Learning to Say No

Think of the last time you said yes to something or someone when you really wanted to say no. What was your clue that you wanted to say no – a sinking or resentful feeling in the pit of your stomach because you just said yes even though you didn’t want to do so? If you respond with a time as recent as yesterday or today, you’re not alone. Many people have difficulty saying no in the face of a request or an invitation, but why is that? Why do so many of us cringe when presented with the opportunity to turn something or someone down even when you know that’s what you truly want to do?

Not surprisingly, the answer is not so cut-and-dry. There is a plethora of internal and external factors that influence your ability to say no to others. Here are a few to ponder…do any of these resonate with you?

For one, humans are social beings. You are genetically and neurologically wired to want to fit in and belong to a group. You are supposed to want to connect with and have relationships with people. And within your posse, you strive to be perceived in a positive light; you want to be known for being helpful, kind, and reliable, not selfish, useless, or lazy, right? This is normal! However, the problem arises when you get so worried that the people in your group will think you are selfish if you say no that you say yes, ALL. THE. TIME. Which then, ultimately, takes you away from and interferes with meeting your own needs, responsibilities, and interests. Guess what? That’s not okay! It can lead you to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, depressed, angry, and/or resentful. Additionally, worrying so much about other people’s thoughts and opinions of you may also be a window into how you measure your own self-worth and value. 

“When you say ‘Yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘No’ to yourself.”

- Paulo Coelho
Author, The Alchemist

Secondly, although there are some people in the world who seem to thrive on conflict because they have a healthy attitude about how conflict (when handled appropriately) can positively impact the world around them, you may not have had that same experience or hold a similar opinion about confrontation. So, if you’re afraid of saying no because you believe someone may get upset with you, talk badly about you behind your back, or perhaps exclude you from the next “great event”, then it’s safe to say you’re probably saying yes to avoid creating potential rifts and drama among you and those in your fold. If this is the case, please be aware that your fear is being generated by emotionally abusive and manipulative behavior in your circle. It’s perfectly fine for someone to feel disappointed when you say no to whatever they are requesting of you or inviting you to do. All feelings are okay! However, if they don’t understand or accept your wishes without talking behind your back or angrily calling you out on your decision, it’s unacceptable behavior on their part. Remember: If someone gets upset with you because you’ve said “No” to what they have asked because you need to take care of you – no matter what that may be or look like – says a whole lot more about who they are than who you are.

“Pay attention when people react with anger and hostility to your boundaries. You have found the edge where their respect for you ends.”

- Anonymous

Another possibility for your consistent YES response is that you’re worried you may miss out on life experiences if you say no to them. While there is some validity to this line of thinking, if you are wearing yourself out to DO it all and BE it all, and still not managing to accomplish your own stuff, you may want to take some time to reflect whether there are any hidden emotions – fears, worries, doubts – that are driving your bus. Are you truly clear on your personal (and/or professional) life goals, interests, and vision?

You are likely a kind, helpful, considerate person who makes the time, has the energy, and the desire to say yes to most things that come up. But are you also consumed by guilt when you say no, and as a result, sometimes even say yes when it conflicts with plans you’ve already made?

What’s wrong with this picture? How do you program a “No” response to a request or an invitation before a “Yes” impulsively comes out of your mouth?

Here is something for you to try the next time someone asks you to do something for or with them:

1. Stay present (maintain self-awareness) when the request/invitation is verbalized by taking a deep breath and counting to three – before your mouth opens.

2. Your response does not have to be automatic nor immediate. Buy yourself some time by saying you will get back to them.

3. Using this “borrowed time”, reflect on your feelings about saying “Yes”, and about saying “No” to the request. Does it interfere with something else you want to do or have planned? Is it aligned with your values and goals? Do you truly, deep down want to do it?

4. Reconnect with the requester to give them your response. If you are declining, tell them you’re afraid you won’t be able to attend or do whatever it is they’re asking this time. Remember: You do not need to explain your reasoning for saying no, nor do you have to tell them what you are doing with your time instead. Even if they ask, the only information they need is that you have something else going on. Otherwise, it’s none of their damn business!

However, if you truly, deep down, want to say yes, and it’s heartfelt and resounding (listen to your body not your head!), then, say yes, of course. If you are going to feel good while doing it, and afterwards, you don’t feel that you have been taken advantage of or that you lost out on something else because you said yes – then say yes! You don’t have to say no every time, but to ensure that you meet your own needs and wants, sometimes you’re going to have to.

“If it’s not a ‘Hell yeah!’ it’s a no.”

Derek Sivers
Entrepreneur, Writer

You are strong. Your time is just as important as anyone else’s. Your dreams, goals, wants, and needs are valuable and worthy of your attention and focus. They are also begging you to become empowered enough to say “No” (at least sometimes) to those things and people that take you away from them much too often. 

Do YOU. Be YOU. Love YOU.

Until next time…

Keep It Simple,

Michelle H. 

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