It’s just two letters, but ‘no’ can be one of the hardest words to say. How often do you find yourself agreeing to something you don’t want to do?
Many of us struggle to say no because it feels uncomfortable. We might be afraid of upsetting others and risking rejection. As social beings, we try to preserve our relationships – sometimes at the expense of ourselves and our own needs.
This desire to please others is often deeply rooted in our childhood. And we can get so used to meeting other people’s needs that we don’t even know what we really want. Or we know but we suppress it.
Whatever the cause, agreeing to things we don’t want to do is a waste of time and energy. It leaves us feeling drained, angry and resentful. Most importantly, it takes us out of alignment with ourselves and our best interests.
Speaking our truth
Learning to say no is a powerful act of self-love.
It allows you to reclaim your time and do things that are in tune with your needs and goals. Saying no allows you to say yes to something else. It makes space for what is important to you. This might be more time to yourself, being with those you love, prioritising your work and passions, or doing something that inspires you.
In all these ways, saying no improves our wellbeing. And it sets important boundaries for ourselves and others. Being transparent about our feelings, wants and limits leads to healthier and more authentic relationships, inside and out.
Saying no when something isn’t right for us gives us more autonomy over our lives. This helps us to create a fulfilled and meaningful life on our own terms.
It also means that when we do say yes, it’s from a place of truth and integrity, not of insecurity or half-heartedness. As a result, our yes has greater value.
Being clear with what you want
Saying no may not be easy, but it is a skill we can build.
First, we have to be clear about what we want. The following questions can offer useful insights when we’re faced with a decision:
- How do I feel, physically, mentally and emotionally in this moment?
- Which choice would best support my wellbeing?
- Is this project, opportunity or activity aligned with my desires, needs and aims?
- What are my deeper motives for saying yes or no?
- Does saying yes to this make me feel unbalanced in some way?
- If I say no to this, what am I making space for instead?
Another helpful technique is to listen to your body. Our bodies have an in-built wisdom that helps us to sense if something is right for us or not. Paying attention to this inner guidance system helps us to navigate more effectively.
Spend some time learning what yes and no feel like in your body. One way to practise is to think of something you’d love to do. Feel the sensations that come up. Then think of something you deeply dislike. Notice the difference in the sensations. A yes might feel expansive, with feelings of relaxation, while a no might be contractive, with feelings of tension. Learning to recognise these bodily signals can help us to make decisions that are more aligned for us.
How to say no
The following tips can help you to say no with greater confidence:
- Give yourself permission to make your needs a priority. Remember that your happiness and wellbeing matter.
- Keep your reasons for refusal firmly in your mind.
- Where appropriate, express your gratitude for the ask. Be assertive while remaining courteous and respectful.
- Be crystal clear. Trying to soften the no leads to confusion and makes it harder for the other person and for you.
- If you want to offer an explanation, keep it short, simple and honest.
- Hold your boundaries. If someone pushes you, remember that this lack of respect is their issue, not yours.
- If you’d like to say no but something else could work, you can always offer an alternative. Just be sure that you’re clear on this and it truly honours your needs.
By practising these skills, over time we get better at saying no. And in doing so, we become stronger, healthier and happier, carving out a more authentic path for our lives.