There is something genetically embedded in all of us that makes us feel like saying “no” is the equivalent of calling someone a…well, you know.
The pressure to fit in or make others happy leads us to fill our plate and spend our F*CKS — time, money, energy — on things that we don’t want in order to feel validated, worthy or “good enough”.
We worry that by being honest about how we want or need to spend our time will make us seem selfish, lacking compassion, apathetic, or not invested. And so, I find myself in a state of perpetual “yes.”
I grab coffee with the woman I met at a networking event that I didn’t really vibe with but can’t say no because, “you don’t want to turn down a contact”.
I go out with friends or make plans with people when I really want to be catching up on my own work or going to bed early because I worry about what I will miss or what they might think if I am not there.
I skip time at the gym because my friends or family will say “but we barely get to see each other.”
I’ll take on a project or task for someone else, getting caught in the chaos of their life and dreams at my own expense because I “feel bad”.
I make business decisions to spend time on things that don’t bring me joy because “this is what it means to be an entrepreneur” and “you have to do ‘X’ to be successful.”
And the list goes on.
Now, what about for you? Take a minute and just think about all of the things you have said “yes'“ to in the last week that you wanted to say no to. How many events did you go to, actions did you take, or F*CKS did you spend on things that added no value or meaning to your life? And for what?
Why do we do it?
Fear. Shame. Cultural Norms. Identity and role bias. FOMO (or the Fear of Missing Out).
For so many of us, we have adopted a belief about ourselves that we are not “good enough”, “worthy” or “lovable” unless…(fill in the blank). For many of us, that includes putting ourselves last, taking a more people-pleaser or passive role in life, and feeling like we “should” or “have to” say yes because the person asking is in a place of power or has greater worth.
If we say “no”, they might be upset with us and then our place may be unsteady. If we say “no” then people might stop inviting us places or we will end up alone. If we say “no” then we are being a bad partner/employee/employer/friend, etc. The rules and pressures become insurmountable and they all boil down to our brain trying to protect us from feeling disconnected and unlovable while subconsciously reinforcing that we are not inherently lovable or worthy unless...
My not saying “yes” does not change my worth and value. My not saying “yes” does not make me a lesser person. But, when our brain has existed in these norms for so long where we have been made to believe that it does, it is hard to suddenly change that belief and to reclaim the power that is inherent within us to make the choices best for us without assuming it is “you versus me” but instead, it is just about the ways I need to take care of myself and create the life I am not only excited about living but where I can fully be present within.
What do we do about it?
Well, for starters, practice saying the word “No” out loud. I know that seems silly but for many of us, we never really say it. Instead, we say “I would like to, but…” or “I wish I could, but…” or passively decline but either cancelling last minute, never responding or making up some excuse that is out of our control leading us to have to say “no.”
But all that does is reinforce all of those feelings we talked about. It just leads us to feel like we are lesser and that we cannot honor our own desires or feelings.
So, the first real step is that we have to figure out if you really want to do it or not.
This part is tricky. Again, for many of us, we have been caught in a place of “shoulds” for so long, it can be hard to decipher what we really want and what we feel we “should” do. So, for me, I like to break it down into these questions:
Why am I doing this?
What is my return on investment?
Is it a “Hell yes”? No? Then it has to be no.
First off, “why am I doing this?” I have to tap into the driving forces that make me want to say “yes”. Is it because I feel bad saying “no”? Is it because I am excited about whatever I have been asked about? Do I really want it? Is the motivation coming from an internal place or an external pressure? Do I hear myself saying “I should” or coming up with a list of reasons that I “have to” say “yes”? Do I feel annoyed saying “yes” or find myself already planning to cancel? And most importantly, how does this connect to my values? What is important to me in my personal and professional life and how does saying yes to this play in to that?
Second, if I say “yes”, “what is my return on investment?” You have to think about how everything we do we invest time, energy and often, money, into it. Now, not every investment that is worthwhile has a positive return. Or maybe the return is not in the same form. When I take time out to talk to a friend in need or to pick up Jordan so he does not have to bike in the rain or a 95 degree day, I dont get a return on time, energy or money. In fact, I take a hit. But I do get to fill up my values cup and feel that sense of love and fulfillment. So, with every opportunity, especially with a business practice, you have to ask yourself about the project ROI and if it is something you are willing to assume a loss for. Are you willing to invest your F*CKS in “X” even though not only it will take time, money and energy but it will also lead to greater anxiety and frustration? Are you going to say “yes” simply to satisfy others interests? It sounds weird but you have to do a cost-benefit analysis and really think about the role that each of these decisions plays into your sense of self-esteem and worth.
