Last Friday, my new friend Sarah told me her mother, Joan Chamberlain, had diagnosed herself with “left arm syndrome”.
Coined by Joan herself, “left arm syndrome” is the tendency of the left arm to shoot up whenever someone asks for a volunteer or helping hand. Joan found herself automatically saying yes a lot—before seeing whether she could.
When Sarah shared this, I responded three-fold:
First, I laughed. I 100% relate to Joan; except for me, my right hand shoots up (I’m left-handed, if that matters).
Second, my heart warmed. Joan and her funny diagnosis reveals something true: we all want to contribute. We have within us a desire to make a difference, be of service, and make things a bit better or easier for a fellow human or creature of this planet.
Third, I sobered: this is how frustration, burn-out, overwhelm, and anxiety can spike.
Saying yes before considering whether we can authentically offer up the energy can cause a lot of frustration.
For me, saying yes on impulse often necessitates I then need to:
take time and energy away from other things that are really important to me (family, friends, creative and spiritual practices) OR
rescind my ‘yes’ and ultimately not follow through on what I said I’d do.
Both suck energy out of me, because usefully, frustration can burn. It can be a signal to pay attention.
When you tell a requester “Let me think about it”, it’s a win-win.
To them, it demonstrates you’re taking the ask seriously and want to show up clear and ready. To yourself, it communicates respect for your physical vitality, time, relationships, and creativity.