How To Say “No” and Make Room For What Matters

Are you a people pleaser? Has being busy and stressed out become a badge of honor you wear every day? Do you struggle with saying “no” to someone or something? Are there particular people in your life where “yes” comes flying out of your mouth before you even stop to think about what you actually want?

Most of us have been there too because generally speaking saying yes is easy. Saying no, well, that takes a little more courage!

In reality, saying yes all the time to please others is actually incredibly fake, builds resentment, and is a complete disservice to those you are saying yes to, when really you want to say no.

For some saying no comes easier than others. Studies have shown, women suffer from this more-so than men. Many of my ADHD clients describe themselves as “people pleasers.” Fear of saying no is real. The best way to avoid these fears is simply to say yes.

When you can’t say no, do you:

  • Fear being rejected or thought poorly of by others
  • Worry that the other person won’t like you anymore or badmouth you
  • Hold a belief that you are being selfish if you say no
  • Fear conflict with others
  • Want to be “nice” and seen as someone who contributes selflessly to others (even if you resent saying yes and contributing!)
  • Attach your self-worth to how many things you do for others
  • Allow other people’s priorities to become your own priorities (for reasons above)
  • Let others start to get used to you saying yes all the time, making finding your no even more challenging.
We have mostly been trained from a very young age that saying no is wrong or not okay. How many times did your parents get angry at you if you said no to doing something? Did you get sent to your room or grounded? Many of us have been stripped of our permission to say no from very early on.

So it’s no wonder that many of us have lost the art of saying no. But it’s not all bad news, because saying no is just like a muscle that hasn’t been used in a while. You can still train it back into shape!

Here are some tips that will help get your “no”-muscle back into shape so that you can focus on what matters to you and start prioritizing what you want for your life. 

1. Give yourself permission to say no

Here you will need to start to unravel years of social conditioning by allowing yourself the permission to actually dust off your “no” and start using it when appropriate.
How to do it:
  • Start the process by saying out loud:  “I give myself permission to say ‘no’ when it’s right for me.”
  • You may very well need to repeat this phrase multiple times until you actually start to believe it.

2. PAUSE! Allow yourself space between stimulus and response
The quality of your response to a request is directly correlated to the amount of space you allow yourself to consider the request. In other words, if you are feeling like you are in a real pressure cooker to answer yes or no, then it’s highly likely you will give a response that is not high quality (aka, not true for you). So instead you need to carve out some space to reply and make sure you can: a) remind yourself of the permission you have from step 1; and b) be powerful to respond in the best way possible for you.

How to do it:

    • When someone makes a request of you, you can use the following phrases to create the space you need:
    • Thanks so much for asking. I’m going to sleep on it so that I can give your request the thought it deserves.
    • That sounds interesting. I just need to check in with xyz person (my husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend, business partner, parents, financial advisor, etc.)
    • You know, I’m just not in a position right now to know whether or not that’s going to work for me. When do you need an answer from me?

    3. Two sides of the same coin: A yes is a no & a no is a yes

    Yes and No are two sides of the same coin. It is important to remember that whenever you say yes, it means that you are saying no to something else. And whatever you say no to, you are saying yes to something else.

    For example:

    • Saying yes to helping a friend move to a new house = saying no to unwinding and meditating
    • Saying yes to working late = saying no to family time
    • Saying no to something outside of your comfort zone = saying yes to staying small or stuck
    • Saying yes to an expensive holiday = saying no to saving for your kid’s college
    • Saying yes to meeting with someone for an hour = saying no to your planned exercise routine

    How to do it:

    • Bring awareness to the fact that there is always a flip side
    • Start to get clear on what each side of that coin looks like. Write out what you are saying no to but saying yes—and vice versa.
    • Decide if you are ok with the flip side—this will powerfully inform your decision-making by allowing you to recognize which of your decisions aligns better with your values.

    4. Deliver your no powerfully

    So now that you’ve given yourself permission, PAUSED, and realized that yes and no are two sides of the same coin, it’s now time to powerfully deliver your no. You have done the groundwork and now it’s time to get into action—which can initially be very daunting.

    Many people are probably quite used to you saying yes, so be prepared for a reaction that is not quite so favorable if and when you say no! But it’s important to stand your ground and allow the other person to have their thoughts and feelings.

    How to do it:

    • Keep in mind why you are saying no and what you will be saying yes to as a result
    • Let the person know at your earliest convenience
    • Keep it short and communicate with powerful language like:
    • Thank you so much for inviting me to X, I’ve given it careful consideration and on this occasion I will pass.
    • I so appreciate you thinking of me for X, after some thought I realized that I’m simply not in a position right now to commit.
    • I realize how important X is to you so it was important to me that I gave this proper time and thought. It’s a no from me, but I wanted to wish you luck with finding the right opportunity/person/partner.
    And whatever you do, be sure NOT to:
    • Apologize for saying no!
    • Launch into all sorts of reasons to justify your no (it will dilute your message and possibly open the door for them to push the matter and convince you).
    • Be untruthful and lie.
    • Say “Okay, let me think about it,” if it’s clear in your mind that you don’t want to do it. This will just draw out the whole situation probably making you feel even more stressed and waste the other person’s time. The sooner they get your no the sooner they can move on and find a yes.
    And one final rule to remember –

    5. “If it’s not a hell yes! It’s a no.”

    Because life’s too short to sacrifice yourself and your dreams for things that simply aren’t a priority for you. So the more you can practice saying “no thanks” to the things that otherwise would not be on your radar, the more you can find the “Hell Yeses” for the things that, when focused on, will bring you more passion, fulfillment, and joy!

    Let me know, in the comments below what is one thing you otherwise would have said yes to, but will now say no!

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