The Art Of Saying No

A few years ago I was seriously overworked and overcommitted in all areas of my life. Eventually, and thankfully just in time, when moodiness, anxiety, stress and being constantly tired started affecting my family, I knew intuitively it was time to reassess my priorities. Why did I continuously take on too much? Why I was not focused and achieving the outcomes I was working so hard towards? Why was I neglecting the areas of my life that needed the most attention?

After some deep soul searching and thinking, it dawned on me like the sun beating down on a scorching hot day. At first I became angry, and then my anger turned into an indignant rage, when I realized that I was actually a people pleaser. I did not know how to say the word NO. This disturbed and distressed me even more, when I began to understand that this simple problem was causing resentment, irritation and anxiety, and was a direct result of my inability to prioritize, and cope with what really mattered.

Saying no, I soon discovered was not as easy as it sounds. Why is it so difficult to say the word “no? “It’s only a word. One of the reasons I came up with was that I was scared of rejection. I was afraid to say no because I didn’t want people to think badly of me. I didn’t want to disappoint people or anger them, or hurt their feelings. I was worried what they would think of me if I said no, and I wanted to portray the image of managing everything and being a superwoman. But this came at a huge price and was impacting on my well-being and my family.

I also realized that this problem was not unique to me and affects most people at some time in their lives. However, in order to change I had to commit to learning a new way of being. The first step was developing the skill of saying no without being rude, and without hurting people’s feelings. Yes, it is a learned skill! And with practice it will eventually become a habit.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Saying No doesn’t make you a bad person.
  2. Saying No doesn’t mean you are being rude, unkind or selfish.
  3. Saying No reinforces that you know your value and it does not depend on other people’s approval. Your self-worth is not measured by what you do for other people.
  4. Before Saying No ask yourself if it’s really worth it to you. In some cases it won’t be so you need to be clear about what you really want.
  5. Be direct in a gentle way, for example: “I’d love to help you/see you but my schedule at the moment is too full “or “That sounds like a great opportunity but I can’t commit to it at this point in time.”
  6. Don’t feel the need to apologize and give reasons. You are entitled to choose your commitments and how you allocate your time.
  7. Don’t lie ever as lying makes you feel guilty and you are trying to avoid guilt.
  8. Saying No is better than taking something on and feeling resentful about it later on.
  9. Be gracious and polite, for example: “Thank you for asking” or Thank you for thinking of me.”
  10. Lastly, set boundaries and always be truthful and honest with yourself and others.

This month’s mantra is by Paulo Coelho:

“When you say ‘Yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘No’ to yourself.”

Learning how to say no has truly empowered me and allowed me to feel in control of my life. It was a huge challenge for me to overcome my fear of what other people would think of me, but with practice, kindness and compassion, I have learnt that the world will not end when the word no comes out of my mouth. In fact, my world has become a much better place.

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