How to Say “No”

We all say “Yes” to people, commitments, projects and organizations at times when we really should say “No”. We might feel guilt or fear–rationalizing our “yes” with thoughts of, “Oh, this person has ‘x’ going on and I don’t, so I should be able to help them” or “I don’t want to appear weak within this organization by not being available to do ‘x'”. It can also simply feel good to be the one to meet another’s needs because you enjoy saving the day, helping others, or being the one to make the awkward silence go away. There are dozens of reasons we allow a breakdown of our willpower to say “no”. It almost always results in living with more stress, less sleep and feelings of  inadequacy.

Let me assure you that this is not a declaration to avoid helping others. I try to serve others any chance I can, but it has taken me years to recognize what “I can” actually means. Perhaps my thoughts will help some of you struggling to say “no” when you cannot. Or rather, should not.

“I can” vs “I can do it happily, without causing major disruption to my life!”

We all know the analogy of putting on our own air mask before assisting others on a plane in trouble. As a parent you’re responsible for yourself, your children, and at least half of running the household, plus any work responsibilities. In order to fulfill those true essentials well, you have to have your own air mask on.

When you say “I can” to someone or something outside of these essentials, it is only accurate if you already have your air mask, and the air masks of your family members, ON (the essentials). Everyone else’s needs, wants, requests of you are extraneous, and though some of those additional obligations and activities enrich your life, some are sucking the life from you. Committing to things beyond the essentials means that you can take on additional responsibilities without it affecting your essentials or your well-being–emotionally, spiritually, physically or mentally.

If this isn’t clicking for you or you feel paralyzed by the idea of saying “No” to those around you, consider speaking about it with a licensed psychologist or counselor. The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness has been recommended to me many times, if you’d prefer to start with a book.

Should I stay (say Yes) or should I go (say No)?

How do I really know if I am able to commit to something or if I should say, “no”? In thinking about it, I came up with the below decision tree. Laugh all you want! I find that if I can logically reason something out my ability to commit (or not), I am waaaay less likely to feel guilty when saying “no” and much more confident when saying “yes”.

Examples of extraneous things (to which you may want to say, “no”):

  • Cleaning your church building on Saturday mornings when you have a less-flexible baby who takes morning naps.
  • Volunteering in your kid’s classroom because you have flexible hours at work (but you still work full time, meaning those hours have to be made up at night or early mornings).
  • Being on any sort of committee.
  • Committing to a sports team/league.
  • Signing up to bring a sick family dinner when your own family may not be getting regular meals.
  • Feeling like you need to give handmade gifts when your house is in a constant state of chaos.
  • Signing your kids up for any activity out of fear that they’re not “involved enough”.
  • Deciding to take up a new hobby that requires two nights each week despite your spouse and you not having a routine date night or set aside time to connect.

And so on…

This list actually came from my own experiences, but it is WHEN I agree to do these things that makes a difference in my overall life and happiness. For everything there is a time and a season. Currently I’m in a season where I’m not available much during the day because my kids are at home and have constant needs from me while awake. This means volunteering during the day is not an option for me. However, at night my kids go to sleep early (7 PM) and so this is a season where Sam and I alternate socializing and volunteer commitments on certain weeknights. We keep the weekends for our date nights and family time. This is not a recommendation–just what works for us in this season.

Another way to tackle feeling comfortable with knowing your boundaries is to make sure you’re looking ahead each night or in the morning at what’s happening every day . If you don’t know what’s coming up, you probably can’t accurately gauge your ability to commit (or not) to something. Check out this post on time management.

I hope this post is encouraging for someone. If you have any other ideas or resources for saying “no”, please add them to the comments. Thanks for reading!!






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3 thoughts on “How to Say “No”

  1. One of the BEST things I’ve leaned to say when asked to do something is, “let me get back to you”. That way I can take a little time to evaluate, check my calendar, and run it by my spouse if needed. Most of us don’t really like hearing “no” and saying this when my answer is “no” gives me a little time to word it in a way that maybe isn’t so harsh. Great post!

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