And finally, this is sometimes the hardest part but with any decision faced, Jordan always tells me that if it is not a “Hell, yes” then it should be a no. Meaning that if I am still feeling stuck in the in between of what to do, I have to check in with my gut and intuition and if I am not getting a resounding spark of excitement or commitment, I have to trust that and turn it down.
Okay, but now, how do we actually say “no”?
Just sat it. “No.” Now, don’t get me wrong. You can say “No, thank you.” or something a little more polite. But don’t bury a hole with your response that gives people an opportunity to play into your shame, fear, guilt, etc. In order to start training your brain that you not only will be okay when you do but that you have the right to say “no”, we have to speak from a place of assertiveness. We have to remove all of those driving emotions and to not put the “success” factor on how others respond.
People will always push you. People will always work to erode your boundaries.
This is not because the boundary you set is wrong. This has to do with people wanting things the way they want them.
I remember when I was quitting my most recent job. After putting in my notice, I had to revisit that conversation at least a half a dozen times in the 6 weeks I was still there. Every time, there was a new proposal or plan. Every time they would tell me how they wanted to do whatever they could to keep me. And did it feel nice? Fuck yeah, it did. So nice, in fact, that I started to question if I should take them up on it.
But thankfully, Jordan and I talked and he could help me see that their ask was not about me. Their ask was about them. It was about avoiding their own discomfort and making things easier for them. It did not connect at all to what I wanted and would leave me feeling even more disconnection and dissatisfaction in my life because not only would I continue with something I hated, but I would beat myself up for not just sticking to what I said.
And so, through this, and countless other examples, I have started to narrow down a list of tricks I use to make it easier to say no. And not only to say it, but to mean it and to stand by it.
Don’t lie. Don’t say things like “I wish I could…” or “I would love to, but…” unless that is really true. If you don’t want to do it or don’t think that it is a great idea, don’t tell them it is. All that does is open up doors for them to erode your boundaries. It becomes an invitation from you to be worked around or to find a solution when the solution is simply to say, “No, thank you.”
Remove the qualifiers. Stop saying things like “I just have to do…” or “I know it doesn’t seem important” or “I know, it’s dumb…” By minimizing the work we are doing or the why behind our decision, you reinforce the belief you are less than and that you are making choices that are “wrong”. You don’t have to pretend the thing you are saying no to is better. It is not about better or worse. It is about values and priorities and sometimes, no matter how “good” something is, we just don’t want to do it.
Use the broken record technique. I talk about this all of the time in various communication trainings. Again, people will always try to erode your boundaries and any opening we given them is a new opportunity. What do we do? Craft your response (BEFORE talking to them) and then no matter what they say, stick to your message. “But why can’t you come out with us tonight and work on ‘X’ tomorrow?”…”Thank you for thinking of me. Tonight, I am going to work on my website.”…”But it will be so much fun and you never have time for us.”…”Thank you for thinking of me. Tonight, I am going to work on my website. I hope you all have a lot of fun.”
Or, “But this would be a really good opportunity.”…”I appreciate the opportunity and am going to pass.”…”You mean, you don’t care about how this could help you in your business?”…”I appreciate the opportunity and all that it might offer. And, I am going to pass.”
It seems harsh but again, nothing in those responses is mean, hurtful or negative. It is just about sticking to script and not assuming others reactions as pressure to fold.
Let go of what others will think. The only thing in my control is how I show up. And if I am honest with those around me and live a life in line with my values and without the intention of hurting people, then that is all I can ask for. How others respond is not my responsibility to take on. People have the right to be upset. They have the right to be disappointed. That is okay. But that does not mean I have to assume a responsibility to fix that. Because if I do, all I am doing is creating suffering for myself, leading me right back to a state of feeling less than.
Always come back to your values. And remind yourself that creating the life you want is about living for your own dreams, goals and ideals. While one night out with friends or a random coffee meeting will not necessarily impede you from it, the underlying dismissal of what you want and who you are does. Every choice we make creates a ripple. And no matter what we say yes to, we are always saying no to something else. Isn't it time you stop saying it to yourself?
Ready to take the next steps in learning to say no and to live a life filled with assertiveness and confidence?
Check out my coaching programs, Level Up and the Clarity Compass, designed to help you develop assertive and authentic communication and how to invest your F*CKS more wisely to create the life you want.
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