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The Key to Just Saying “No.”

Let’s face it, being able to say “no” is the cornerstone of setting and maintaining boundaries.

Yet, many of us have trouble doing just that. How come?

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There are many reasons, related to our invisible luggage, culture, social norms, fear and even patriarchy that can explain why it can be so difficult for some of us to set boundaries by saying no.

I remember when I first became a professional social worker, “no” wasn’t even in my vocabulary. I. said. yes. to. every. thing.

“Michelle, could you do this for me?” Yep.

“Michelle, do you have time to take this over?” Sure.

“Michelle, you’re cool with working late again . . . right?” Of course!

As you can see, I had all kinds of ways to say yes to doing things I truly didn’t want to do. And my body was certainly paying for it. I was exhausted and completely unaware that my health was paying the cost of my inability to say no.

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Saying no for many of us, just isn’t our norm. Many of us were taught and socialized to be agreeable, helpful and caring. And saying “yes” to everything is the “appropriate” response. So in the end, a lot of us that identify with being helpers, caretakers, ‘strong friends’, etc. feel over-tasked and under-appreciated from all that we say yes to.

For some of us, saying “no” can sometimes translate into being disrespectful, rude, stubborn and even selfish. And if we have never (or rarely) practiced saying no to the people in our lives, the reaction to us setting a boundary can be . . . well . . . harsh.

There’s a good chance that you may be just plain ‘ol afraid of witnessing that reaction, experiencing those consequences or are afraid of losing that relationship, friendship, or job.

So, it is absolutely worth saying that the key to saying no is: courage.

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Y’all, it takes courage to set-up these boundaries. Tapping into your bravery is going to be the most helpful way for you to make this “no” word a regular part of your vocabulary. And there are plenty of ways to do that:

Reflect on what drives you to say “yes” instead of “no”.

Even before diving into saying “no”, it helps to self-reflect on why you said “yes” in the first place. Consider some of the reasons listed above, and continue to reflect about the areas of your life that you currently say yes to.

Ask yourself:

  • Why did I say yes to this?
  • What do I really want? It is possible for me to have this?
  • Is there room for me to change, adapt or alter this responsibility?
  • Can this responsibility be completed by someone or something else?
  • How do I think this relationship will change if I say “no” to this?
  • What am I afraid of, exactly? (Name that fear for yourself.)

Set up your foundation and ultimately, your motivation for saying “no”, so that you are intentionally engaging your courageous side and being mindful of what causes you to say yes so frequently.

Start saying “no” to the little things.

When you have a pretty good foundation for what drives you to say “yes” so often, practice the true art that is saying “no” with making smaller decisions.

One of my favorite spaces to start doing this is by shopping. The next time you are ordering food or purchasing something in-person, really pay attention to what you are being asked to do.

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Do really not want to hear about the soup-of-the-day? Do you really not want to share your email address with the cashier? Take these opportunities to decline the offer. And you can do this by saying:

  • “No thanks, I’m not interested.”
  • “That’s okay, I don’t want to do that.”
  • “No, but thanks for offering.”
  • “That sounds good, but its not for me.”
  • “Nah, not at this time.”
  • No.

In these cases, practice makes progress. Start building that muscle of bravery with each turned down offer, to prepare yourself for bigger and more complicated situations.

Check-in with your body when making decisions.

Sometimes our bodies will give us signals to help us say “no”.

Recently, I was asked if I was attending an event that I really, really did not want to go to. My face felt hot and flushed, and a lump even started forming in my throat! I had to check-in with myself, because I knew my body was telling me, “Girl, you better not say yes to this! Come on now!”

All jokes aside, self check-ins are naturally resourceful ways that our bodies can help us make decisions. Begin to listen to what your body is saying by recognizing your natural cues. I decided to listen to my body and respond with, “Oh thank you for the invite, but I’m not able to attend.” *pats self on back*

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Remember your motivation.

As you get into the flow of saying no, remember why you are making the choice to set (and/or maintain) a boundary.

We know that beginning to say “no” can be impactful to the people in your life. It’s okay to notice this change and to speak on it — but never forget that you have the right to say no sometimes. You are doing the tough work of breaking an old habit, so try your best to be mindful of that.

Remember that:

  • You are not a bad person for choosing to take care of yourself.
  • Saying “yes” to everything can be harmful to you.
  • Setting and/or maintaining this boundary is important to you.

Recognize that in building your ability to say no, you are most likely stepping outside of what’s comfortable and familiar to you. There can be some discomfort in this change, because you are interacting with others in a totally different way than you’re have before. So make sure that you show yourself some self-compassion on this journey, okay?

What do you think the key to saying “no” is?

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