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The Importance Of Saying "No"

Wall sign painting with the word No in gold letters on red backgroun
Image credit: photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash.

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Sometimes, it seems as if we end the day without having accomplished any of the “important” things – we didn’t read to our children, or finish that birdhouse, or work out, or even just sit for a moment by ourselves with a book. We somehow managed to get a whole lot done, but nothing that we think of as life-affirming.

Putting The Needs Of Others Before Our Own

And maybe we have things that we never seem to get to work on. Perhaps it’s writing a book, or finishing reading one, or sorting out our 401K, or learning a new language.

Whatever we think is truly important seems to get buried amongst other people’s wishes and needs instead of our own.

Do we often let someone we barely know, whether that be a neighbor, someone at our child’s school, or other community member – dictate how we will spend our important quality time by filling it with their requests to meet for lunch, serve on a committee, or look over that important item for them?

Especially if you have some level of expertise in something, people often find a reason to pick your brain or get your advice (without cost, of course).

And the requests often come from mere acquaintances. If they do come from friends or family, it may be even harder to say no , knowing that we will face their displeasure (real or imagined) the next time we see them. 

Hard To Say No?

For many of us, “Sure thing” flows much easier from our lips than a “No, I’m unavailable,” as an answer to these requests, and we find ourselves once again on a new committee or a new project at work.

It is natural to not want to disappoint or anger anyone – or worse, to have them not like us if we tell them that we do not have time. But what does it do to us when we constantly say “yes” to all of the requests that are thrown our way?

It means that other people’s priorities and needs take preference over our own needs or those of our family’s, and that can lead to stress and anxiety. When we are not doing things that are important for our own needs, when we are not, so to speak “filling our own cup first” , then we are very likely feeling stressed out, emotionally overwrought, and perhaps even inattentive to details. And, worse, this added stress is not good for our bodies.

When stressed, we develop colds faster, amongst other things. As most of us already know, stress makes our cortisol levels rise, which means that our body cannot consistently fight new infections. Because it’s not actually the cold virus that causes the cold, it’s our body’s response to it, says Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and lead author of a recent study on the subject. [Source: ABC News]

So we know that saying “no” is important. But how do we go about doing it?

First, Let’s Focus On Why It Is Crucially Important To Say No 

Take a piece of paper. Draw a large square (doesn’t have to be perfect – no one will see this but you) and then divide into four quadrants. Label them like the below.


If you fill in the squares with your own list of tasks for the day, you’ll quickly see that we spend a lot of time in the non-important boxes.

Let’s leave the Internet alone for a moment and focus on “other people’s issues” – we can fix this one easily! [Source: Franklin Planner, taken from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People]

Now, what have you written in the not urgent but important category? Do you get to spend any time in that quadrant every day? We can learn how to, and that is our basis for our next step.

Learning How To Say "No" Effectively, With Kindness

Done with compassion, self-confidence, and being guilt-free, saying "No" more often has a special power all of its own. For example, consider the following:

  • No need to apologize or give elaborate reasons. A simple “no, I can’t make it” or “no, thank-you, I’m unable to volunteer / run the committee / meet with you” is sufficient.
  • It is not your job to find a replacement for yourself (unless, of course, that is your job!).
  • It is not your responsibility to worry about the other person’s feelings or needs; it is up to each individual to come to terms with their own emotions. You only need to concern yourself with you, and not allow guilt to overwhelm you. Remember your important needs!

Learning how to say no is not easy, but every time we do it, it strengthens our resolve to ask for what we need in life. It’s a little bit like the oxygen mask – we can only help someone else with theirs once we have put on our own!

A professional therapist can also help us to set boundaries. And, if you struggled with finding what is important to you, they can help you to determine your dreams and passions. At Nassau Guidance, we coach and guide each individual, and look forward to helping you discover your best life!

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