Updated: Jun 27, 2021
No is a powerful word many of us shun.
We believe that by saying yes rather than no, we reduce conflict in our lives. Does this work? In the short term perhaps. Arguments with others may be temporarily avoided as we desperately scrabble around trying to keep the peace. But the problem is we inadvertently create conflict within ourselves. Conflict that at some point we can no longer ignore.
How do we fix this?
How do we change our resistance to one of the strongest and most important words in our vocabulary? The short answer is that we don’t need to avoid no, we just need to learn how to say it differently.
For as long as I can remember, I was a people pleaser who intensely disliked disagreements. Worried that I’d upset someone or let the other person down, my stomach would tighten like a knot. I was often more concerned about how they were feeling, than whether I had been right to say no in the first place.
As I reflect on these years, I realise I repeatedly compromised myself.
I put myself last but expected others to put me first. Does this sound familiar? When I should have been my biggest cheerleader, I was the one doubting myself and my decisions the most. What changed?
Repeated hurts and discomfort became too hard to disregard; this way of being was not serving me. It was not who I really was, nor who I wanted to be. Wisdom kicked in. With practice, I learnt to say no, but with love. Expressing myself slightly differently empowered me to be more comfortable with people not always liking my decisions or being disappointed with me. It allowed me to be more authentic and to show people the real me.
Let’s consider the following scenario.
A friend asks you to go to dinner with a group of other people that you have nothing in common with. You don’t want to go, but you’re conscious of hurting your friend’s feelings. What would you usually say? “I’d love to, but work is busy right now, I don’t know what time I’ll finish. It’s also not payday until next week, and I need to be in bed by 10pm.” All those reasons may be valid, but to your friend, it sounds just like excuses. Left wondering which reason is the real one, she begins to question whether any of your explanations are true because your justification is so elaborate. Know this. It’s okay that you don’t want to do something, there’s no need to substantiate it. Why you can’t do something is no one else’s business except your own. No does not need to be negative. In fact, giving yourself permission to say no is such a gift. A plain and simple no, without all the alibis and fuss is exceptionally liberating.
So how do you verbalise your no?
Try this simple phrase. “Unfortunately, I can’t make it, but I hope you have a fantastic time.” That’s it. Full stop. It’s more genuine than a long list of reasons. Said from a loving place, this is the best way to deliver any message.
Once I understood this, life became more straightforward.
Today I’m better at honouring my boundaries and choosing where I spend my time. If something doesn’t resonate with me, for whatever reason, I say no. I believe I’m important enough to do this, but that doesn’t mean I’m full of self-importance. I’m not a superhero, and neither are you. Sometimes we have to say no, we can’t be in five different places at the same time, even if we wanted to. Deliver no simply, with love and kindness, and let everyone else work out the rest. Life is to be enjoyed, don’t waste your time fretting about other people and whether your no upset them or not.
Life is short, live it for you, not everyone else.