How to Find Your ‘No’ So You Can Start Saying ‘Yes!’ to What Actually Matters
“Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.” –John C. Maxwell
Have you ever struggled with saying no to someone or something? Are there particular people in your life where “yes” comes flying out of your mouth before you even stop to think about what you actually want? And have you ever felt resentful after saying yes to something that ended up compromising what was truly important to you?
Most of us have been there too because generally speaking saying yes is easy. Saying no, well, that takes a little more courage!
But why is it so hard to say no when we’re talking about sacrificing things that actually matter to us? It can be things like:
- Fear of being rejected or thought poorly of by others
- Worrying that the other person won’t like you anymore or badmouth you
- A belief that we are being selfish if we say no
- Fear of conflict with others
- Wanting to be “nice” and seen as someone who contributes selflessly to others (even if we resent saying yes and contributing!)
- Attaching your self-worth to how many things you do for others
- Because you allow other people’s priorities to become your own priorities (for reasons above)
- Others start to get used to you saying yes all the time, making finding your no even more challenging.
Plus we have mostly been trained from a very young age that saying no is wrong or not okay. How many times did your parents get angry at you if you said no to doing something? Did you get sent to your room or grounded? Many of us have been stripped of our permission to say no from very early on.
So it’s no wonder that many of us have lost the art of saying no. But it’s not all bad news, because saying no is just like a muscle that hasn’t been used in a while. You can still train it back into shape!
And even if you are actually quite practiced at saying no, on the flipside are you actually saying yes to the things you really want? Are you going after what matters to you? Or are you simply saying no to everything out of a different kind of fear or resistance? Only you can know…
Tips for Saying No & Making Room for What Matters
“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” –Tony Blair
Not saying no has a far greater impact than one might think, and one that compounds with time—because when we can’t say no we stop focusing on what matters to us and we stop prioritizing what we want for our lives. Additionally, saying yes all the time to please others is actually incredibly fake, builds resentment, and is a complete disservice to those you are saying yes to, when really you want to say no.
So, for now we want to share some tips with you that will help get your “no”-muscle back into shape so that you can speak your truth, go after what matters to you, be responsible for living a life you love, reclaim your lost power, and actively choosing how you spend your days going forward.
1. Give yourself permission to say no
A while back we covered off on how to start giving yourself permission to live a life you want. And similarly here you will need to start to unravel years of social conditioning by allowing yourself the permission to actually dust off your “no” and start using it when appropriate.
How to do it:
- Start the process by saying out loud: “I give myself permission to say ‘no’ when it’s right for me.”
- You may very well need to repeat this phrase multiple times until you actually start to believe it.
2. Allow yourself space between stimulus and response
The quality of your response to a request is directly correlated to the amount of space you allow yourself to consider the request. In other words, if you are feeling like you are in a real pressure cooker to answer yes or no, then it’s highly likely you will give a response that is not high quality (aka, not true for you). So instead you need to carve out some space to reply and make sure you can: a) remind yourself of the permission you have from step 1; and b) be powerful to respond in the best way possible for you.
How to do it:
- When someone makes a request of you, you can use the following phrases to create the space you need:
- Thanks so much for asking. I’m going to sleep on it so that I can give your request the thought it deserves.
- That sounds interesting. I just need to check in with xyz person (my husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend, business partner, parents, financial advisor, accountant, etc.)
- You know, I’m just not in a position right now to know whether or not that’s going to work for me. When do you need an answer from me?
3. Two sides of the same coin: A yes is a no & a no is a yes
Yes and No are two sides of the same coin. It is important to remember that whenever you say yes, it means that you are saying no to something else. And whatever you say no to, you are saying yes to something else.
At first it might not be that obvious, but when we both realized that in saying yes to working with clients at all hours of the day/night early on in our business building we were actually saying no to our husbands and kids. That’s when sh*t got real! Once you’ve created that time between stimulus and response, now you can actually get present to what the two sides of the coin actually are.
- Saying yes to helping a friend moving house = saying no to unwinding and meditating
- Saying yes to working late = saying no to family time
- Saying no to something outside of your comfort zone = saying yes to staying small or stuck
- Saying yes to an expensive holiday = saying no to saving for your kid’s college
- Saying yes to meeting with someone for an hour = saying no to your planned exercise routine
How to do it:
- Bring awareness to the fact that there is always a flip side
- Start to get clear on what each side of that coin looks like. Write out what you are saying no to but saying yes—and vice versa.
- Decide if you are ok with the flip side—this will powerfully inform your decision-making (which we covered last week) by allowing you to recognize which of your decisions aligns better with your values.
4. Deliver your no powerfully
So now that you’ve given yourself permission, allowed yourself that all important space between stimulus and response, and realized that yes and no are two sides of the same coin, it’s now time to powerfully deliver your no. You have done the groundwork and now it’s time to get into action—which can initially be very daunting.
Many people are probably quite used to you saying yes, so be prepared for a reaction that is not quite so favorable if and when you say no! But it’s important to stand your ground and allow the other person to have their thoughts and feelings.
How to do it:
- Keep in mind why you are saying no and what you will be saying yes to as a result
- Let the person know at your earliest convenience
- Keep it short and communicate with powerful language like:
- Thank you so much for inviting me to X, I’ve given it careful consideration and on this occasion I will pass.
- I so appreciate you thinking of me for X, after some thought I realized that I’m simply not in a position right now to commit.
- I realize how important X is to you so it was important to me that I gave this proper time and thought. It’s a no from me, but I wanted to wish you luck with finding the right opportunity/person/partner.
And whatever you do, be sure not to:
- Apologize for saying no!
- Launch into all sorts of reasons to justify your no (it will dilute your message and possibly open the door for them to push the matter and convince you).
- Be untruthful and lie.
- Say “Okay, let me think about it,” if it’s clear in your mind that you don’t want to do it. This will just draw out the whole situation probably making you feel even more stressed and waste the other person’s time. The sooner they get your no the sooner they can move on and find a yes.
And one final rule to remember—as Derek Sivers put so well:
5. “If it’s not a hell yes! It’s a no.”
Because life’s too short to sacrifice yourself and your dreams for things that simply aren’t a priority for you. So the more you can practice saying “no thanks” to the things that otherwise would not be on your radar, the more you can find the “Hell Yeses” for the things that, when focused on, will bring you more passion, fulfillment, aliveness and joy!
Ready to start taking back control of what you want and get out of your own way? Then let us know in the comments below one thing you otherwise would have said yes to, but will now say no!
–Leah & Naz