If you are anything like me, learning how to say no could be quite a challenge. Are you the type of person who says yes without thinking and then immediately think, “Why on earth did I do that, because I just don’t have the time?!!!!”
Do you say yes to projects when you’re already running on empty so you know you can’t do your best? Are you overworked, over stressed, and anxious because you constantly agree to things you don’t actually have time for? Do you commit to things, then flake at the last minute because you never really wanted to go in the first place?
Well, believe it or not, you’re not alone.
Why Can’t We Say No?
Like myself, you are probably afraid of disappointing people. You probably worry constantly about what people are thinking of you. No matter how hard you work, or how well you do, you probably worry that it’s not enough.
You probably feel responsible for how other people feel. If someone is in a bad mood, you probably wonder if it’s something you said.
So you over commit yourself to things. You take on so much, you end up taking care of everyone else and not taking care of yourself.
This leaves you emotionally exhausted, stressed and anxious.
The problem is that every time you say “yes” when you mean “no” you’re letting people disrespect your boundaries. These people mostly mean no harm. How are they to know you aren’t willing to do something if you don’t communicate it to them?
This could leave you feeling resentful, angry and even burnt out, because you end up doing so many things you don’t have time for, and neglect the things that you actually need to get done.
Or others end up doing things that make you uncomfortable. They keep doing these things because they’ve never had any reason to believe it’s not ok. They usually don’t realize they’re overstepping a boundary. Either way, it’s up to you to change this behavior.
Why Do We Try To People Please?
So where do these people pleasing tendencies come from?
Psychotherapist and clinical social worker Amy Morin says that “For many, the eagerness to please stems from self-worth issues. They hope that saying yes to everything asked of them will help them feel accepted and liked.”
The implications of this statement is striking — if you say yes to things too often this could stem from you not feel like you’re inherently “enough,” that your worth as a person is tied to arbitrary measures, like whether people like you.
Definitely not an easy pill to swallow, but it makes sense. Why else would you say yes to things you don’t want to? Why else would you say yes to things that go against your own well being?
Learning How To Say No
Here are some tips and steps to take to head you in the right direction when it comes to learning to say no.
As such you need to cultivate self-awareness. You can do this by journaling, seeing a therapist, or meditating. Reflection is a necessary component to building self-awareness. Building a habit of reflection will help you become more and more cognizant of your actions as you’re doing them.
So step 1 of learning to say no is to start building a practice of self-awareness, of knowing what you’re doing and why.
For example, when you say “yes,” is it because you’re feeling pressured? Do you feel obligated even though you know there isn’t actually any concrete obligation in place?
Examine how you feel during these exchanges. You can also ask yourself how you would feel if you said “no.” This can be enlightening and help you identify your feelings.
Identify Where These Tendencies And Feelings Stem From
If you’re a people pleaser, it’s probably because you were conditioned to be one from a young age. Examining your past and discovering where these tendencies and feelings come from can be very helpful in breaking the habit. Because we can only see the world through our own perspective, it’s easy to confuse what is objective reality with our perception of events.
For example, this is essentially the basis of the well documented phenomenon of culture shock. You come to the realization that many of your assumptions, habits, and boundaries are not universal givens, but the product of the culture you were raised in. And this can be quite jarring.
The point is, when you realize when and how you inherited or picked up certain tendencies it gives you the power to make an objective analysis.
You can see that, “Oh, things don’t have to be this way. These feelings are just a result of my experiences. Just because I feel like I’m letting everyone down doesn’t mean I actually am in reality.” It pulls back the curtain a bit on your tendencies and demystifies the emotions behind them. This gives you a more objective lens to tackle your people pleasing habit.
Remember Take Care Of Yourself First – It’s Not Selfish
You’re in a better place to do genuinely nice things for people when you aren’t taken for granted, when you have the energy to do nice things because you want to, not because you feel like you have to in order to earn their approval.
Not only does this make your actions more sincere, but it means you’ll feel better about it and you won’t harbor any resentment.
Put your needs first. Not those of the person asking you for something. If you prioritize that person’s needs over yours, you’ll find your productivity will suffer and resentment will mount.
Perhaps we can learn fromWarren Buffet who said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”
Be Assertive Yet Courteous.
You could try saying, “I’m sorry I can’t right now but will let you know when and if I can.” This approach is polite, and puts you in a position of power by changing the dynamic. You are now taking charge, telling people you’ll let them know when and if you can. Another example, “I appreciate your asking me for help, but I’m stretched too thin right now to devote the time to be of quality help to you.”
And finally when it comes to learning to say no, you need to start accepting yourself. You need to remind yourself that you are enough. Your value as a person doesn’t depend on what other people think (or don’t think) about you.
Once you start accepting yourself, you’ll find you take better care of yourself, and of others. You’ll do things because you want to, because it lines up with your values as a person. You’ll stop running yourself into the ground trying please everyone and trying to make everyone like you.
Accept that not everyone will like you. That’s just how it is. And you can’t control who likes you anyway, even if you do everything “right.”
Start accepting yourself and being unabashedly authentic. Learning how to say no will eventually become easier and you’ll find yourself in a much better, happier mental state. Because you’ll be a better, stronger, version of yourself.