However, saying yes when you want to say no comes at a cost: it’s a recipe for burnout, and you do both yourself and the person asking a disservice when you agree to a request that you can’t give your full attention. The ability to give the unconditional ‘no’ should be cultivated and used as a sign of strength, discernment, and even kindness. Doing it comes down to having a clear grasp on your priorities and values, listening to your intuition, and building boundaries. Here are three keys saying no without guilt or fear.
1. Get clear on why you want to say yes—and the benefit of saying no
Saying yes is a habit—and like with all habits, it’s important to know what’s driving your behavior before trying to change it. The next time you find yourself impulsively saying yes, ask yourself why. Are you trying to be the perfect friend, parent, or employee? Are you worried about hurting or disappointing someone? Do you have a strong sense of duty? The goal is to balance meeting your needs and helping others meet theirs.
Sometimes, it’s easier to say no when you remember what’s at stake. When in doubt, remind yourself that when you say “no” to going out or taking on that fifth project, you may actually be saying yes to restoring yourself—and that is a good enough reason.
Read more on the power of having clear priorities.
2. Give yourself time before responding Replace an instant yes with, “Let me take some time to think about that,” or “I’ll get back to you.” Seems simple, right? But this actually accomplishes a few things. You prepare the asker for a no by not immediately jumping on their request and you clearly exert your boundaries. You also give yourself some much needed time to calmly think through your response so it comes from an informed place. Whether you decide to say yes or no, you’ll be able to respond with confidence.
Read more on how to make healthy boundaries non-negotiable.
3. Think about your impact on others
If you’re a people pleaser, it can be tempting to please the person standing in front of you—but this comes at a cost. Time and energy are limited resources. Do you have family or friends who will get bumped from a busier schedule? Which coworkers are you affecting? Ask yourself, who deserves your “yes” the most? You may find it easier to say no when you realize that doing so helps someone you care about.
There is a real power is saying no when it serves you. “What we aren’t willing to do or keep doing is as much a sign of our strength as what we are willing to give our effort and attention to,” says Bruce. “Steve Jobs talked a lot about perseverance, for example. But he also said he was as proud of the things he hadn’t done: ‘Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.’”