I am a reformed ‘yes’ girl. I used to fling my ‘yes’s’ around like there was some kind of magical endless supply. I was careless with my ‘yes’s’, I didn’t treasure them like I should have.⠀
And then, after many years of getting stressed and overworked, I finally got it. ⠀
My ‘yes’s’ are sacred. They are a valuable treasure to be protected at all costs. When I say yes to one thing – I’m saying no to another thing. It’s logical. I can’t do all the things.
So I became a ‘no’ girl. Almost overnight.
But of course staying a ‘no’ girl is a different story. It’s far too easy to slip back into old habits. Especially when we are struggling a bit in the self-worth department.
“Yes, I can absolutely look after your kids – send them over!” When all I really want is to know that my friendship is valued.
“Yep, I can fit in that extra job this week” Because if I don’t I’ll look useless and like I can’t handle the workload.
If you feel like you say YES far to often and wind up overcommitted and overwhelmed, stick with me. Let’s figure out what to say no to, and how to say it!
It’s okay to say no
It took me a long time to understand that it was actually okay to say no. My brain seemed pre-programmed to yes. And it was stuck on it, like a broken record.
I also presumed that people expected me to say yes. I couldn’t imagine that they would be okay with me saying no.
Once I gave myself permission to try it out – saying no – I discovered it wasn’t as scary as I thought. I also found that people were generally okay with me saying no. Despite what my ego told me I wasn’t always the only person for the job! My saying no didn’t affect them as much as it did me.
How to work out what to say no to
So now that I knew it was okay to say no, I needed to figure out when I could say it. As tempting as it was, surely I couldn’t say no all the time. What were the right things to say no to? Should it be based purely on my availability? Or could I choose to say no to things simply because I didn’t want to do them (surely not!)??
Of course, I had moral and ethical boundaries that made some decisions easy but what about everything else?
When I’m asked to commit to something new, whether it be an ongoing project or a coffee date I like to consider two main things;
Does it fit with my ‘why’ – my core values and purpose
I don’t commit to random things anymore. I’m purposeful with whatever projects I take on. I like to run it by my basic core pillars. Does it feed my innate need to create something? Does it mean I get to connect deeply with someone? Is it serving an area of my life that I’m developing?
Do I have time?
There are many things that I would love to do. But I can only do a few of them. My time is limited. Like so many of us, I wear many hats and shape shift my way through my week. f
This revelation has not come easy though. I used to try and squeeze all the things into my calendar (like the time I trained to teach yoga, travelling up and down to London every other weekend whilst juggling a full time job in a stressful environment). There was no white space. No extra time in case of emergencies. Fuelled by a desire to please others and my ego, I would stack training sessions, coffee dates and meetings on top of each other until it all came tumbling down.
One helpful tool I try and use when considering something new is to overestimate the time it would take. This gives me space to breathe in between commitments rather than letting them stack up on top of each other.
Ways to say no (and still keep your friends)
So now you know (hopefully) that it’s okay to say no. And maybe you’ve got a better idea of what you might say no to by checking if it aligns with your ‘why’ and your calendar.
But you might still find yourself saying yes. In the moment, caught off guard, you know you shouldn’t commit, but you do it anyway. Because you can’t figure out how to say no.
Use the power of the pause
A helpful tool when learning how to say no is to use the power of the pause. Pause after you are asked to do something. You don’t need to respond immediately. Take three deep breaths and let them know that you’ll get back to them.
You don’t have to decide right then and there. Most people will respect that and offer you time before you ask for it.
Soften the blow
I don’t buy into the idea that ‘No’ is a complete sentence. I understand the concept behind it. We don’t have to explain ourselves to other people. Our reasons for saying are our own. But how many times have you actually said ‘No’. and stopped at that?
It’s pretty difficult. We naturally want to apologize. ‘I’m really sorry, but I can’t do that’. There’s nothing wrong with this!!! Being genuinely sorry that we can’t help out helps soften the blow. And also, it’s just a kinder way of saying it.
Try these alternative one-liners
Here are some other one-liners that you can use if, like me, you aren’t comfortable with a harsh ‘No’;
“No thanks, my schedule is full right now.”
“No thank you, I’m unable to help this time.”⠀
“I really appreciate you asking me, but I’ll have to decline”⠀
“No, I don’t want to engage with that right now.”⠀
“No thanks, I’m working on having less busy and more happy”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. You are the boss. This is your show. Get in the director’s chair and orchestrate your masterpiece. You are worthy of doing what lights you up. You worthy of doing what you need to do to thrive. Yup, even if it’s getting into your pj’s at 5pm and eating toast for tea.
I’ll take my seat in the front row and cheer you on.