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How to say no – guilt free!

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Do you constantly ask yourself, “Why do I find it so difficult to say ‘no’?”

I’ve questioned many a time, why do I always say yes when deep down I’m thinking no. When my boss asked me to do something today, I took a moment to really think about why was it so hard to say no to her.

First of all, this isn’t something new. I’ve been saying ‘yes’ for years (does that ring true for you too?) This is an ingrained habit which is going to be hard to shift. So, let’s explore, why do some people struggle to say what they really want to say, i.e. ‘no’.

Childhood beliefs

Unknown to many of us, the word ‘no’ is squeezed out of us as a child. When you were young, there was a high chance that you were led to believe that saying no is impolite, rude or uncaring. A classic childhood example of mine springs to mind. As a child, a neighbour would ask me every week if I would like honey on toast. And you know what, despite hating it, every time I said yes!

The right to say ‘no’

You see as a child I didn’t necessarily understand that I had the right to have a choice and to say yes or no. I also didn’t realise that whatever my decision, it would have been respected either way. If I wasn’t so caught up in trying to please my neighbour, I would have been much happier and fulfilled eating something I did like!

Seeking the approval of others

In other areas of life, I ran myself into the ground and was left feeling so overwhelmed as a result of saying ‘yes’ to all my work colleagues. Does that sound familiar to you too? I wanted others to perceive me as helpful and willing to do things but without acknowledging I wasn’t doing anything to my best ability.

Know your limits

When someone is used to saying ‘yes’ to everything, it becomes second nature to juggle multiple tasks. However, no one is expected or supposed to do everything by themselves. We all have a limit as to how much we can do and our roles and responsibilities have to end somewhere. Sometimes, others need to be reminded where that line is drawn – what’s your responsibility and what’s theirs.

Changing a habit

You remember I said earlier how this is an ingrained habit and going to be hard to shift? Well, in order to change a learnt behaviour, you first need to change how you think and feel about saying the word ‘no’. Take a moment to reflect on what the word ‘no’ means to you. Think about how saying ‘yes’ to everything (or almost everything) affects your life. How much do you really want this change, i.e. to learn how to say ‘no’ guilt free?

Finding what is right for you

The hardest thing is to change a habit or behaviour but without changing who you fundamentally are as a person. If you are like me, you still want to be a kind, caring and helpful person. You don’t want to be seen as a rude, selfish or uncaring individual. So, you need to figure out which of the following sentences sound and feel right for you.

Taking a different approach

Here are some suggestions on how to say ‘no’ in a polite and direct way:

“Thanks for thinking of me. No, I can’t”

“No, I don’t want to. Thanks for asking”

“Sorry I’m afraid I can’t help with that”

Be honest. Remind them you are human and have limits:

“I’d love to help but I’m overwhelmed right now”

“I want to help but I have a deadline I need to hit”

“Thank you for considering me, I can’t take on any more work right now”

Perhaps you can compromise and offer to do it another time:

“I’m in the middle of doing something, is it something you (or I) could do later?”

Offer a different option:

“A better person to help would be…”

After reading this blog, how do you now feel about saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ the next time someone asks you to do something?

As with any change, it takes time and dedication. This is a new skill for you to learn. It will require trial and error and as with any skill, the saying ‘practice makes perfect’ applies here.

Set yourself the challenge of saying ‘no’ at least once a day and see how you get on. Anytime you struggle to say ‘no’ or are unable to say ‘no’, reflect on the reasons why so next time you can work your way around that hurdle. A top tip is to listen to what is going on inside your body – Do you feel tight chested? Experience an increase in heart beat or temperature? P.S. Your body is trying to tell you something.

Please feel free to leave any comments about your own journey towards learning how to say ‘no’ guilt free.

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