Learn to Say “No” in 5+1 Simple Steps and Reclaim Your Life for Yourself
If you have ever found yourself overwhelmed by the number of things to do and beating yourself up for having said “yes” to too many things, applying these five simple steps will ensure this doesn’t happen again.
Saying “no” to things you don’t want is, in fact, saying “yes” to yourself and the life you want to live. It means setting healthy boundaries based on clear communication that will allow you to focus on what really matters and to increase your productivity and satisfaction. This article approaches the topic from a work-related perspective but you can use those tips in any area of your life. Answering this series of questions will help you make informed decisions according to what feels right for you and backed by objective observations.
1. Create time and space
If you tend to rush into saying “yes” to any request regardless of what you truly want to answer, create the conditions that will give you a chance to reply “no”. In other words, delay the moment where you have to utter your decision so that you have the time to think about it and make a conscious choice. For example, if you receive a call, politely take your interlocutor’s details and inform them that this not a good moment for you to speak. Promise to call back as soon as possible — and do it (if you struggle with procrastination, take a look here). By doing so, you regain power over the situation. You escape the pressure that might surge when you feel you have to reply right on the spot and you create time and space to ask yourself the following questions that will help you determine whether you are going accept or decline the request:
2. How urgent is it really?
When we are faced with someone telling us that this task is urgent, showing up with strong emotions, a mix of anger, despair, and threat, our first reaction will often be to let ourselves caught in the feel of urgency that they have created and to say, “Yes, of course, I will do it, right now, I will just drop everything and run for you” — and before we know it, it is exactly what we do. But is it really that urgent? Now that you know how to create time and space, you can use this moment to question the emergency of the request. What will happen if you do it in a couple of hours? Tomorrow? Or not at all?
If the simple thought of asking yourself those questions makes you feel uncomfortable, I really encourage you to take a pen and paper and write down the answers to what will happen if you don’t do it now (or don’t do it at all). First of all, it will calm down your anxiety by putting the fear outside of you and, second, it will bring you some clarity by showing you that it might not be what it looks like.
3. Can someone else do it?
Are you really the only one who can complete the task or is it just more simple to ask you because you are the one who always says “yes”? If, truly, no one else can do it, can you teach another person the basics so that they can perform for you next time (or even this time)? Would this be a good investment of your time?
If you feel reluctant to delegate the task because no one can do it as perfectly as you do, can you breathe in and out this resistance and accept a little bit of imperfection in exchange for more time for you to focus on something more important, be it a private or professional objective?
4. Will the disaster really happen?
What do you scare will happen if you say “no”? With the question, we enter the realm of fears and, again, I encourage you to write the answers down on a piece of paper. Thinking about it is not enough because it will make your mind feel uncomfortable and soon you will find yourself answering a message on your phone or pondering on what to have for dinner tonight. Typing it on your computer is slightly better because you will see your fear black on white but the connection body-mind is not strong enough to really generate transformation. So, forget technology for a while and start exploring the frightening list of disasters a part of your mind believes will happen if you say “no”. Then, for each item, ask yourself, “Is it really true?” and “If it did happen, what would be the consequence?”
Next, answer the following questions: Does it feel right to say “yes” to an extra task when your calendar is fully booked? Does it feel right to give a hand to your colleague where you are already completely exhausted? It is about how it feels in your body, not about the reasoning and rationalising voice in your head. And finally, what is the benefit for all to bring yourself one step closer to burnout? Isn’t this a disaster bigger than any other?
5. What are you not saying “yes” to because you don’t dare to say “no”?
This one is the most important one. When we accept to do things that we don’t want to do, that are not aligned with our values or that literally hurt us, we are saying “no” to what brings passion and joy into our lives, to what makes us feel empowered, alive, and fulfilled.
So what are you not saying “yes” to because you don’t dare to say “no”? What opportunities and benefits would be generated if you said “yes” to what you truly desire? What could you create if you said “yes” to yourself despite the fear?
I’d like to add a 6th to your list, if I may — Resist the urge to always explain your ‘No’ once you’ve said it. It is often in the explanation that people find the ‘hook’ to convince you to turn your ‘No’ into a ‘Yes’.
Next time someone asks you to do something, take the time to reflect on the request— because it is actually a question even if it might be disguised in the form of an order — and give an informed answer based on what is right and true for you. Let me know in the comments what is your experience and remember that putting yourself first is not being egotistic!