Q: Between family, friends, and work obligations, I feel like I'm being pulled in a million different directions, and I have no time for me. I realize I should say no to people more often, but I find that difficult. What do you suggest?

A: Your question tells me you're starting to ask for some of your own attentionand you realize that in order to do that, you will need to say no more often than you do now. You understand the situation, you have a clear desire to improve it, and you're gathering know-how and inspiration to make it happen. Nice job. Here are three suggestions to add to the mix:

1. Switch out your words. Words have the power to make us feel stuck or to give us hope. Your question contains two key words that often leave us walking in circles: should and difficult. Should causes us to feel guilty and/or controlled, while difficult tends to make us feel afraid we'll fail. Using should and difficult to describe a situation we are in is similar to putting a "road closed" sign between us and where we want to be. What I'm actually hearing in your question is a much more positive message. I hear something that resembles, "I am ready to include myself in the good care I give, and I am about to learn how to rearrange things so that I can." Adjust this sentence to fit you, and write it in places that will help you remember.

2. Spot the Ludi-Q. You have already established that you want to find ways to stay on top of what you say yes and no toso you can bring your life back into a range of care that is good for you. Like our bodies, the shape of our lives is, for the most part, a result of our yes's and no's. You've recognized there is a tilt to your life that isn't working for you, and this tilt is most likely a result of your yes's and no's.

Now, here's the tricky part: not everything we say yes to is asked aloud to us. But the questions that are not asked aloud are often the most ludicrous ones, such as "May I control you?" or "May I make you feel guilty for not giving me more than you can?" I call these ludicrous questions "Ludi-Q's." They come at us and from within us all the timenot in words but in behavior, body language, outbursts, and silent treatments.

Behind nearly every problem is at least one Ludi-Q. I think it's safe to say that your feeling of being pulled in many different directions is a result of you saying yes to some unspoken, ludicrous questions. I have found that once I become clear on the ludicrous questions I am asking myself, it becomes easier to spot and say no to the Ludi-Q's others ask of me. I do not know exactly what Ludi-Q you're asking of yourself, but it may resemble one of these: "May I wear you out being nice?" "May I deny you the rest and fun I help others enjoy?" "Will you believe things will fall apart without your yes's?" "Will you put your feelings of sheer exhaustion aside?"

3. Move from easiest to easiest. I love challenges, and I prefer to complete them by moving from easiest to easiest. I simply check out what needs to be done, choose the task that feels easiest, and do it. Then I look for the next easiest thing, and tackle that. Pretty soon, I'm there.

Saying no more often is a challenge you're preparing to take on. So, how might it look to apply "easiest to easiest" to it? Maybe saying no more often is not the easiest place to begin. Instead, you may want to say yes more to things that energize you as a person. More music. More color. More laughter. Think of it as lining the shoulders of your busy road with small but significant joys that will add excitement and meaning to your journey. In other words, by saying yes more often to things that inspire you, it just may give you the courage to say no more to things that don't.

And while you're doing that, give yourself a month to watch how others go about managing their yes's and no's. When you're ready, begin saying no in small ways, working up to the bigger ones. Protecting yourself in order to give from the best of yourself is essential. You are smart to pursue it.

Jan Black is a speaker, coach, and creator whose work supports people's efforts to know themselves better and live out who they are. She is the author of Better BoundariesOwning and Treasuring Your Life; It's Not Okay AnymoreYour Personal Guide to Ending Abuse, Taking Charge, and Loving Yourself; and the forthcoming Let Yourself Happen. Also the owner of Quiddity, Inc, an Oregon product-development studio, Black is known for her signature "Your Defining Edge" process, which reveals lifelong core contributions and identifies inspiring options for expressing them. Her latest products include the innovative "Ludi-Q" decks of cards and "UpTo," a group study designed especially for women that children look up to.