Would your life be better if you could say no more often?
Annie constantly feels overwhelmed by all she has to do. There are so many competing demands on her time – family obligations, social invitations, work deadlines, household chores, community events she’d like to attend, and the ever-elusive self-care. She hates to disappoint people, so even though she’s stretched too thin already, she finds herself saying yes to every request, need, and invitation. And then she ends up feeling guilty and exhausted when she can’t bring her A-game to everything she’s committed to.
Can you relate to Annie? Perhaps you too feel overcommitted, stressed, and like there’s never enough time.
Learning to say no is often the solution to feeling overwhelmed and overburdened. And yet, saying no is uncomfortable for many of us.
Why we have a hard time saying no
If you struggle to say no, pause for a minute and think about why it’s so uncomfortable to say no.
Perhaps it’s because you…
- want to be liked
- want to help
- want to be easy-going or agreeable
- don’t want to upset or offend someone
- feel ambivalent or unsure of your priorities, goals, or interests
- feel guilty or think you should always put others before yourself
- want to prove yourself
- are afraid of missing out on an opportunity
- are afraid of angering or disappointing someone
- think it’s rude or selfish to say no
Understanding why it’s hard for you can help you challenge underlying false beliefs about saying no (i.e. If I say no, she won’t ask me again or If I don’t help, I’m selfish) and learn to set boundaries with kindness.
Of course, being helpful and looking out for others is generally a good thing. But when we succumb to people-pleasing on a regular basis, we don’t attend to what’s most important in our lives – often our health, our immediate family’s needs, or our relationships.
6 signs that you need to say “no” more often
- You’re exhausted, overworked, or burnt out.
- You don’t have time, energy, or money for the things that matter most.
- The quality of your work is deteriorating.
- You’re unfulfilled.
- You regularly feel angry or resentful.
- Your health (physical and/or emotional) is suffering.
When you overcommit, you inevitably deplete your time, energy, and/or money. And since you have a finite amount of time, energy, and money, if you say yes indiscriminately, you won’t have the resources to invest in the people and activities that mean the most to you. For example, Annie short-changed herself, her husband, and her kids by agreeing to make sets for the community theater and lead a book club. These were activities she wanted to do, but they kept her out four nights a week which meant she missed out on things that were even more important to her — yoga class, bedtime stories with her kids, and time to connect with her husband.
Naturally, the quality of our work will also suffer when we’re overworked and overstressed. Again, we only have so much time and energy, so spreading ourselves too thin can backfire. You may need to ask yourself whether you’d rather do three things well or six things not so well.
Sometimes, the things we say yes to aren’t things we want to do; they aren’t causes we believe in or things that align with our goals and values. As a result, we may feel unfulfilled because we aren’t doing things that energize and excite us. We may also feel angry and resentful because our needs aren’t being met. Without boundaries, we run the risk of being used and abused; we may let people take advantage of our kindness or mistreat us.
Your health can also suffer if you don’t say no to some requests or opportunities. When we get busy and stressed, most of us sacrifice our basic self-care (enough sleep, healthy diet, exercise) and use unhealthy coping strategies like too much alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and screen time, which only make us more tired, stressed, and unfulfilled.
When you start saying no, you take back control of your life. You feel more empowered, fulfilled, and healthier. True, it’s not always easy, but saying no is a skill that gets easier the more you do it.
You can learn more about how to say no in this article.