For most of us, there are very few occasions when we definitively say no. And when we do, all too often we berate ourselves with guilt. If it’s not berating then it’s justifying it to ourselves and others: they’re better off without me, I literally can’t fit it in, I’ll make it up to them later.
It is an exhausting and draining mental process, and the inability to say no brings with it a heavy burden! The reality is this: our fear of displeasing others results in attending events we do not want to be at, adds work to our to-do list, and increases our mental load as we attempt to meet the needs of far too many people. Constantly avoiding disappointing people has us disappointing ourselves; we often feel trapped, overwhelmed, or powerless. What’s more, we start to subconsciously resent others when we should be pointing the finger at ourselves for saying “yes” yet again.
There is no quick fix that will have you throwing out “no” left, right, and centre. But don’t despair! Here are some practical ways to start building your ability to refuse.
Acknowledge you can’t do everything.
As much as you may want to be a superhero, remember they are fictional characters and not accurate reflections of healthy living. Saying yes and being everything to everyone leaves you trapped with no time or energy for yourself, unable to give your best to those you want to prioritise. What are some of the things you genuinely want to say yes to? These are the things that build relationships, align with your values, bring you joy. Start by recognising what those things are. Acknowledge that saying yes to them will mean sacrificing other tasks.
Set boundaries and safety gates
If you’re a parent and your baby becomes mobile, what is one of the first things you do? Install safety gates and baby proof everything in sight to keep them safe! You need the same safety gates: boundaries. Defining your boundaries is to delineate the emotional and mental space between you and another person. It can be difficult initially and may come with feelings of guilt. But when strong boundaries are in place, your emotional tank can be refilled and you will have more energy for the commitments that align with your values.
Identify your priorities.
You have identified the things in your life that bring you joy and align with your values; you have clear boundaries in place. The next step is to be clear on your priorities. Spend some time thinking about what’s most important to you. Learning to prioritise effectively can help you become more efficient, free mental space, and save time. When this hierarchy is in place it becomes easier to decide where to focus your energy.
Practice! Now it’s a matter of putting it all together. Whether it’s a project at work or an invitation to an event, give yourself a moment to reflect, review, and ask yourself:
- Does this align with my values and bring me joy?
- What are my current priorities?
- Will this breach my boundaries?
You have weighed up the key facts and have decided to decline the invitation. Give yourself some ground rules and practice what you’ll say. Give a brief reason if you wish, but hold your ground and be firm: “I’m sorry, but that’s something I can’t take on right now.”
Never compromise your integrity.
Lastly, your integrity is a critical component of who you are. Your integrity sets the standard and acts as a guide of code of morality and ethics. Lean into it and use it to guide you in saying no where you need to.
Knowing when to say no takes time and practice. There is no quick fix. As you learn to master the skill, it can help you build better relationships and free you up to do the things that are important to you. There are those among us who will find it more difficult; our reasons for saying yes to everything may run very deep—and that is OK. Our Mind Health team brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to guide you through and onto a path where you can thrive.