You Don’t Have to Learn to Say “No”

Thanks for taking the time to read this brief article. I hope you find it valuable in helping you navigate the professional/personal obligations we all face occasionally. Let’s begin by looking at conversations from coaching clients I hear at least once a month.

Jim:I’m so tired! Starting this garden business is taking its toll. I’m worn out every day, really bone-tired. My friends always need help with their gardens, and I can’t refuse them. On top of that, I got roped into hiring a lifestyle coach to help me lose weight and boost my self-esteem. I bought six sessions and now have to figure out how to fit exercise into my exhausting schedule. I need help. I have to learn how to say ‘No’.”

Alice: “I must admit, I find it hard to say “No” when asked to help with our Adventure Club events at Homewood Community. But I have to learn how to do it anyway. Being part of the club means going the extra mile to make events unforgettable and fun, which we always manage to do! However, I’m currently feeling overwhelmed. I’m caring for my 92-year-old mother, who recently fell and fractured her wrist, and I’m navigating her long-term care insurance and recovery process. Juggling this with club activities has been quite stressful. I feel guilty about saying ‘No’ to our Adventure Club, but what else can I do?”

Janice:I have a problem: I don’t know how to say ‘No.’ I work as a Senior Tax Analyst, and my schedule is super packed from mid-February to April 16th each year, making it my busiest season. Interestingly, that’s also when my friends reach out for free tax advice. It’s overwhelming since I want to help but feel stretched thin. Despite the stress, I find it hard to say ‘No’ because I worry they might think I don’t care. So, I end up helping them, which, although done with love, sometimes leaves me feeling even more stressed and resentful during these hectic times.”

Bruce: “I want to learn to say ‘No,’ but whenever I see a new class on the internet, I sign up for it, even though I know I’ll never have time to enjoy it with my work schedule. So, I buy the class and get stressed trying to fit it into my calendar. It never works.”

I could write more examples of people who confess they have trouble saying “No.” You might be one of them. If so, keep reading because I think you’ll find a perspective that will bring you a more satisfying way to live. And, even if saying “No” doesn’t trouble you, keep with this article because my purpose here is to give you a way to live with more clarity, focus, ease, and grace.

To begin with, if you’ve tried learning to say “No,” you’ll probably admit that it’s a losing battle. That’s because the pressure you experience when making that choice overpowers you into saying “Yes” even when you know how you’ll feel as a result. And each time this happens, you might feel even more upset with yourself because you did what you promised you wouldn’t do or resentful of the others making requests of you. 

What we’re looking at here is discernment. A partial definition of discernment is “The ability to judge well.” Synonyms include awareness, wisdom, and insight.

So, let’s discern the truth about saying “No.” You’d think that learning to say “No” would give you a sense of power or control over your life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Focusing on learning how to say “No” keeps you from discerning how you do want to live.

To live your life filled with ease, fun, or breathing room, you must first discern what you’re saying “Yes” to. Trying to focus on learning to say “No” doesn’t allow you to create that life.

It’s time to learn how to create what you want, rather than what you don’t want, in your life. Here’s an exercise that will help you do that. It requires some discernment. You want to see what focusing on the often losing battle in trying to “learn to say No” accomplishes.

  • Make a list of the stressors you’re experiencing. For example, working late at night, feeling exhausted at the end of the day, and not spending enough time with family or friends. Make the list as detailed as possible.
  • Next, make a list of what you want in your life. Make it as straightforward as possible. Who do you want to spend time with? What would you be doing that would be fun? You might want to take time with this list because you’re discovering what’s important to you. To help you with this, here’s a link to the Life’s Intentions Inventory, where you can be even more specific about how you want to live. 
  • Finally, put these two lists where you can easily see them. Next time you’re faced with the choice to say “No,” look at these two lists and discern which one you want to live with. In other words, look at the life you wish to live and act accordingly.
  • If you see that not saying “No” will impact your life on the side of more stress, then practice saying “No” in a way that acknowledges the person for making the request.

When you decline a request, be truthful with the other person and yourself about why you’re doing this. In my next article, I’ll give you tips about how to say “No” while acknowledging the other person for asking you. Meanwhile, make those two lists! Post them where you can see them. Look at what happens when you say  “Yes” to your life instead of saying “Yes” to more stress. Become clear about the life you love!

Until next time,

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