There are a few reasons that sometimes we have a hard time saying “no.” Some more than others.
One of these reasons is because we think it’s selfish. At least that has always been my reason. I was raised to believe that if you had the time, money, and other resources, it was selfish to say no when someone asked you to.
The problem with this is (besides the obvious) that it can get to the point where even if you didn’t have the time and resources, you strive hard to help not only because you want to help but because you don’t want to be selfish.
But this mentality can lead to exhaustion, frustration, and a lack of boundaries.
And so I wanted to share a few tips that I’ve learned so that I could start saying no.
And that has helped me understand that “no” was a complete sentence.
1. Your Why
Figure out why you have such a hard time saying no.
I mentioned that my reason for having a hard time saying no is because I didn’t want to be selfish. But there are so many other reasons that people have.
It could be because you are a people pleaser. Or because you think you CAN do it all, including other people’s stuff.
Knowing WHY you’re having a hard time makes it easier to figure HOW to stop having such a hard time with saying no.
2. Respect other people’s no
One of the things that happened when I realized that I needed to work on my boundaries when it came to saying no is that I had a hard time with people saying no to me.
If I knew they had the times or means to help me out and they said no, while I would not ignore or override their wishes, in my head, I thought they were very selfish.
Also, I would make sure to never ask them for anything again because “obviously,” they were not the giving kind.
Ok, I also have a hard time asking people for favors. And so when I do, and they say no, I’m pretty much determined never to do it again.
These kinds of thoughts were not thoughts that were conducive to learning how to say no.
How can I expect people to respect my “nos” when I did not truly respect other people’s?
And so when someone told me no, I started thinking, “how wonderful that they did not waste my time being indecisive about this thing. Or “how wonderful that they are so good at setting boundaries.”
It’s their life and their time. What they do with it is none of your business.
3. Mental and emotional space
When you overwhelm yourself by taking on more than you want to or doing something you really didn’t want to, it can play havoc with your mental and emotional wellbeing.
One of the things I heard years ago is that when you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. And sometimes, what you are saying no to is something you really wanted or needed to get done.
But you’re not always aware that you’re saying no to that until you try to make space for it, and you can’t.
As a people, especially women, we have this idea in our heads that we can do it all. This mentality can lead to burnout, despair, and depression.
Yes, we can do it all (or a lot of it) but not all at once. And not with giving a 100% to all the areas in our life that we want to.
Have you ever agreed to do someone a favor and then got stressed and overwhelmed when you realized that you had too much on your plate?
It also sucks when you say yes but resent the fact that you are doing whatever you said you would.
I typically don’t say yes to things if I think I’m going to be resentful of it. If I agree to do something, I want to do it with all my heart.
But for many years of my life, I had someone in my life who would NOT respect my boundaries. He would ask me to do something for him, and when I said I could no, he would ask me why. When I would tell him why, he would say, “that’s not as important as this. I’m surprised at you putting something else before your family. You have time to do this.” I would feel so selfish that I would say yes. I was not assertive enough back then to tell him to respect my no.
But it was because of that experience that I got better at saying no and allowing that no to be a complete sentence.
Don’t let anyone lead you to believe that what you have set aside time and resources for is not essential.
4. Use your planner
I love my calendars. I use google calendar as well as a physical calendar, which can be found in my planner.
Time blocking has helped me so much in setting boundaries with others.
My time is divided into 11 blocks (fewer blocks with Covid). I have a homeschool block, work block, outing block, etc. It makes it much easier to know when I can and cannot do certain things.
If someone asks me to do something for them and that block (such as my errand or outing block) is full or has passed, I say, “I’m sorry, my calendar is full.”
It has also helped me say yes when I feel good about something and see I have the time for it.
It has been very freeing.
5. A word of caution
I have noticed myself and others taking saying no to an extreme level. It can become too easy to stop serving and helping others and just focus on ourselves.
There’s a line between setting healthy boundaries and living a life where we forget the importance of service.
Everyone has to decide for themselves what that line is.
Sometimes I can’t or don’t want to help someone with one thing they need, but I still want to help and ask if I can help them with another area that I know they want help with.
For instance, I might not be able to make a meal for someone on Tuesday, but I’m more than willing to make one for them for Sunday.
Or I cannot stand snakes and will not babysit their pet snake, but I will go and water their plants for them while they’re gone.
Setting healthy boundaries does not make you a horrible or selfish person. But remember that you can grow so much and contribute so much to your community by being willing to help when you are in the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual space to do so.
When are you most comfortable saying no to someone?