Learn to say no! You can. And once you’re able to embrace the discomfort, it can be your superpower. Let’s learn how together.
Learn to say no so you can live your best life
Have you ever been in this sort of situation?
You’re talking with another mom who has a kiddo the same age as yours, she excitedly says “we should get the kids together, what are you guys doing on Saturday?”
You don’t have any set plans. Your plan was to do nothing at the house with your family. You were really looking forward to your no plan plan, but now it doesn’t feel legit enough to say no to this playdate.
“Saturday might work” you respond. And suddenly the family time you planned on is gone. It’s not that you don’t want to have the playdate or that you don’t like that woman or her child. Even if she’s awesome and your little ones get along great, that doesn’t change the fact that your no plan plan is now full of plans.
Ring a bell?
Maybe it wasn’t a playdate. Maybe it was drinks after work with your coworkers or an impromptu dinner with family or friends. I’ve been in countless situations like this, haven’t we all? And I use to have a really hard time saying no to things that I either didn’t really want to do, or truly couldn’t prioritize. I would say yes anyways and dread it or completely overwhelm myself. If this sounds like you might resonate with the term people pleaser [raises hand] or you might be type-a like me.
It’s through countless moments of dread and overwhelm — that I was totally in control of! — that I decided it had to stop. I promised myself to learn to say no without explaining myself.
Learn to say no without explaining yourself — it starts with identifying your YES!
Have you ever heard that when you say yes to something you’re saying no to something else? The first time this clicked for me is when I read Lysa Terkeurst’s book, The Best Yes, and I’ve heard it many times after. My default is to say ‘yes’ to the opportunities that come my way. So saying no is something I have to make a conscious effort to do.
I believe that’s called people pleasing. And I think people pleasing is something a lot of women battle with. I like to care and nurture, make sure everyone is feeling good, and get excited about things that others are excited about. But after a while I realized that saying yes to everything that comes my way often leaves me saying no to myself and my most important people.
I was terrible at saying no before I had kids and I have come a long way, mostly by necessity. When you have a little one you can’t just do anything at any time so saying no just happens more often, but the skill of saying no (without explaining yourself) applies to everyone, not just moms.
Today, I’ve truly started to identify the things in my life that I value most and when an opportunity comes along, I am way more likely to honor the most important things in my life and say no to everything else. Plus, the pandemic also made this more clear, as the clutter was cleared and family time was front and center.
Here are my top priorities:
- Time for myself — sleep, working out, meditation, reading, working on my blog
- Time with Jeff and the girls — adventuring, eating together, doing nothing together, church
- Time with our extended family — hanging out, dinner, celebrations, FaceTiming out of towners
- Time with friends that light me up — calling out-of-town friends to catch up, bible study, grabbing a coffee, having a friend over for dinner, girls night out, celebrations
When I say yes to these things my heart feels full.
IMPORTANT — What things make you feel on fire, that you should protect with all your might? Write them down, get specific, then rearrange them into priority order. Your list might look different than mine.
How to start saying no? First, think about the last time someone said no to you
Before we get into the nitty-gritty about how to start saying no. I’d like to arm you with this piece of mental clarity — when is the last time someone said “no” to you and you didn’t understand?
I can’t think of the last time that happened to me.
And that realization empowers me, even more, to honor my most important yes’s and say no to the rest.
Saying no isn’t a bad thing. It just feel foreign and odd when you’re used to saying yes.
Say no — it’s time!
Have you ever heard the phrase, “no is a complete sentence”? I LOVE this concept. I also don’t think I would ever say “no” all by itself and feel true to me. I’m an optimist. I like to keep things positive. And I like people to feel loved and heard. For me, saying no is a balance of keeping it brief, but being true to myself.
I am the most confident with my no when I lead with good vibes or sandwich my no between two good vibes. Let’s go back to the playdate example…
Lead with good vibes
Instead of saying “no” I might say “Aww, I love seeing our kiddos play together, but we can’t tonight.” (Leading with good vibes.)
Good vibes sandwich
Or instead of saying ‘no” I might say “Aww, I love seeing our kiddos play together, but we can’t tonight. I hope you guys have a fun time, it’s supposed to be a beautiful night!” (Sandwiching my no with good vibes.)
Start saying no, it will get easier over time
Saying no is a muscle and you have to practice to strengthen it. The only way to get better at saying no, is to start saying no. Woof, I know. I have intentionally started to strengthen my say no muscle, and it’s truly gotten easier and easier. And what’s even more awesome? People are never upset with me for saying no and holding my boundaries. In fact, I have found that they might even respect me more.
So I thought through a lot of options, in fact, 100 ways to say no that work in real life. They are all written in a way that I would actually say them, instead of something that seems right on the page, but would never work out loud. If you’re looking for something to help you practice your no and strengthen your no muscle, gives a few of these a try. Say them out loud and see which ones feel aligned.
Be courageous through discomfort
It will be extremely tempting to follow up “No, I can’t tonight.” with “we haven’t spent much time as a family lately. My husband is going to make Thai food so the kids can try it. I really feel like I should get home early to help him and start spending time with everyone.”
This is what I like to call word vomit. Are you familiar with word vomiting?
I start to word vomit because my people-pleasing insecurity is rising up and I’m uncomfortable. Explaining won’t make you feel any better about saying no. In fact, in my experience, I usually feel worse because I spend the next 10 minutes analyzing if it sounded legit (even though it is). And then I explain it to my husband later just to see if he thinks what I said was ok. Welcome to my brain.
In Dare to Lead, Brene Brown says that during tough conversations, the discomfort only lasts for about 8 seconds and that we need to “choose courage over comfort”. 8 seconds, you guys!! It seems like a lifetime when you’re going through it, but bite your tongue and hold on tight. You can manage 8 seconds of discomfort, especially if it leads to your most important yes.
Offer the “can” or the “next time”. Only if you truly want to
Maybe you have to say no, but you’d really like to prioritize it in future months. Or maybe you have to say no, but you have an idea of another way you can help that fits within your boundaries. Now is the time to say it.
For me, this can be a slippery slope.
My people-pleaser self feels a lot better saying no when I can offer up a can or a next time, but that can or next time might just be delaying the no. If it is truly not something you want to do or help with now or in the future, just say no.
Soak in how it feels to learn to say no without explaining yourself
These are some of the feelings I have after I say no without explaining myself:
Free. Powerful. Proud. At peace.
These are the feelings that come up because every time I honor the most important things in my life, I build trust with myself. Every time I say no when I want to say no, and say yes when I want to say yes — I remind myself that my priorities are worth it.
When you learn to say no without explaining yourself take a minute to soak up and take note of the feeling you have. I’m guessing you’ll want to feel that way again.
Engage with your most important YES
Once you’re done with all of the no’s. Enjoy your most important yes!
I’ve noticed that today we feel like we need to go-go-go, achieve-achieve-achieve, post-post-post, but busy doesn’t have to be the goal. I doubt any of us put busy as our most important yes.
When you make time for your most important yes’s, be fully present and enjoy!
p.s. if you missed them, here’s another link to 100 ways to say no so you can start practicing now!