Learning to say no hasn’t been easy but it has given me more time, and in a lot of cases more money, to do the things I really want to do. That tiny two letter word NO is one of the smallest, yet most empowering words in the English language. It can take courage to use, but when used to our advantage, saying no allows us to sculpt our lives by rejecting the things we don’t want to do and gifts us the time we would have lost by saying yes. It allows us to take back control. Our time is the most precious resource we have, using it wisely makes sense.
It’s not uncommon for us to say yes to far too much, leaving us stressed out and overwhelmed. Imagine having to say yes to everything and how powerless you would feel. Flip this on it’s head and you have the word NO. The power word that gives you a choice. The choice to build and shape your life how you want it.
When somebody tells me they’re doing something at the weekend but they aren’t looking forward to it, I’ll say to them ‘why don’t you just say you don’t want to go?’ The answer is usually always, “I can’t do that”. The thing is we can, we’ve just forgotten we have a choice. It’s normal to want to say yes to people, to please them and get along with them. We can thank our basic human instincts and tribal history for this.
Even the thought of saying no can stir up the fear of missing out, rocking the boat, causing upset or burning bridges. We worry about what others might think and, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think women in particular are inclined to worry about this more. If we live our lives this way, always worrying about what other people think and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, we’ll never do any of the things we actually enjoy. What a waste of our time.
It doesn’t help that we’re trained to say yes, be polite and just go with the flow. When we’re children, if we are invited to a birthday party, we attend. Nobody teaches us to actually think about whether we want to attend or not. We aren’t taught to put our own needs and wants first and carefully prioritise what we say yes and no to. I think this has a huge part to play in people living overly busy lives today, where we constantly rush around trying to cram everything in. The answer to this problem is that tiny two letter word, NO. It’s the only way out of the trap.
It’s easy to worry about hurting people’s feelings when we say no to them. Trust me when I say that being a people pleaser will not get you anywhere. I’ve been there, and this side of the fence is so much better. We are being unjust to ourselves by saying yes to things we don’t want to, because we aren’t saying yes wholeheartedly. If you’re saying yes to things you want to say no to, you aren’t being true to yourself. This approach cannot make us truly happy.
It’s all well and good me saying ‘just say no’, but it’s not always that easy. I know it isn’t because I’ve been there. I wanted to share some tips to try and make it easier for you. I wish someone had shared these with me years ago.
How to learn to say no gracefully
Separate the decision from the relationship
It’s easy to confuse someone’s request with our relationship with them. For example, saying no to a family gathering might feel as though we’re saying no to our relationship with those family members. It’s really important to realise this isn’t the case. Saying no to someone doesn’t mean we’re saying no to our relationship with them. Separating our decision from the relationship allows us to make a clear decision and find the courage to be honest by saying no.
Saying no gracefully doesn’t have to mean using the word
No can feel like a really strong word to use but there’s always an alternative. I’d encourage you to get creative and say it in a way that feels comfortable for you. Phrases like ‘I’m flattered you thought of me, but I just don’t have the time’ or ‘I’d love to, but I’m overcommitted right now’ work just as well. We don’t have to turn into heartless robots to master this, just be honest.
Think about what you’re saying yes to
When you say no to something you’re saying yes to something else. This is my personal favourite. Knowing that there’s always a trade-off and being crystal clear with yourself on your priorities is essential here. Without this clarity, it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying yes to everything and telling ourselves we can get it all done. We can’t. We only have so much time and it’s up to us to decide how we fill it.
Make peace with the fact that saying no often requires trading popularity for respect
Popularity seekers love saying yes because it’s an easy way of boosting their popularity. I’d encourage them to think of an alternative, which is respect. Accepting you can’t be popular with everyone all of the time is a more realistic outlook on life. Saying no can come at a short term cost, however in the long run people will respect you for it and this is more valuable than popularity.
Remember a clear no can be more graceful than a vague yes
Don’t be one of those people who says yes to everything and then drops out at the last minute. Worse even, don’t be one of those non-committal people who never get back to someone or use words like ‘I might be able to’ or ‘I’ll try, but I can’t promise anything’ when they know they can’t. This makes eventually having to say no so much harder and you’re making life much more difficult than it has to be. The receiver will not thank you for this kind of approach. Be upfront. Be honest.
The more we do something, the better we get at it. Saying no gets easier with practice and while I still struggle with some situations, more often than not it’s second nature for me to say no when I want to now.
Here’s a little inspiration for you in the form of things I’ve recently said no to and why;
Being a bridesmaid – My mum was ill with cancer at the time. Knowing how much commitment being a good bridesmaid requires, I knew I couldn’t – and didn’t want to – meet them, so I respectfully declined. Spending time with my mum (she’s fine now) was the trade off here and that made saying no, so much easier.
Attending a baby shower – I know people love them, but that doesn’t mean I have to. There’s no way of sugar coating this; I hate them. They make me incredibly anxious and I can’t see the point in them. Five baby showers later, I made a promise to myself never to put myself through one again and I’m sticking to it. I’ve made it clear to my friends how I feel and they now know not to invite me to any.
Brand work – As my Instagram following has grown, brands get in touch with me wanting to be featured on my account. This is really flattering and I love the idea of being able to recommend relevant products to people who follow me, but they aren’t always appropriate. Unless they’re products I’d use myself, I’m not prepared to feature them. I find myself saying no more often than yes in this respect, even if it means turning down money. I’m particularly picky about what I’m willing to feature because authenticity is the most important thing to me. Sacrificing that for money is a no go.
I hope this has inspired you to take back control if you’re struggling and given you some ideas of how you can start saying no. If you’ve got any other suggestions of how to say no gracefully or how saying no more has benefited you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
This post was inspired by the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown.
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