Learning to Say ‘No’ Changed My Whole Life

Learning to Say ‘No’ Changed My Whole Life

I used to consider myself a people pleaser.

Whether I’d be stuck babysitting a friend’s pet for the weekend or covering a coworker’s shift on my intended day off, I would constantly catch myself doing favors or meaningless tasks to make other people happy. While it’s great to lend a friend or an acquaintance a helping hand, it becomes problematic when others take advantage of your willingness to agree to almost any task.

My breaking point was during finals week of my freshman year of college. I was overwhelmed with exams, essays, and group projects. A close friend asked me to write him a five-page research paper for his class. I honestly considered it, but my head was already spinning from just the thought of all the other things I had to complete for finals. So, I told him no. His reaction threw me off guard. “What are you talking about? You always help me with assignments all time,” he said. “Why can’t you help me this time?” I began to think back on all the times he had asked me for favors, and I couldn’t find a one-time memory where I had turned him down. Because I had never told him no before, it made me an easy target to push around.

I did not full heartily enjoy doing favors for others, but I used to feel guilty for saying no to friend’s requests—which is why I avoided it. I believe the guilt stemmed from the fear of disappointing others for not meeting their expectations. I was taught from a young age I should always go above and beyond when meeting expectations. When I did, there was a positive reinforcement that people were happy with me. However, I’ve come to learn that I couldn’t keep up with it all and sometimes it was OK to put myself before others.

Tips to Say No

If you also consider yourself a people pleaser or struggle saying no to others, here are a few tips and techniques I’ve learned to use before agreeing to another commitment.

Ask Yourself ‘Do I Really Want To?’

Replace your automatic yes with an “I’ll think about it.” This way, you have time to think the situation over and you can feel confident in committing or turning the favor down. Ask yourself questions like: Are you doing this because you really want to help this person? Or are you doing it because you fear to disappoint this person? What is really the worst thing that could happen if you turn this person away? Do they have other options if you decide to say no?

Remember and Vocalize Your Other Commitments

Everyone gets stressed out when they have too many commitments on their plate. Before saying yes to another commitment, think about what you have already agreed to. Do the two commitments conflict with each other? If they do, you’re able to use your other commitment as a way to gently tell the other person no. For example, you could say, “I’m sorry I cannot [insert favor], I’ve already agreed to [insert favor], and I cannot let him/her down.

Change Your Tone

People respond better to rejection if they are given the message lightly. For example, use phrases like: “That sounds like a great idea but I’d prefer not” “I’d rather not” or “I do not feel comfortable with that.” If the situation is right, you may be able to end the response on a compliment or a “maybe next time” if you mean it. The person will not take the rejection so harshly if you change your tone. Also, although the rejection may be in a sweeter tone, it’s still rejection; Make it clear that you are saying no.

Saying no is never easy, especially if you don’t want to disappoint others. It’s important to remember, for your own health, you cannot always say yes to everything.


Cover image courtesy of Flickr.