We don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings, so we hurt our own. Do you set aside your own plans to meet the needs of others? Do people expect things from you that you’d rather not do? Are you fulfilling a commitment but resenting every minute you spend doing it? Are your cabinets full of fundraiser candles and tasteless cookies that you’ll never use? Welcome to the ranks of those who can’t say “no”.
Saying “no” is difficult for most of us, yet saying “yes” when we honestly want to say “no” causes stress, resentment, and barriers between ourselves and the very people we profess to help. Learn to say “no” to unwanted commitments or requests, and you’ll experience more time and energy.
Evaluate the request.
Ask yourself: Does this fit my priorities? Is it constructive for me as well as the other person? Can I do it willingly (or will I feel resentful)? Does it fit my value system? Will the long-term effect be positive? Does doing this feel expansive and light?
If you answer “no” to any of these, say “no” to the request.
Few people are seriously hurt by a “no” answer, and it is sure to benefit you.
Be clear and polite. “I can’t do it at this time.” If they persist, calmly and politely keep repeating your same answer (a technique known as “parroting”). They will eventually get the message.
Examples of saying “no”:
“My schedule is already full, so I have to say “no”. But thanks for thinking of me!
“I’d like to, but already have plans for that night.”
“That’s something I don’t do. How about we do ________ instead?”
“I’ve been over-obligating myself, so I have to say “no” to this so I can free up time for myself/family/kids/partner…”
“I’m focusing on my health, so I’m not eating snacks/clubbing/drinking/smoking these days. But thanks for asking!”
Don’t offer lengthy explanations or excuses.
Explaining at length dilutes the power and strength of your “no”. A persistent person will attempt to knock holes in any explanation, trying to talk you into changing to a “yes” response. Each time you offer another reason, you weaken the strength of your “no”.
If you can’t decide now, request time to give it thought.
Asking for more time to make a decision frees you from immediate pressure. You have a right to insist on this. Anyone demanding an immediate answer is being disrespectful and pushing for their own purposes.
If you still can’t decide, ask your body for clarification.
Your body knows what you really want to do, even if your mind is confused. Stand tall and steady with hands hanging at your sides and feet aligned directly under your shoulders. Ask yourself, “Shall I do this?” If your body shifts forward, even slightly, you are getting a “yes” response. If it shifts backward, even slightly, you are receiving a “no”.
If your body hangs out in neutral, without movement or slightly swaying forward and back, with no clear indication for either a “yes” or a “no”, there are several possibilities. It may mean that either choice is alright. It can also mean you need more time to consider. Another possibility is that you need more facts before you can assess the situation. If you lack details for your decision, get more facts, talk further, and then ask your body again. Why does this work? Your intuition, cellular memory, and nervous system holds your truth. With this technique, you bypass mental logic and behavioral conditioning which stand in the way of truth. Practice this technique with simple choices first (Should I buy this box of sugary, calorie-laden, oily donuts?) to gain the skill of observing your body’s subtle indicators.
If you regret saying “yes”, there is one more step to take.
Inevitably, you’ll slip back into old patterns and agree to do something you later regret. If the event hasn’t happened yet, contact others who are involved. Notify them that your circumstances have changed and you need to decline after all. As with # 3 and 4 above, do so politely, succinctly, and with no lengthy explanation. However, if you are already into your commitment, and withdrawing now would cause problems for others, follow through. You’ll have learned to respond differently the next time.
If I thought saying “no” is difficult, it was not nearly as painful as saying a late “no” as a follow-up to an earlier “yes”. I felt I was going back on my word (old conditioning). But when I made that call, I felt immense relief afterwards. Also, because I didn’t want to do this step, I quickly became committed to saying “no” right up front so that withdrawing an initial “yes” wasn’t necessary. It was sort of like torturing myself to force me to do it right in the first place. It sure worked for me!
Anticipate some upset feedback from others.
A few people will not like “no” for an answer from anyone, and especially from someone they’ve always been able to manipulate into agreement. Be okay with that. Remember that you are living your life, not theirs. They have a right to ask; you have a right to say “no”. They’ll get over it. If they don’t, maybe it’s time to connect with more respectful people.
These methods work, but only if you use them consistently to develop skill and confidence. You have to start today if you want a different result tomorrow. Gain your experience in simple, emotionally free situations before going on to the big challenges that rattle and scare you. After a few successful “no’s” you’ll feel the sense of self-control and freedom it brings you. Now you can direct your energy and time toward your own choice of happenings. It’s time to say “yes” to life!
Next blog post, “How to Say Yes!” to Life.
Take life into your own hands and make it happen. It’s your life. Lead it.