How I Learned to Become a "No" Person
I’d like to begin this article with a caveat. I’m most definitely not a “no” person. I’m actually very much a “yes” person, but after years of overscheduling my days and constantly being disappointed by not completing my unrealistic to-do lists, I decided to dedicate some time to overcoming my compulsive need to say “yes.” While I’m still a work in progress, I’ve learned some very helpful tactics for how to say “no” when the ask calls for it. If you’re like me—overly committed and wishing that there were more than 24 hours in the day—scroll through for some proven ways to say "no" without feeling utterly guilty.
“I would, but…” is not a “no,” and the person that asked for that favor or extended that invitation won’t take it as a “no” either. If you decline a dinner invitation with “I would, but it’s so far and I’m really tired,” you might be met with “No worries! I’ll meet you halfway.” Then how do you get out of that? If you’re asked to work on a project with someone but you really don’t have the time (or simply don’t want to) the “I would, but I’m really busy this week” excuse will only provide temporary protection. “Well, what about next week” will likely be the requester’s follow-up, and then it just gets too awkward to say “no.” Try “I really appreciate you thinking of me, but I’ve just got too much on my plate right now.” In response to that dinner invite try “Sorry—not tonight.” I had to realize the difference between “no” as a rude reply and “no” as what’s best for me. Sometimes you just can’t fit it all in, and that’s okay.
On the rare occasion when I did muster up the courage to say “no,” I was met with an overwhelming sense of guilt. More often than not, I would experience a much greater loss for saying “no” than the person who asked me the favor. I had to learn that it’s often the person who does the asking that quickly gets over the “no” reply, not the person responding. It’s important to realize that just like it never hurts to ask, it (often) doesn’t hurt to say “no.”
Speaking of guilt, I used to totally buy in to some of the persuasion techniques cunning people use when they want something from you. Sometimes it’s not just the “Can I borrow your car?” request. Rather, it’s a variation of “Want me to pick up your dry cleaning? My car is in the shop so I really need to borrow yours, but I can run some errands for you on the way!” When a request is nested around an opportunity for reciprocity or anchored by something else that others have done, I often felt like I couldn’t be the one to say “no.” Wouldn’t that be mean? Or selfish? Then I understood that “no” is simply a form of self-preservation. Someone once told me, “You have to start being a little selfish, otherwise you’ll be like The Giving Tree and keep giving until you have nothing left.” That really stuck with me. Make sure you’re saying “yes” or “no” for the right reasons, not because a persuasive person has gotten to you.
As we mentioned above, being selfish sometimes can be a good thing. Author and self-made millionaire Steve Siebold states that the main difference between the rich and the not-so-rich is how they view selfishness. “Average people,” Siebold writes on Business Insider, “think of selfishness as a vice, whereas wealthy people think of selfishness as a virtue.” I’ve learned that doing things that increase my own happiness ultimately impacts the happiness of those around me in a positive way. So helping yourself can be seen as a way of helping others.
I used to be known for my 3+ page to-do lists. And that’s not because my life is busier than everyone else’s; it’s because I didn’t understand the power and necessity of prioritizing my tasks. I’d throw everything I could possibly think of that needed doing in my notebook and then I’d hope that by some miracle, I’d have time to accomplish everything. That miracle never happened. Now I never go to sleep without thinking about the three most important things I have to accomplish the following day. This tactic enables me to say “no” to things that prevent me from accomplishing those three things and less disappointed when I don’t finish all of the less-than-crucial tasks on my mind.
“Yes” was my go-to for everything, especially if I was distracted. I’d say "yes" to a commitment without realizing how packed my schedule already was, and would end up having to cancel last minute (or close to it). This caused me to disappoint others and myself. My new default answer is: “That sounds great, let me check my calendar and get back to you.” That way I can actually go check what I’ve already planned and weigh whether or not I actually want to commit to the ask at hand.
Most of my friends are ready and willing to help me with just about anything in life. But I’ve always had a hard time relinquishing control of projects and delegating to others. This past year, I’ve tried to make asking for help a regular part of my approach to solving problems and getting things done. If a friend asks you to do something for her, respond with “Yes, but can you help me?” Asking for help also gets things done faster, allowing you to say “yes” to more things.
This is true. It’s not going to change. And at least seven of those hours should be reserved for sleep. Don’t try to schedule every minute of the day from the second your alarm clock goes off until the moment your head hits the pillow. That’s not realistic. Life throws curveballs, transitions take time, and it’s impossible to be productive every single waking moment. I’ve learned the hard way, overscheduling every minute of my life until I completely burn out and end up sick and useless. Respect your time, your body, and your mind by remembering that there are only so many hours in a day, and you have to say “no” to things that don’t fit in those hours. I learned that it’s better to live at a sustainable pace than it is to go full speed on the gas and burn out.
Need a little help prioritizing? Shop one of our favorite 2016 planners below.
Moleskin 2016 Le Petit Prince Limited Edition Daily Planner ($20)