How to Turn No into an Ecstatic Yes
For years, I had trouble saying no.
Would I pet-sit my neighbor’s fish, cats, dog, gerbils, snakes, and rats? Of course, I’d say blithely, not considering that I sometimes don’t have time to walk my own dog.
Would I mind if my friend’s kids spent the day at my house with promises to be extra extra quiet even though they are boisterous by nature and I work on the phone from home? Ummm…well…I guess.
Would I PLEEEEEAAAASE buy my son the $119 Star Wars Lego Heavy Assault A-6 Juggernaut Vehicle even though I told him three weeks ago that my budget was shot for the month? No. No. No. No. No. No. Okay, fine, stop bugging me, here.
Sound familiar? If you find yourself nodding your head, I feel your pain. I’m guessing saying yes all the time leaves you exhausted and feeling vaguely taken advantage of. It feels, in a word, crappy. Am I right?
So what is it we think we’re getting when we say yes? Usually, we want to be liked. We want to be agreeable. Trained from the age of scouting that being helpful is a virtue above all others, we may even consider the act of standing up for ourselves and saying no somehow grotesquely selfish.
The thing is, when we say yes when we really want—even need—to say no, we don’t just hurt ourselves, we end up hurting the very people we think we’re helping. Because everyone, eventually, has a limit. Back in my days of 24/7 acquiescence, I was strung tighter than an overtuned banjo string. Eventually, inevitably, I’d snap—and anyone nearby, no matter how innocent a bystander, would feel the pain.
Limits are only limits when they are consistently upheld. Rules are only rules when they are enforced. Boundaries are only boundaries if they aren’t continually moving around. It’s okay if there’s a little room for flexibility. It’s not okay if that room is the size of a sports coliseum.
So how do you learn to say no? Like everything else: practice. You might want to start with someone sympathetic and safe, someone who understands your problem and supports you in standing up for yourself.
Don’t make the mistake, as you practice, of embellishing your no’s with a lot of explanations: I’d love to have your aunt and her kids stay at my house while they’re in town, but my spouse is sick and I think we have bedbugs and our house is being tested for radon and I’m going in for minor surgery that week. It sounds cheesy, and it also gives the mistaken impression that there’s room for negotiation.
Instead, say no like this: No. If that feels too abrupt, try these variations: I’m sorry, that won’t work for me. I’m sorry I can’t help. Even: no, I won’t be able to do that, but I am willing to do ________.
One thing I’m sure of: when you learn to say no to others when you need to, you’ll be amazed and delighted by the freedom of that inner YES! you’re giving yourself.