A book I took out from the library recently has had such an impact on how I live my life; and I think it could change yours. Titled, The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness, it’s not that it’s brilliantly written (it’s not) but, rather, its impact is the self-confidence it brings in delivering a ‘no’. This is something that many women (and men!) struggle with, particularly when we are caretakers of children or elderly dependents. With so many demands on us, sometimes it seems impossible to even think of ourselves, never mind put ourselves first.

For me, it began with sitting down more. I’d been jumping up and down from my seat (and my bed) for my children since the first was born (almost 13 years ago). It was as if my body only knew two set points – sleeping or running around like a lunatic. I thought I had no choice. I thought that this is what motherhood entailed. It materialises that I did have a choice. All I needed to do was say ‘no’. So the first time I put this in place was when my children came home from school one day and I told them that I would be sitting in the sun on my front bench, and that I wouldn’t be moving. Did they cry or scream in protest? No. Funnily enough, the skies didn’t fall and life went on. They organised their own snacks and began to play outside. That evening, I felt rejuvenated and had more energy than usual to do the things I wanted to do – such as reading a bedtime story to my youngest and catching up with my husband for a stroll on the beach – it was a revelation. It was incredibly simple too, but powerful.

 

‘No’ Really Means ‘Yes’ to Your Dreams

But it’s not always the obvious ‘no’ to others that’s relevant (although that is a first step), it’s even the ‘no’ to the clutter in our brains, or the negative thinking, or the ways of being that no longer serve us. I’m now shouting ‘no’ from the rooftops! No to people pleasing; No to running around after others; No to ignoring my creative side. If we keep saying ‘yes’ to the things we don’t actually want to do, then there’s little time or energy for the things that we really want to do (our hopes and dreams – remember them?). The reasons why we do things we don’t want to is often down to people pleasing, but when we do this we’re not looking after the person that matters most – that’s us! And by finally saying no, we open up a whole world that we’ve been neglecting to date – to our passions, our hobbies, our interests or our creativity. Start thinking about the things you used to enjoy, and now is the time to build them back in. For some ideas of where to start, have a read of our recent article on play. 

 

Time to Put Boundaries Back In

Constantly saying ‘yes’ when we don’t want to is also down to a lack of boundaries with family, friends or colleagues – having few boundaries means we find it difficult to say no, but this can be learnt over time, with daily practice. People pleasing is usually driven by a fear of not being liked, of disappointing someone, or of being rejected and it simply means we misguidedly believe that we are responsible for how other people feel. It can lead to unnecessary stress, resentment and anger toward others. If you have spent a lifetime swallowing your true feelings, you’ll know that it’s not a strategy that tends to work well for you. Saying what you actually feel can be very empowering and helps raise self-esteem, so it’s well worth practising. Start small and build on it. I remember the first time I really said ‘no’ to a party invitation that I didn’t want to attend (I was almost 40 – so had spent a lifetime saying ‘yes’ and I still do!) – it was massively empowering and exciting. I finally felt I was being true to myself.

 

6 Ways On How to Say ‘No’

1. Keep it brief and avoid over-explaining: don’t give lots of reasons for saying no – a good response to a request on your time would be to say, “I can’t this time. Sorry to disappoint you, but I have too many things to do that day.” Keep it simple, direct, yet polite.

2. Always pause and take your time: don’t rush into saying ‘yes’, as this is what has got you into trouble in the past. Take your time. You could even say, ‘Just give me a moment to think about that’, or ‘I’ll let you know this evening, I just need to check something first’. Then this will give you the space and time to really think what you want to do.

3. Have a ‘line’ stored in advance: I often think of my mother-in-law when I think of this, as she’s a brilliant example of how to say no. She is famous for her response of ‘Thank you but my answer is no. It doesn’t suit’. She doesn’t go into any further explanation or justifications. In fact, she doesn’t even say the word ‘sorry’! And she’s right. At first, it used to almost annoy me that she was so forthright; when the rest of us were falling around ourselves people pleasing, but now I’m learning that she’s a brilliant role model of self-care.

4. Observe your own body language: Notice how passive your body language can be when saying no (eg. averted gaze, slouched posture, crossed arms). Try standing a little taller, shoulders back, head held high and maintain eye contact as you say ‘no’.

5. Rehearse it: If it’s challenging to say what you want or think, practice typical scenarios you encounter. Say what you want to say out loud. It may help to write it out first, too, so you can practice from a script. Consider role-playing with a partner and friend and ask for blunt feedback.

6. Start prioritising you: people-pleasers put others first but it really is true that, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be well enough equipped to mind others. Carve out time – even if it’s just a small amount once or twice a week – to mind yourself, both mentally and physically. Remember you have your own needs, and when you don’t address these needs, it can lead to anxiety and even depression…making self-care an essential ingredient of good mental health.

There you have it, 6 ways on how to say ‘no’.

Good luck saying no this week! Please write to me at maebh.coyle@motivation.ie if you want to share any great examples.

Blog Post by Maebh Coyle