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  • aghinshaw

Tips to Keep in Mind When Saying “No”

Updated: Jan 5, 2022

The topic of setting healthy boundaries is a common one that comes up in therapy. Interestingly, I’ve found that it’s also a common one between fellow clinicians. Therapists by nature want to help people, establish good relationships with others, and be present for the people important to them. However, this can sometimes lead to excessive “yes-ing”, or taking on too much to the point of over committing yourself. Below are some tips on combating the habit of saying “yes” to everything.

TIP 1: Practice mentally saying no first to everything

Brendon Burchard describes the importance of this advice in the context of maintaining success in his book High Performance Habits. “[...] I encourage all high performers who want to keep rising to say no to almost every opportunity in their mind first, then force themselves to justify it before ever giving a yes.” He explains that taking on too much at once will lead to less energy, fatigue, irritability, and decreased performance. (Sound familiar?) On the other hand, he notes that “‘No’ keeps you focused.” If you find yourself almost saying yes to another case / event / project, first justify why you might need to say no first.

TIP 2: Remember that you do not owe anyone an excuse

Sure, an explanation is helpful given the context of what you’re saying no to. (For example, saying no to going to work might require a brief explanation that you’re ill.) However, you do not owe anyone anything, and that includes your time, explanations, or reasons for saying no. You knowing that you’re saying no because you do not want to take on another obligation is enough.

TIP 3: Accept that feeling guilty is OK

Feeling a bit guilty is totally normal when saying no, especially when you are so accustomed to not doing it. Allow yourself the chance to sit with the emotion. Over time, it will reduce in intensity and go away. Try to also consider the alternative, which might be the resentment that comes with saying yes. Feeling angry at yourself for saying yes can feel more intense than the brief guilt that comes with saying no.

TIP 4: Accept that it is impossible to please everyone

At some point, we will disappoint someone. This disappointment might come in the form of declining an invitation to an important event, cancelling plans at the last minute, or simply not meeting someone’s expectations. Again, this is OK. Bring the focus back to what you want and/or need. People can manage just fine with you saying no.

TIP 5: Keep in mind your “why”

If you’re trying to develop the habit of regularly saying no first, keep in mind your “why” to help you to stay on track. Your reasons might include wanting more time for yourself, wanting to focus more on quality family time, or wanting to finish a long-term project. If you’re saying yes to something more important to you, such as quality family time, then saying no to another work obligation will make immediate sense.

Questions for readers:

  • Do you have a tendency of saying “yes” when you know/feel that you should be saying “no”? In what ways can you work on this?

  • For those that are good at saying “no”, what strategies can you offer for others?

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