The Art of Saying No

Do you have trouble flexing your “no” muscle?

While it’s certainly not true for everyone, if you’re a people pleaser by nature, chances are you will find it hard to say this short but powerful word…

And you’re likely exhausted from trying to appear stronger than you feel.

There is an art to saying no that can take time, patience and practice. There are many reasons why it’s important that we learn to feel more comfortable flexing our “no” muscle.

For one, if we say yes when we’d really prefer to say no—especially if we do it regularly—we set up an internal disharmony that can lead to resentment that builds and bubbles away under the surface. We might feel as though people are taking advantage of our good nature or there is little consideration of our needs. This can be incredibly damaging to our relationships and we may end up blaming or resenting other people for the way we feel—when it’s actually our own reluctance to say no that lies at the heart of our discontent.

It can be tempting to use busyness as an excuse for not taking better care of ourselves and I regularly hear “I’m too busy” – to cook my own meals, take a lunch break, have some time to myself. The reality is we are only busy with what we say yes to and we show what our priorities are with what we spend our time doing. If your priority is (often unconsciously) trying to keep everyone else happy, it’s going to feel like you don’t have time to take care of your own needs.

Learning how to say no, deciphering what you want to say yes to and what your priorities are will all help you to experience a greater sense of spaciousness. It will cultivate more calm and better personal energy so you can enjoy a greater level of wellness. Here are some ways to become more comfortable flexing your “no” muscle.

Explore Where and Why You Have Trouble Saying No

Many people find it easy to say no in one part of their lives and impossible in others. It’s helpful to explore in what areas of your life, or to whom, you find it hard to say no to. Then ask yourself “What am I afraid will occur if I say no?”

This will allow you to begin exploring what the difficulty in saying no is really about—perhaps you don’t want to appear unsociable, thoughtless or incapable of coping with many tasks, for example. Or maybe you feel that if you don’t do something it won’t get done—or it won’t get done to your personal standard. Often there are people waiting in the wings who are willing to offer support and we just aren’t allowing them to.

Reduce your Busyness

Being busy leads us to use the language “I don’t have time”. A more honest choice of words would be, “That’s just not a priority for me at the moment”. The next time you hear yourself say that you don’t have time for something, try the latter instead and see how it feels. If it feels uncomfortable, use it as an opportunity to explore your priorities and compare them to what you’re currently busy doing to see what you could exchange one out for something you’d prefer to invest your time and energy in.

Press Pause

If you find yourself being asked by someone if you can do something (such as attend a party or other engagement), and you get that sinking feeling inside because you know you really don’t want to, a great strategy is pressing pause on making a decision. We tend to agree in the moment out of obligation and then regret our decision later. Give yourself some space to discover what feels right for you.

Focus on the Benefits

You will also find it easier to say no if you focus on what you are giving the other person when you do. For example, saying no might allow the other person the opportunity to develop other resources, give them a more authentic friendship, an expanded view of the world, or help them to grow or become more flexible. It’s also great to remember the benefits within our own lives of learning to say no. If we are doing more things because we truly want to do them rather than just because we don’t know how to say no, our lives will be much more enjoyable and energised.