Last week I wrote about making time for what truly matters to you and a key part of that is being able to say no to less important things. I know, this is easier said than done.
For the longest time, I knew I needed more sleep yet time and again I would catch myself staying up way too late to watch movies. And usually, they weren’t even all that good. In my sleep deprived state, I’d kick myself for doing that. But next week, I’d do it again. Why? It wasn’t until I realized that I was afraid of missing out on a really good movie that I was finally able to break the habit of turning on the TV before going to bed just to see what’s playing. Sure this fear is irrational in the age of on demand movies but most fears are.
So what are some reasons it’s so hard to say no, both to others and to ourselves?
- we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings
- we worry we’re going to miss out on something
- we don’t want to appear selfish or unhelpful
- we want to be liked or needed
- we feel pressured to do the socially acceptable thing
- we worry we won’t be asked again in the future
- we don’t want to create conflict
The bottom line is that we have a hard time saying no because of fear in some form. It’s important to recognize what you’re afraid of. Be compassionate and acknowledging your concerns. Then focus on what you have to gain by saying no. There are opportunity costs to every decision. By saying no to the less important, you have a chance to say yes to what really matters to you. This is true not just of time but also money.
So how do you graciously say no? I once heard author and healer Judith Orloff say, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” It’s a great line but we humans are biologically and socially programed to care about what others think so it’s not as simple as that. The key is to be direct. Don’t over explain but don’t lie either. Here’s some language you can try:
- Sorry, I can’t. I have other plans already (even if your plan is just spending time relaxing at home)
- I have a full plate right now. I’ll call you if my schedule opens up.
- I need to check my calendar (or check with my significant other) and get back to you. (This is a last resort. It’s best to just decline immediately and get it over with.)
Take a look at your current commitments. What would you say no to if you knew there would be no negative consequences? This helps you see what you should be letting go of. Of course in real life there are negative consequences sometimes but usually it’s not that big of a deal, either for you or for other people. The dinner party will go on without you. The charity project will be completed without your help. Your friend will find someone else to bail them out.
It’s okay to change your mind after you’ve said yes. If you’re someone who reflexively says yes, it’ll take time for you to learn to respond differently. In the mean time, give yourself permission to change your mind and let the other person know. As you make better decisions and stop agreeing to things you don’t want to do, you’ll need to change your mind less often.
Being able to say no comfortably is an acquired skill. It just takes practice. Learn to say no so you can say yes to the life you really want to live.