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The Power of No

I read an article recently that stuck with me. It was a style/trend piece about what some people started doing during the summer.

These folks were taking on big, creative projects. Instead of planning a summer vacation, they’re doing things like building a canoe, writing a book and studying molecular gastronomy.

Their grand projects are not what caught my attention (though I do encourage starting a passion project). What caught my attention was one of the reasons these people are taking on their big projects: to avoid social invitations and commitments.

I have news for them. If you aren’t up for partying or don’t feel like socializing, you don’t have to start remodeling your entire home to create an excuse to get out of attending. There is a simpler solution.

You can just say no.

No is a powerful word. It’s a necessary word. It’s also a word that people can have a really hard time saying.

Saying no can be difficult for those who tend to be people-pleasers. People-pleasers are driven to do everything they can to make others happy, and they have a hard time letting people down.

By saying yes to every request, they try to gain love, approval, and acceptance. To say no is to risk criticism, judgment, and rejection, and that risk can be really scary.

To be clear, helping others can be rewarding when it’s something you genuinely want to do and is aligned with your values, but doing so from a place of fear means suppressing your desires and needs in order to accommodate others. Over time you lose touch with yourself and eventually, there’s no room in your life for you.

This is not the way to live a life that feels authentically satisfying and meaningful.

Setting out to create a life you love means saying yes to ideas, dreams, and aspirations that are important to you. But to achieve your goals, that yes needs something more.

Yes needs no.

No is how you establish priorities and set boundaries so you can get to where you want to be. You won’t be able to commit a full-on yes to creating what you want in your life until you’re able to say no to the demands that you’re not truly willing and able to do.

Saying no also establishes you as the leader of your life. You’re not reacting to the requests and expectations of others. You’re clear about what’s important to you and what you’re able to give to others, which enables you to have more time and energy for you.

If you’re ready to make more room for you in your life, here are some tips to help you start saying no:

Acknowledge your needs and wants

What’s important to you? What do you value? How do you want to spend your time? What do you need to maintain your physical, emotional, and mental health?

Your answers become a guide to establishing priorities in your life. There is no shame in having needs of your own. No one else gets to decide this for you, and you don’t have to apologize for the things that are most important to you.

Trust your body

Your body is the seat of your own deepest wisdom about what’s right for you. If you’re feeling a little wobbly about where to begin saying no – look no further than your own body for guidance.

When something feels right for you, you’ll feel it light you up. When something makes you feel bad, you’ll know it’s wrong for you. Learning to read your body’s signals will help you make choices that are right for you.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Feeling uncomfortable can be a big obstacle when you first start saying no to people, especially if they’re people who are accustomed to hearing you say yes to their requests. Your mind starts streaming upsetting thoughts like, what will they say? and what will they think of me?

You’re stepping outside your comfort zone, and that’s OK. In fact, it’s a good thing (this is where growth happens). Acknowledge to yourself how you feel and be willing to speak up for yourself anyway.

Start small

Learning to say no takes practice, so begin with choices that are low stakes and feel less risky and vulnerable. Each time you say no, you’ll recognize that the world doesn’t fall apart and you'll gain confidence in your ability. You’ll be able to move on to bigger no’s (and a life that has more room for you to achieve your goals).

What do I want?

If you have a habit of reflexively saying yes, it’s time to start asking this question. Next time someone makes a request of you, pause. Instead of saying yes right away, ask yourself, what do I want here?

Consider your values and priorities. Check in with your body for guidance. By saying no (or yes) on your terms, you begin to cultivate a true sense of self-worth and self-value.

Let people feel disappointment

When you start saying no, it can be a big challenge when your no is met with disappointment. It can feel so uncomfortable. Keep this in mind: trying to control someone else’s emotions by saying yes to their requests so you feel comfortable is a no-win game. You end up perpetually denying your values and needs in order to manage their feelings about you. Instead, let people feel their disappointment. They will survive, and importantly, you will survive.

Learning to say no is a practice and a process. You don’t owe a yes to anyone. No matter how much of a people-pleaser you’ve been, you can start right now to create the boundaries and priorities that allow you to stand up for yourself, give to others in a way that feels right for you, and ensure that your life has space for YOU.

“This is one of the greatest lessons for me to learn here on planet earth: learning to say no and being OK with it and creating boundaries for myself.” – Oprah Winfrey

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