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How to Say No and Make Room for What You Want

Finally, learn how to say no! It is a much more important skill than you might realize!

first, ask yourself: Are you a ‘yes’ man? A ‘yes’ woman?

I used to be. I said ‘yes’ to many opportunities, exciting projects, and requests for help from others.

It’s because I love to give, love a challenge, and love helping fight a worthwhile cause.

I was Jim Carrey in ‘The Yes Man’ saying ‘YES’ to life! However, that meant saying yes to “way too much!”

This led to me being spread too thin, feeling overworked, underappreciated, and nearing burnout…

Can you relate?

There are many reasons why we justify to ourselves the need to say ‘yes’ to others.

Why do we struggle to say ‘no’?! After all, it’s just one word.

Two letters.

Reasons we struggle with saying ‘no’

1. We’ve learned to be people pleasers

Many of us learned early on in our lives as children that we need to do what other people want, not what we want.

A lot of us learned growing up that it wasn’t ‘right’ to assert ourselves. Our brains made the association that ‘no’ equaled a negative reaction.

It left us to need to feel good about ourselves.

2. It makes us feel important doing things for others

Some of us have learned to establish our worth and value as a person by what we do.

3. We don’t have a plan for our lives

If you lack a real vision for your life, you’ll be far more likely to be happy going along with everyone else’s plans – especially their plans for your life.

When you have a vision for your life, you realize that there’s an opportunity cost to spending time on everyone else’s plans.

4. We feel guilty saying ‘no’ to the needs or requests of others

Guilt is not a good reason to do something. It’s generally a sign that you’ve been made to feel ‘bad’ for having your own desires or needs, or they simply weren’t valued as important.

How your inability to say ‘no’ hurts you

1. You may end up living out someone else’s expectations for your life and not your own
If you are easily pressurized by the expectations of others, you’ll go along with what they want rather than the best use of the time, talents and energy that you have been given for your own life.

2. You’ll become overworked, overwhelmed and stressed out – possibly even leading to burnout

You’ll have too much to do and not enough time to do it. The reality is that there is always a lot of need around us.

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Fulfill all requests, and you’ll be pulled from one thing to another with no sense of control over your life or your time.

3. You become busy rather than productive

Are you busy or productive? Have you thought about the difference?

When split in many different directions, we become much less effective at each one and our creative capacity is depleted.

4. You sacrifice essential time for your own goals

If you don’t say ‘no’ you WILL end up delaying (or even worse, completely sacrificing) your own goals for your life.

More reasons saying ‘no’ can be painful

5. You open yourself up to resentment and lack of joy & fulfillment in life

People who can’t say ‘no’ end up suffering from a lot of resentment. They resent the people they said ‘yes’ to because they can feel taken advantage of by them.

6. You open yourself up to more anxiety

Having too much on your plate beyond your maximum capacity leads to more anxiety as you battle to cope with all of the demands made on you.

Anxiety also arises when you don’t have enough margin for rest and recuperation.

7. You lose a sense of identity

Saying ‘yes’ to anything that comes our way from others means we’re saying ‘no’ to who we really are and what we really want.

We lose our sense of identity because we’re spending so little time doing things that are true to our own nature.

8. Financial implications

You will end up earning less money than you’re really capable of because you’re spread too thin, and thus less effective at what you do.

How do you say ‘no’

Firstly, we need to have the right mindset, because it’s our wrong beliefs that prevented us from saying ‘no’ in the first place. Saying ‘no’ is just a learnable skill.

Keep reading – there’s wording below to help you – all you have to do is practice it. The first thing we need to do is reframe our thoughts and get our minds right!

1. Develop the right mindset

Wrong beliefs you may have you convinced of a few things:

  • It is selfish to say no
  • People won’t like you
  • If there is a need, I should help
  • I will  be letting people down
  • I’m afraid people will be angry
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2. ‘It’s selfish to say ‘no’ to others’

Do you think of literally everyone’s physical or emotional needs before your own?

If you find yourself remotely panicked, stressed or regularly having to neglect time for relaxation, rest and fun, then you’re doing too much.

3. ‘People won’t like me if I say no’

Think about this – if someone dislikes you JUST BECAUSE you said ‘no’ to a request they made of you, are they a reasonable person? Are they justified in not respecting your ‘no’?

Of course not.

4. ‘If there’s a need, I should help’

The rescuers amongst us normally fall foul to this huge fallacy. We take responsibility for everyone’s problems, even those they should be carrying themselves.

5. ‘I’ll be letting people down if I say ‘no’’

The assumption behind this belief is that you and you alone are responsible for meeting someone’s needs. In reality, there may be a number of potential people who can all help with a request.

7. ‘I’m afraid of the angry response I’ll get if I say no’

In fact, people are more likely to respect you if you know and exercise your boundaries with them.

Stop worrying about what other people think

We worry too much about what other people think of us.

But here’s the truth about possible thoughts people will have :

‘Ok, I’ll just go ask someone else’
‘She/He just doesn’t have time – fair enough’

Here are a few situations where you might worry about the opinions of others, though. Try using these positive examples of what to say to help you through!

‘I intend to say no, and then in the moment have no real good reason to say no’

Here’s what to do :

  1. Tell them that you’ll need to check your calendar and other commitments and then get back to them.
  2. If you have a partner, let the requester know you’ll check with your partner (a good idea anyway) and get back to them.

‘I just believe I can fit it all in and end up saying yes, only later realizing that it’s too much’

Here is what you can do:

  1.  Keep a calendar
  2. Put your priorities in it : Work, family, rest/recreation, exercise, planning, housework/errands
  3. Build margin around it
  4. See what ‘white space’ remains
  5. Only then determine if you can do it.
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‘It’s wrong to say no if I have the capacity’ (i.e. I don’t deserve leisure time)

You’re neglecting to allow yourself the genuine need for leisure time and time to recharge. Maybe tell yourself that you like being busy?

Busy is great – if you’re being productive while busy. Are you productive – or just busy?

‘I love doing things for other people’

That is great – and is probably one of your highest values. So long as it’s not conflicting with other values you have – for example, to spend quality time with family, or if you also value doing high-quality work.

Things you can start doing today to say ‘no’

Give yourself time to make a decision. Ask for agendas to meetings you are invited to so that you can determine if you really need to be there.

For any requests, get into the habit of saying, ‘That sounds great – let me check my schedule and get back to you’

Next, thank people for their offers. Let them know that you’re grateful that they thought of you.

If you can, then feel free to provide an alternative! The same advice can apply for many situations.

If you’re invited to a meeting, ask if you can attend just the portion that requires your input. Send someone else from your team instead – or make a suggestion of someone who’d be more suited to it.

If you can’t make a birthday party – suggest that you take them out for an hour on another day. Or perhaps you don’t have time for a one-on-one meeting with them, but you can suggest that they join you with a group that you’re getting together with.

Create boundaries and make sure people are aware of them. For example :

“I’m sorry, I can’t make it. I already have two other commitments this week and it would be too much to add on a third.”

“I wish I could be there, but Saturday afternoons are when I need alone time to recharge.”

Also, recognize that it is ok to say no without giving a detailed explanation! You can just say, ‘I would love to do that, but I’m sorry, I can’t.,’ Or even something as simple as, ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t have the time.’

Finally, make it a habit! You will no longer get resistance, as people learn what your new boundary is, and come to expect it from you.

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