How many times do you say yes at your own expense? How many times do you say yes because it’s the “right” thing to do? How many times do you say yes when you’d much rather say no; the yes slipping out as your mouth turns into a (fake) smile, as you sigh on the inside? How many times do you say yes because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or maybe because you’re trying to earn their love?
How many times do you say yes because you don’t think alone time or reading time or catch-up-on-sleep or watch-Hallmark-movies-on-the-couch time warrants saying no? After all, technically, you do have the time. Technically, you don’t have another commitment that night. Technically you don’t have anything productive or important or pressing to do.
We think we must say yes until we’re officially burnt out. On everything. Because while we’re still able to (sort of) stand up, we can take on that extra task or project; we can attend that extra event. We wait until we need days to recover, because then, we think, we’ve finally earned it. When we’re so tired we can barely keep our eyes open, then we’ve earned the rest.
It’s hard to say no. Really hard. It’s especially hard to say no when you’ve said yes your whole life.
But, thankfully, saying no is possible—with practice, and with prioritizing your personal needs. Because, doing so is not just OK. It’s vital. It’s vital for our health and well-being.
Saying no is an essential part of caring for ourselves.
I love what Rachel Jonat writes in her new book The Joy of Doing Nothing on saying no: “No doesn’t mean you don’t care; it means you care enough that you don’t want to give someone less than your full attention, less than your best work, and less than your best effort. And you simply can’t give everyone your best when you say yes to everything.”
She also writes in the book, “Saying no isn’t a rejection of someone or something—it’s an honest and open response that saying yes wouldn’t be best for you or for the other person.”
Think about what you need to be well, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Think about what you need to feel good, to enjoy life more, to feel closer to yourself. Think about what’s genuinely important and essential to you. Then own these needs. Protect them. Advocate for them.
For instance, Jonat, who pens the blog The Minimalist Mom, shares these examples in her book: “No, I need a full eight hours of sleep to feel good, so I can’t attend your late-evening event.” “No, I think I’ll be quite tired from an already full weekend, so I’ll have to say no to that party on Sunday.” “I’m having a quiet night at home to myself.”
Remember that saying no doesn’t mean being rude or callous. You can absolutely say no with empathy and kindness. I know that my coming to your party is important to you, and it’s disappointing that I won’t be attending. I’m sorry about that. But right now I need time to myself.
Saying no to one thing means saying yes to something else—like reconnecting to yourself or reconnecting to your family. By saying no, you’re also being honest with the other person, and with yourself—which is important for both relationships. Plus, you give the other person permission to focus on their own needs—which they, too, undoubtedly need.