your own values. Or, it could be that you feel obligated to say yes when you know you should have said no. That’s how you know it’s a deal-breaker, and it doesn’t have to be extreme in order to be a deal-breaker; it can violate your values even in small ways. What are your deal-breakers?

Stop making other peoples’ problems your own. When you do that, you’re doing a disservice to both them and yourself. You’re robbing them of their ability to solve problems, and you’re wasting your efforts by solving a problem they could otherwise solve. It’s a lose-lose situation in the long-term.

The problem with helping others (when you’re confident they can solve it on their own) is that we’re catching the fish for them instead of teaching them how to catch the fish themselves. Remember what you do for others now sets up expectations for them in the future. So, when you do something for them now, they’ll expect you to keep doing that in the future because you are essentially teaching them that. Rather, they are learning it from you.

So, how do we not let others make their problems our own? Well, we know that we can’t change others (nor should we even try), but we can teach others how to “behave” with us. Set up fences in advance to stop others from siphoning off your time and attention for their own purposes, agendas, and urgencies. Their urgency should not be your urgency unless it somehow overlaps with your priority or agenda.

Also, remember that what/how you treat them now will determine what you do in the future. Your present actions set up expectations for them in the future, so be careful in managing expectations with others. Unless you define your own boundaries, how can you expect them to know yours?

Set up “rules” in advance that eliminate the need for the direct “no”. Get clear with others about expectations, accountability, and outcomes. One way to do that is by letting people know how you work at the outset — you need to teach others how to “behave” with you. For instance, if it’s a work project and you’re to work with others in a team to finish the project, you can draft social contracts with them at the start of a project as to what’s acceptable to you in terms of doing the project, and what’s not. Having that clarity at the outset helps both parties remain positive, focused, and ultimately create synergy.

Prioritize your life over others. That means cultivating a healthy selfishness: We need to help ourselves before we can decide if we want to (or should) help others. One way to practice that is to say no to others unless their requests overlap with your own agenda.

Learning to say no is a skill that we can all practice. One reason we struggle to say no is because we tend to mix others’ requests with our relationship to them. The key is to separate the request from the relationship — when saying no, you want to be polite but firm, and never disrespectful.

Also, when you say no to others, at least make a small promise (and keep it). Any 3-year old can say no. That’s not the point. Offer an alternative instead. When you say you’re going to do something (and then do it), you build trust with others.

Stop giving “answers” to others. Instead, ask them questions that will get them thinking and that will allow them to come up with their own answers.

We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agendas to control our lives. The point is not to refuse help to people. We should help others when we can. But, when other people make their problem our problem, we aren’t helping them, we are only enabling them.

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