I love the word “no.” I’m a big advocate of using it without apology. Because here’s the thing, saying “no” is not a weakness. If anything, it’s the complete opposite. It’s an act of self-care. With so many things demanding our attention and time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and borderline burnout. So how do we fix it? We say “no.”
Look, I get it. I’m someone who wants to seem invincible and capable of handling everything, just ask my therapist. For me, saying “no” feels like a failure, like I’m incompetent or unequipped to handle day-to-day life. But doing everything and anything that’s thrown at you isn’t self-care, and it isn’t helping you feel your best. In fact, it’s probably impacting your work in other areas, because you’re taking away time and resources from the stuff that was already on your plate. But don’t worry, I’ve gotten really good at saying “no” unapologetically, so you can, too.
Repeat after me: “no” is a complete sentence. Telling someone “no” when they ask something of you isn’t disrespectful, it isn’t rude and it isn’t selfish. It’s a sign of knowing your capacity and protecting your boundaries. The ability to say “no” is actually closely linked to self-confidence. People with low self-confidence and self-esteem often feel nervous about antagonizing others and tend to rate others’ needs more highly than their own, especially if you’re a natural people-pleaser.
“When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.” – Paulo Coelho
Though “no” is used as a negative response to something, the intent of “no” might be anything but negative. A lot of times inflection, tone, emphasis and volume in the word can offer a deeper interpretation. “No,” all by itself, can convey a stunning amount of weight. It’s not selfish to say “no” so that you are caring for yourself. You only have a limited amount of resources, no matter how strong you are, and depleting them will force you to say “no” after you become exhausted or get sick from not performing self-care, aka burning the F out.
In order to know what you can say “yes” and what you can say “no” to, you need to familiarize yourself with your own boundaries, limits and relational expectations. Awareness of our boundaries allows for what helps us in social interactions and restricts what can burn us out. Each person needs a different amount of personal time to recover their energy (hi, fellow introverts!). It’s one of my favorite things about saying “no,” because it gives you space to say “yes” to new opportunities and experiences.
Now, I’m not saying you should say “no” to every single request that comes your way, but I do think you should assess each ask. A thoughtful “no,” delivered at the right time, can be a huge boon, saving time and trouble for everybody down the road. A bad “no,” hastily decided, causes problems for everybody, especially you. Bad “nos” happen when you haven’t properly assessed the task; when you let decisions be driven by personal biases. Every good “no” makes room for a better “yes”—one that adds value, builds relationships and enhances your overall wellbeing.
Learning to say “no” is really hard; many of us feel obligated to say “yes” when someone asks for our time or energy. However, if you’re already stressed or overworked, saying “yes” to loved ones or coworkers can lead to burnout, anxiety and irritability. It may take a little practice, but once you learn how to politely say “no,” you’ll start to feel more confident in yourself, and you’ll have more time for your self-care.
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