It’s tough to say no, especially when you don’t want to disappoint someone (hello, people pleasers of the world!). However, at a certain point, you have to start setting some boundaries in your life. