Few of us really want to say “NO” to our friends, our family or our co-workers.

We want to be helpful and valuable. We want to hear those cherished words: “thank you.”


If we don’t learn how to say “NO,” we can find ourselves always adding more tasks, more responsibilities.

More peas and carrots are loaded onto our plates and we never seem to finish dinner. We’re overloaded and we aren’t taking time for ourselves.

Take my friend, for example. She has a lot of stuff going on in her own life, but she’s supporting her neighbours with a major life criss. Does she want to help? Yes! Except for one problem: she’s tired and she still has to meet the demands of work and her own family.

Exhaustion and stress are setting in as she juggles the multiple full plates, but she feels it’s important and she doesn’t want to say no. But should she? Can she? How many of us stretch ourselves for family and friends? And at what cost?

She doesn’t know how long she can maintain this routine with no quick resolution in sight.

Why can’t I say “NO”

Maybe it runs in your family too; it certainly does in mine. I’ve been known to load my plate up with more peas and carrots, too big a dollop of mashed potatoes, and slices and slices and slices of ham … until my dinner plate is overflowing.

Think about that bloated, lethargic feeling you get after eating too much at Thanksgiving.

We do the same thing with our time management.

We have trouble saying “NO” because we don’t want to hurt or disappoint the person who’s asking for our help.

We feel obligated to help, especially family. We have the best of intentions, likely coming from a place of respect, a desire to please, or a sense of responsibility. As social beings, we like being needed; we enjoy the satisfaction of being able to help.

On the negative side, we may suffer from a fear of rejection or retribution.

We might be perceived as slacking off, like we don’t care enough.

And God help us if we’re single. When you’re single, you might be the only one everyone perceives to have the time, so who else will do it? I mean, it isn’t like you have a family or anything, so how could you not have enough time? Am I right?

We all want to maintain good relationships with the people in our lives. Saying “NO” to any of them can endanger those relationships.

But it can do just as much damage to our selves.

The trouble with saying “YES”

If you’re in the habit of saying “yes” all the time, you aren’t stopping to check in with yourself and ask if you can take on one more task, one more responsibility.

My two-year term on a board of directors was coming to an end recently. I needed to consider whether I had the time, energy and desire to commit to another two years.

I asked myself:

• Do I have X number of hours to volunteer?
• Is this the best way to be involved in my community? Can I help better elsewhere?
• Am I still of value to the organization?
• What am I getting out of it?

(NOTE: YES! You must feel like you’re getting something of value out of volunteering, too, even if it’s just a good feeling. It’s a give and take relationship but we’ll delve more into that at another time.)

When we’re saying “YES” and putting too much on our plates, we’re draining ourselves.

That can turn into:

• Burning the candle at both ends to get everything done
• Lack of sleep
• No time for ourselves … for exercise, reading, relaxing
• Decreased libido (No kidding! Just ask my husband)
• Delaying important projects
• Turning in work that isn’t your best
• A reputation as a ‘sucker’
• Feeling overwhelmed, frustrated

Like other types of stress, being a “YES” person takes a toll on your mind, body and soul.

Help me learn to say “NO”

Saying “NO” is really easier than you think.

Even for us gals. Yeah, I know I just sterotyped us, but it’s true.

Yes, women find it more difficult than men to say “NO.” A study from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology found women are more likely than men to take on extra work.

Katharine O’Brien, one of the study’s authors and a postdoctoral research associate at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said the decision to take on extra work is a difficult one for women.

“Women typically are regarded as nurturers and helpers,” she said. “So saying ‘no’ runs against the grain of what might be expected of them.”

We can learn to say “NO.”

When we do, we give ourselves time to get our existing work done and time to take better care of ourselves.

We give ourselves confidence and appear more confident to others.

And all you have to do is learn to ask yourself if you have the time, the money, the energy, the desire and the resources to fulfil that person’s request.

When I’m working with a client, I tell her to thank the person offering the responsibility, for thinking of her, but to ask for 48 hours to think it over.

Then she must call me and negotiate the time.

I ask her questions:

• Is this request aligned with where you want to go with your life and your career?
• Will this commitment allow you to reach your goals faster?
• Why do you want to do this?

If you’re a “YES” person, your first inclination is to overextend yourself, to fill up that plate.

Can you give up this week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy for another task? How will you fit it in around getting the kids to soccer, house cleaning, gardening and yard work?

If you do say “YES,” pay attention to how you feel during the project or task. Use that as information to learn about your time management and how much you can handle. The next time someone asks for your time, you know more and are better prepared to say “let me think about that for 48 hours.”

Learning to say “NO” is about setting limits on your time and honouring your boundaries, the ones you’ve marked to stay true to yourself.

When you honour and stand strong with your boundaries, you maintain your integrity and respect all the truly important aspects of your life.

Confidence takes practice

If you have a really difficult time saying “NO,” you may want to do some introspection and aim for personal growth or get some outside help like a counsellor or a coach. Having someone championing you and supporting your change with no agenda can make all the difference.

Saying “NO” doesn’t mean you’ll never do the task or never help that person out. It just means that task or responsibility isn’t a good fit with your schedule right now. At the very least, if you do say yes, it’s a conscious choice versus an automatic reaction.

When you are really adept at saying “NO” when you need to and managing your time, your “YES” becomes rewarding instead of having an underlying energy of resentment or exhaustion.

It’s about you looking after yourself.

Putting yourself first and taking care of your priorities is not selfish, it’s self-full. And when you are full, you have energy for others.

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