“Saying no? I can’t resist a charming sales person. Even saying no to strangers at the door is difficult. Not to mention, when friends or acquaintances come calling. Helping my friends move house, babysitting my neighbors kids, helping my mother in law prepare for her birthday party: if I’m not careful, every hour of my day is spoken for.”
This is the story of one of my friends, but it could very well be my story. I often take on extra tasks at work, even though I’m way too busy. I think: “Everyone else is busy, so let me do it. That way it’ll be done quickly.”
Recognizable, right?! It’s a curse for all of us hardworking soul-connected yet stressed-out creatives and those battling perfectionism. You probably feel tired and rushed all the time. You feel like you always have to do something for others and never have any time for yourself.
Well, my peeps, here’s a few tips on how to start saying NO (even when you want to say yes) and start saying YES to the things that matter to you the most. Don’t forget to download the cheatsheet with 15 conversational scripts (for freeeezy!) to help you rehearse saying no and start putting these tips into practice.
THAT’S FOR YOU TO PIN, FRIEND!
Trapdoor #1: saying yes when you want to say no
I can think of lots of situations when you probably say yes but actually want to do the opposite. Because you don’t want to be a killjoy or because you want to be liked. Maybe you don’t want to disappoint the other person or perhaps you’re afraid that the other person’s going to be upset.
Saying no feels like weakness. You think that anything should be possible. Just like you feel that you should always be prepared to lend a helping hand towards friends or family. Even guilt-after-the-fact doesn’t stop you from saying no.
* PSA alert! *
Being afraid to say no isn’t weird or weak. You just don’t want disrupt harmony for the simple reason that you want to fit in and be part of a certain group. It’s an innate human desire that makes you adjust to the demands of the group and search for their approval.
* End of PSA alert *
The PSA probably made you feel a little bit better about yourself. (It did for me!) However, wanting to fit into a group is such a trapdoor. On the one hand, you want to achieve some level of inner peace. But on the other hand, you try to do that through keeping the peace, staying attached to others, and putting your own needs aside for the sake of the group.
After doing all the things you ‘have’ to do, you hope to catch some rest. Most of the time, though, the opposite happens: you’re more likely to feel drained and rushed. Try to look at this as being a good thing! Feeling this way means that something else besides keeping the peace with the outside world is important to you. Rest or time for yourself, for example, or doing things you truly find important.
Trapdoor #2: wanting to be seen but coming across as inauthentic
Another paradox when it comes to saying yes is that you do so because you want to be seen, to be liked, or to help. But most of the time, this backfires. When you take on a task that you don’t want to do, you don’t really show what you’re capable of. You won’t give it your all and the other person has probably noticed that you’d wanted to say no. The result? You come across as insincere and inauthentic.
If this happens often, you’ll lose yourself. Instead of being a nice, honest, and balanced person you turn into a tired and stressed-out version of yourself, having to deal with feelings of guilt because you feel like you’re failing the people around you. But my guess is you don’t want to be this stressed-out, short-fused person.
It’s obvious that putting down some boundaries will help you more in the long run than pleasing and nodding yes.
The 3 steps to start saying no
There are many courses on assertiveness out there, teaching you easy tricks like 'It's a muscle, practicing saying no will make it easier!', 'No is a complete sentence!', 'Say it with conviction!' and 'Delay your response!'. IMHO teaching tricks for smoothly saying no isn’t the way to go. Yes, you’ll have said no (clever, Wendy, clever! :), but you’ll probably end up with a knot in your stomach. You won’t feel the no in the inside.
When you become aware that saying yes to someone else usually results in messing up your plans and needs, it’ll motivate you to say no more often and more genuinely. This way you don’t say no to things you don’t want to do, but you say yes to activities that give you energy and people that are important to you.
Sounds hard? These three steps will help.
1. What do I want and what am I capable of?
It’s important to know this about yourself: What am I capable of? What do I want? And what makes me happy?
If these are tough questions for you to answer, list all the things you’ve done in the last two weeks. Which of these activities put a smile on your face, were important to you, or left you drained?
Grab a piece of paper and draw a big circle on it. In the circle you write down the things that made you feel good, like taking a walk or meeting a friend for lunch. Write down the things you want to do a little less of outside of the circle. This will help you see which things you want to say yes or no to.
2. What is my body trying to tell me?
Learning to say no starts with learning to recognize the signals your body is trying to send you. Unfortunately, most people forget about this skill and unlearn it in the process. You probably take temperature of what you should or shouldn’t be doing using the measuring stick of the outside world instead of using and relying on your own measuring stick.
Luckily, this is a skill that can be learned. Think back to an occasion when someone asked you something. What did you feel? A hardening of your stomach? Or a constricting feeling in your chest? Or did your body say yes? Did it start to tingle? Did your shoulders straighten? Did you stand a little taller?
Practice this regularly and start recognizing your body’s signals in different situations. For instance, you know there’s an ‘I’m going to yes, but want to say no’-emergency situation about to happen when your foot starts bobbing. It helps you be alert.
3. What can I do to buy time?
When someone asks you something, allow yourself some time to think about it (or better yet, feel about it): is this one of those things that fit inside the circle or not?
There’ll always be dubious situations, like when you really want to help an ailing family member. ‘How do I maintain a balance between my own needs and those of others?’, you ask. Think about how that activity will make you feel.
When I do my volunteer work, it also means I’m supporting a local charity. Also, I love the unexpected conversations I have with total strangers as a result of my volunteer work. It costs me my time and energy, but it also gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Still wrestling with feeling guilty, despite of these tips? Remember this: saying no to another person isn’t personal. You don’t disqualify the other person. You have a right to prioritize your time and energy according to your values. You’re not responsible for another person’s happiness. If someone really wants to get something done, they’ll ask someone else to help them.
By the way, a no doesn’t have to sound like a rejection. You can say: “I’ve thought about it, but my schedule is getting busier by the second and my head is overflowing. Staying sane is important to me and this is getting too much.” My friend tried this technique and was surprised that no one got mad. Most people like and respect you for making a clear choice.
Click the button below to get your hands on the FREE cheatsheet with 15 conversational scripts to help start saying no in no time (pun intended :) and starting saying yes to things that matter to you the most.
Hi there! I’m Wendy, perfectionism coach and host of the #perfectionistproblems community for recovering perfectionists. I’m insanely passionate about helping you overcome your perfectionism, so that you can stop caring so much about what other people think and finally take on those dream projects that you've been putting off for so long.