Be honest: how hard do you find it to say the word: no?
We’re not referring to saying no to things you don’t like or don’t actively want to do – we’re talking about the time you went to drinks because you felt you couldn’t say no, the millions of things you agree to at work or the times you’ve over-stretched yourself for a friend or a family member because you couldn’t possibly say no.
No wonder the most heavily uttered phrase of the day is: “I’m so tired.” We feel it’s because of our busy job, our kids or friends but the truth is a lot of it is around our decision-making and our ability to say no to things.
Why is it important we learn such a skill?
Frances Booth, author of The Distraction Trap: How To Focus In A Digital World, believes it’s really important to help recharge ourselves, which we could all do more of in Janaury. “We’re quick to say yes, giving away our time, then we wonder why we have no time left for what we want,” she says.
“If you find your diary is full, or full of things you don’t want to do, then it’s time to start saying no – nicely.
“People ask for our time every single day. And if we give our time away to everyone who asks for it, we end up feeling frazzled, tired and grumpy. Often it doesn’t occur to us that we have the option to simply say no.”
It’s easier said than done. Most of the time, the most powerful moments you can say no to something are probably the times you feel most powerless and unable to do anything about it. John Parkin, founder of The F**k It Life, said: “Every day, colleagues, institutions, bosses, friends, and family want you to attend to their needs. They don’t do this because they are bad or selfish.
“They do this because it is simply what people do; they have their own best interests at heart. And you are also entitled to have your best interests at heart. You don’t have to do what everyone else in society is doing. You are a unique combination of DNA, environment, culture, and personal experiences. For you to say yes to something, it has to be special to you. Everything else, no matter what the consequences, you are entitled to say ‘no’ to.
Some people are naturally better at saying no to others, but for the vast majority it’s a learned skill. It’s ingrained in us to say yes, from when we were kids at school to adults working in an office. The perception is that saying no means you are difficult, and as most of us don’t want to be perceived as such, we say yes to everything, overstretching ourselves.
However sometimes, this can be a situation we create for ourselves in our heads.
Mark Williamson, director of charity Action for Happiness is no different. He says: “I’ve always struggled with saying no to people. A big breakthrough came when I was discussing my work-life balance problems with a coach, who asked me how it would feel to say ‘no’ more often to people’s requests. I said I’d feel like I was letting them down or that they’d think that I was a ‘bad person’ or didn’t care about them.
“Then he asked me how I react when I ask someone for help but they say ‘no’ to me but explain their reasons. I had to acknowledge that I’d totally understand and wouldn’t think any less of them at all – in fact possibly the opposite. So I was good at accepting ‘no’ but very bad at saying it myself. This obvious inconsistency came as a shock and gave me more confidence in saying No and knowing that people would understand and respect that.”
Having a change of mindset, it appears, is key to the whole thing. We feel we’re letting people down by saying no, but the reality is that they would probably be totally fine with it.
Susie Pearl, happiness ‘activist’ agrees.
“Knowing what ‘no’ is and how to say it is one of the most valuable things we can learn. It can keep us from doing things we really do not want to do – which helps everyone in the long run.
“In adult life, saying no keeps us strong. We are protecting our own boundaries and increasing our own strength each time we are clear and give out clear signals about our boundaries. It helps us take control of our time, space, activities and social life.”
Vidyamala Burch, mindfulness teacher and co-author of Mindfulness for Health: A practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing, believes that not everything can be solved by saying no. We actually have to dig deeper into why we feel pushed to say no in the first place.
“All too often,as TS Eliot said, we find ourselves ‘distracted from distraction by distraction’. In this state of mind it’s almost impossible to say ‘no’ as we’re trapped in headless chicken mode frantically lurching from one seemingly urgent task to the next.
“It’s a horrible way to live but oh-so-familiar. We know something’s wrong with this state of mind and think if we could only say ‘no’ then everything would be OK. By saying no to chaos we’d get a shot at the perfect life where nothing goes wrong, everything goes according to plan, the universe behaves itself and the needs and demands of other people don’t constantly get in our way.”
Burch’s point is that we can’t plan our lives to infinity and beyond, because something somewhere, will always get in the way. So actually, it’s about saying ‘yes’ to the right things.
“Life happens,” she adds. “Saying “No” won’t sort this out. It might make things a bit easier on the surface with a semblance of re-gaining control. But, what if the real issue is that we’re not very good at saying “Yes”!
What would it be like if you wholeheartedly said “Yes” to valuing yourself and your priorities? What would it be like to move from a perpetually distracted state of mind to one that has clarity and focus because you say “Yes” to yourself and what most deeply matters to you?”
This is the essence of mindfulness and it has completely transformed my life for the better. By saying “Yes” to life I am more able to say “No” when appropriate, but from a inner perspective of fullness and awareness, rather than a frightened, tight perspective.
Why not say “Yes” to the big things and, in the process, learn to say “No” to the small things, as you live your life with focus and love.
Susie’s tactics for saying happy No’s:
Voice – keep you voice strong and gentle without making it loud or abrasive. The tone of No will dictate how others take the sentiment, its not the word itself that causes the problem but usually the feeling we carry when saying the word.
Body language and expression – keeps these strong and positive without being aggressive. A gentle No an be heard as much as an aggressive No.
Avoid ‘I will try to do it later’ or ‘ I will try and make it’ – if you have no intention of doing something. Better to be straight up from the start and be honest with your communication. People will know when you are authentic and speaking from truth – and will appreciate that.
There is no need to apologise for a No. You are in charge of what you do, how you feel, what you choose to do.
Say No when you want to – it helps to make life easier, gives you more time back and makes your Yes even more special. You don’t have to give reasons for saying No. Sometimes over justifying is awkward and causes more problems. It’s easier to make it short and simple and to the point.
Practice saying no – start with the small things and build up to bigger things. When we have our own boundaries in place around resources of time, health, money, love and attention and can communicate clearly with yes and with no around commitments, then we have taken an important step in taking control of our life.
One of the major stress points in modern living is stress and over commitments. One of the most important things we could do in the New Year is to say No more often and know that it’s okay.
And for more ways to say no, see below: