We have all been there. Your child’s teacher needs someone to organize the class holiday party. Your coworkers have asked you to coordinate the employee birthdays for the upcoming year. Maybe your child’s soccer team needs a parent manager. No matter what the request it, we all need to learn how to say no at some point.
Most of us want to please others and feel guilty about saying no. We don’t want to appear lazy or have someone angry with us if we aren’t able to help with something. In addition, women, in general, tend to want to be liked and accepted, especially by other moms.
Eventually though, we all end up feeling like an octopus- pulled in opposite directions by the many legs of our life. Consequently, we have to learn how to say no, in order to find more time in our lives and keep our sanity.
Why do we need to learn how to say no?
This should be an obvious answer, just as with my self care post. However, once again, many of us are killing ourselves trying to do everything for everyone. That leads to burnout, dissatisfaction and eventually health problems.
You can’t take care of yourself if you’re doing every task that is asked of you. You can’t foster your own dreams and goals if you spend all of your free time doing things for other people (including your children).
Yes, you are allowed to have dreams of your own that don’t involve your children. You’re allowed to want to better your education, start your own business or learn a new skill (hang gliding anyone?). I give you permission to spend time on yourself once in a while.
Consider that even long term care providers have respite care for their loved ones who are elderly or have special needs. Respite care is available to give the normal caregiver a break– to rest, recharge, go to the store, take a nap, etc. This substitute care can help relieve some of the stress associated with being a caregiver. Then, the caregiver will have more energy to give to their loved one. Get it?
Now, I’m not trying to compare the responsibilities of caring for a special needs loved one with the duties of everyday life. My point is just that everyone needs a little down time to rest and repair. It’s okay to have some time that isn’t scheduled. So why not give yourself a break and learn how to say no instead of yes to every request?
When to say no
Obviously, we all have different lives and responsibilities. I can’t tell you exactly what to say no to and what to agree to do. However, I do know that we all need to set some general limits about what can realistically be done.
Maybe you only pick one major obligation for work, school and social functions. Maybe that’s too much and you need to narrow it down to one major commitment at a time. Do what works for you and your family. Just know your limits and, most importantly, stick to them.
The next step is to determine what gifts you have. Everyone has areas they excel at. I know that I’m not going to be great at organizing a big event for a large group. I do better with small groups or one-on-one. Therefore, I can lead our small youth group at church, but am not going to volunteer to organize the big church rummage sale. Remember that we all have different gifts, so someone else might be a better fit than you for a particular job.
Here are some general guidelines to know when to say no to requests:
- If your first instinct is to say no- Don’t underestimate your intuition. That little voice in the back of your mind was created to help you survive. Just allow yourself to listen to it and move on.
- If completing the task interferes with your sleep- Do I need to reiterate the importance of sleep? If you haven’t seen it yet, please read my sleep post. Then go to bed already! (Of course, after you finish this article LOL.)
- If the task interferes with your family time or self care- Quality time with your family or self is worth so much more than trying to please someone else.
- If you think you should say yes- Ahh, the dangers of should. What, you didn’t know it was a dangerous word? Should implies obligation, not desire. Should involves focusing on other people’s expectations, not your own. Thinking we should do something can get in the way of our own personal truth. If you say you should do something, ask yourself why. Then you might realize you don’t have a good answer. For more info, check out this article.
- If the request doesn’t fit with your priorities in life- Setting priorities might be the easiest way to determine if you say yes or no to a request. Once your priorities are in place, you simply make choices based on those. If you need help setting priorities, read my post here.
How to say no when you think you should say yes
First of all, remember that normally you are NOT the only person in the world that can complete a task. For school activities, there are 1-2 parents for every child in the class who can help. As an example, my children’s school has 2 book fairs during the school year. The school always asks for a parent to organize the entire book fair and then other parents to volunteer to work at the book fair. I know that I would be overstretched to head the whole event. However, I am able to volunteer for an hour. That way, I’m still helping without completely stressing myself out.
Think about why you want to say yes. Is it out of obligation, guilt, fear of rejection or disappointment? If so, then you need to say no. If you genuinely want to provide help or feel this task can help you to grow, then by all means say yes. Just make sure that you won’t be overextending yourself.
Let go of the guilt! Guilt plagues all of us, but it is such a waste of valuable time and energy. If you don’t have the time or energy to do something, no one has the right to make you feel guilty about it. Maybe you need to rest more due to an illness. Maybe you have an ailing parent who takes up your time. Maybe your job is too demanding right now.
When I practiced full time as a veterinarian, I wasn’t able to help out with school parties or field trips. I was able to bring in needed supplies, but didn’t have the time to do more. And that was okay. I didn’t feel guilty because I was realistic about the time I had to give.
It’s okay to say you will think about it. You don’t have to give an instant answer. Just say that you will respond within a certain timeframe and stick to it. I do this with my children all the time. Instead of an immediate yes or no, I tell them “Let me think about that.” Then, you have some time to consider if this is something you really want to do. Of course, you can always say no later.
Finally, remember that “NO” is a complete sentence. Learning how to say no doesn’t have to be difficult. Children are taught to “Just say no” to drugs and alcohol through D.A.R.E. programs without any regret. We adults can do the same.
You don’t have to give an explanation or excuse unless you want to. If you prefer to be a little less abrupt, you could say that you have other responsibilities at this time. Or thank the person for thinking of you, but you need to take care of other things right now. That way, no hard feelings are felt. If you feel so inclined, you could even tell the person to ask you again in the future.
This happened to me last year. I was asked to be on my church council, but didn’t feel like I had the energy for that at the time. Therefore, I politely declined, but said I might be able to do it later. As a result, I am better prepared to participate this year in church council, as opposed to last year. So just because you say no to something now, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to say yes in the future.
I hope by now you have learned how to say no in a way that makes you comfortable, but also helps to improve your quality of life. Please share your thoughts on this topic in the box below. What do you have the hardest time saying no to? What do you wish you had said no to but didn’t? I love to read your comments and respond to all of them personally.
Joyful thought for the day, “When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you’re not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”-Paul Coelho