Saying “NO” Without Guilt and How to Do it Gracefully


How to say no gracefully - Jessica Rose Williams

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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Saying no without guilt and how to do it gracefully. How minimalism has taught me to say no | Self development | Self care | Simple living | Minimalist living | Minimalism


29 comments on “Saying “NO” Without Guilt and How to Do it Gracefully”

  1. I am a people pleaser who is slowly learning this lesson. I am getting better daily, and the more I do it the easier it becomes but I still find family hard to say no to. Sorry to hear about your mum, glad to hear she’s fine now. I am with you on the babyshowers! I’ve had 4 babies and not one baby shower, I’ve been to one but didn’t enjoy it!

    1. Family are the hardest without a doubt. I struggle with this the most. It definitely isn’t something we can do over night, it takes practice. When you see the rewards for yourself, it makes it slowly easier. I love the fact you didn’t have a baby shower!

  2. I love this. I had a baby last October and I didn’t have a baby shower, much to the disappointment of my mum (who definitely wishes I was more ‘normal’). I find them twee and ridiculous. I attended one a couple of months ago with my then six month year old daughter and vowed never again. I’ve also said no to a very expensive hen party which was actually a long weekend that would have cost £400. I was just about to get a mortgage on our house so said I couldn’t afford it. I definitely offended my friend. I didn’t have a hen party either and we eloped which was much less stressful.

    I do need to say no more often to meet ups when I’d rather stay home and chill out with my baby, especially as I’m back to work soon. It’s so nice to find an online community of similar people! I feel like I’m strange so often in everyday life. Thanks for the Gap trouser recommendation by the way. I LOVE them. x

  3. Really enjoyed this post,Thankyou for reminding us we do have a choice.
    I suffer from M.E and a couple of years ago I decided not to go out in the evenings as I was too exhausted,people don’t invite me now as I always said no.
    Certain people still don’t like the NO word!!

    1. So happy you enjoyed it, thank you! It’s great to hear you’ve found what works for you. No is a very strong word. It can have really interesting reactions. All you can do is be honest and if people don’t like that – maybe they’re the wrong people.

  4. It pleases me that you’re not afraid to say no. I more often than not would rather spend most for my time alone or with my husband and family. I’m not a social mogul and I’ve often feared it comes across as though I don’t like people. I’m all for sharing long walks and philosophical discussion or a quiet coffee somewhere but I’m a one on one kind of person. Large groups and lairy nights out are not for me. Pass me a blanket and a cup of tea any day.

  5. I’m definitely a “Yes” girl….and it is soooooo exhausting , I’m finally learning …( at my young 48) to master NO! It is terribly hard and feel like I’m letting people down, but for my health and sanity I need to learn it! Thankyou Jessica for your words of wisdom! 😘

  6. OMG – you read my mind! I have been struggling with this for a while and I was going to reach out to you to see if you had any tips and voila, here’s a post. I find it difficult to say ‘no’, but I am slowly and surely learning that my peace of mind is far more important than pleasing people. Yes, to JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) and no to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)! Fantastic article and so relevant for me. Hope you’re having fun in Paris! x

  7. Thanks for this great insight!
    I personally don’t like parties, I recently counted 4 Christmas parties in my entire adult life, I will be 55 soon! Its funny to me the looks I get when I say no! Or worse yet say I don’t like parties! People think I’m a snob, anti-social, stuck up, you name it – I’ve learned not to be too concerned, it IS hard coming up with the proverbial excuse but I manage.
    To me its just ridiculous to say yes to things or situations that don’t make you happy? We only have one life!

  8. Well, I fit into this crowd because I absolutely cannot stand social events. The older I get, the less I want to walk out my front door, period (is that bad?). It’s truly torture for me to be in a group and have to make small talk. I’m stictly a one-on-one person, too. That is my forte’. But even a long lunch with a girlfriend leaves me worn out and going horizontal the second I get home. Well Jessica, I happened to catch your little Instagram video (or whatever it’s called). Good grief, Girl, you have these gorgeous blue eyes…who knew? You need to show them off a little once in a while in your photos! It was fun seeing you come to life. I’m always fascinated when a person I’ve only known online in words and pictures makes a video. My perceptions are often dead wrong once I see someone in action. FUN! PS, I think I’m “anti-social” because I was painfully shy as a child and always felt left out. Goodness, who needs THAT?

    1. I avoid social events like the plague Kathryn so I know exactly what you mean. I love one-to-one so much more. I’m definitely a deep and meaningful conversation type. I can’t believe I actually put a video up ha ha. I’m trying to get better at this video stuff. Just sounds like you’re an introvert to me. We’re usually labelled as shy kids. Nothing wrong with being anti-social xx

      1. Right, I don’t care for the shallowness of high society or even Facebook. It leaves a lot lacking for me. Fbook has a purpose, for sure, but most of the time it leaves me ringing hollow. It’s so nice to meet people online, however, where we discuss things and find kindred spirits. I loved your video, please do more.

        1. Kathryn I really avoid Facebook where I can! I deleted mine not long ago and only went back on when I started the blog. It’s the platform I spend the least time on. I find it so negative. Instagram is my favourite by far! Trying to get better at the video thing ha ha.

  9. I’ve always been a people pleaser and completely agree with how difficult it is to say no. It took complete exhaustion for me to realise that always being available ends up in me feeling rushed and unhappy. It’s sometimes difficult to put yourself first, but understanding that friends and family will be OK with us being honest about our time, helps in taking some of your own time back.

  10. Fantastic post! I think it so important to know ourselves and set boundaries. As difficult as it can be I think saying no is imperative, not only to look after ourselves but also to be the best we can be in the things and people we do say yes to. If that makes sense? x

  11. This is such a great post – and with some amazingly practical advice here, too. I, like many, have often struggled to say no, although I am getting better these days. I think something that’s helped me is realising that I don’t need to have something else on to be able to say no. Carving out down time isn’t lame; it’s essential to me functioning – it just took me ages to allow myself to say no without having a solid ‘excuse’ to back me up!

    1. Hi Elle! I’ve been guilty of that too. Needing some alone time is a good enough excuse for me these days. It’s so important to prioritise what’s important to us even if it goes against the grain. Nothing lame about it!

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