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When we were children, it’s highly likely that our favorite word was “no.” Maybe we didn’t know what it actually meant (early on) but it’s fun to say, and it made our parents make those funny faces of defeat and desperation. But when we grew up, saying it became less fun and more likely to get us in trouble. And those faces of defeat and desperation turned into faces of incredulity and “you’re grounded” looks. It’s time to learn the right way to say no.
Did your mom react very well when she asked you to clean your room and you said, “No!”?
Did your teacher let you get away with it when she asked you to turn in your homework and you said, “No!”? You won’t learn anything like that!
Maybe it’s just me, but as we grow up, we’re taught that we shouldn’t say “no” to those in authority—or if you want to generalize—those older than us.
Who ended up on this list?
- Elders (all of them, whether you knew them or not)
- Bosses & employers
- Kids older than you, even if just by a year or two
- Public officials, including politicians and police officers
Teaching us to avoid saying “no” to anyone without first evaluating how it will affect us has turned these generations (Millennials, GenZ) into ones of overwhelm, burnout, self-hatred, grudges against authority, and a lack of self-respect.
What’s the most powerful thing you can do to take back your sense of self-worth and freedom?
Learn How to Say “No.” Embrace It.
I’m not talking about regressing to our childhood selves who said “No!” to every question, regardless if it made sense.
I mean that we need to pause, take a moment to think about the consequences of saying “yes” when we’ve already got ten things in the air, and be okay with saying “no” instead.
But is it really that easy?
(See what I did there?)
The concept of saying “no” instead of “yes” is simple. But simple does not equate to “easy.”
Running a marathon is simple—you run for 26.2 miles. But running a marathon is anything but easy. It takes months of training, dedication, mindset, and commitment—sometimes recovering from injuries sustained during training—to actually cross the finish line.
You wouldn't just wake up one morning and think, “I’ll run a marathon today.”
So why exactly should you learn how to say “no” instead? Here are three reasons for you to consider.
You Have Limited Bandwidth
Regardless of how good we are at our jobs, we can only take on so much. There comes a tipping point when taking on just one extra thing will collapse all the other things. Has that ever happened to you? You take on just one more project and suddenly everything comes crashing down?
As humans, we’re terrible at estimating how fast we can do things—how many to-dos we can fit into a single day. We’re great at underestimating what we can do in ten years but equally great at overestimating what we can stuff into a single year, month, week, day, or hour.
I’m a classic example of this.
I look at my calendar and my stack of index cards with tasks on them during my weekly planning sessions and think I can cram the calendar as full as possible and then tell myself it’ll be okay.
But inevitably, life happens.
The dentist’s appointment takes longer than expected.
That last meeting of the day ended early, so you thought you could squeeze something else in… And then ended up forgetting to do what you actually scheduled for that time slot.
You don’t build in enough buffer time to account for how bad we are at estimating time.
Saying “no” to more things lets you say “yes” to fewer things—but if you prioritize correctly, those “yes’s” are to the things that truly matter in your life.
Your kid’s soccer game instead of a meeting you don’t need to attend.
A doctor’s appointment that you’ve been putting off because it’s inconvenient, but you know you should go to get something checked out.
Learn to say “no” so that you can feel less stress about all the plates you’re spinning at high speed.
People Will Respect You More
This seems so counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? People will respect you more if you say “no”?
Take a moment to think about it, though. If you asked someone to do something and they said “yes” but ended up dropping the ball and not telling you until it was too late, how would you feel?
It’s no different for you. Taking on that extra project when you’re overloaded already does a disservice not only to yourself but also to the person you made the promise to.
Instead of making the commitment and later backing out or messing up, it’s far better to learn how to say something like “I’d really love to help, but I’ve got too many other things I’m focusing on to give your project the attention it deserves.”
Being respectful with your “no” is key here—you don’t want to alienate coworkers, friends, or bosses by being rude and probably hurting your reputation.
When people see that you’re respectful with your no, they’ll usually understand.
It Lets You Say “Yes” to the Right Things
Have you ever heard or realized that every “yes” answer you give is a “no” to something or someone else?
“Yes” to the millionth team dinner after work is a “no” to dinner with your family.
“Yes” to every weekend concert you can throw money at is a “no” to relaxing weekends and a fatter bank account. Unless you can truly afford it and it’s fun for you, I guess. Speaking from my own preferences, here!
Saying “yes” to things all the time has built-in “no’s” whether you realize it or not.
This ties in with the first reason—you can only do so much. Saying “no” to the things that aren’t a “hell yes” creates room in your life so that you can say “hell yes!” to the things that spark your excitement instead of making you feel like a soggy hamburger bun on the inside.
Think of it as Marie Kondo-ing your experiences! If it doesn’t spark joy, say no!
Just kidding. There are plenty of things we still need to do, even though they don’t spark joy. Don’t actually Marie Kondo your obligations and responsibilities.
What Else Should You Know About No?
Saying “no” is one of the most fundamental boundaries you can establish in your life. It’s a complete sentence. There’s no way to misconstrue your meaning when you learn how to deliver a strong “no.” It’s a nice fence around your life to keep the narcissists and abusive people out.
For many people, “no” is difficult to say—just like boundaries can be hard to implement at first. As such, it’s a topic a plethora of psychologists, self-help writers, and others have written about.
There are a lot of resources on how to set boundaries and say “no”—such as these books:
- Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud
- The Art of Saying No, by Damon Zahariades
- How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty, by Patti Breitman
I hope you’ve taken a good, long look at how often you say “yes” to things that don’t deserve it. Have you ever had to say “no” to something you really wanted to do? What about saying “yes” to something you really didn’t want to do? Why did you give that answer?
Do you need help learning how to say no? Eventually you might reach the point where you're pissed at yourself for saying "yes" to everything. A coach can help you understand why you can't say "no" and help you learn how to put yourself first. Book a free 60-minute consultation to find out if working together would be a good fit.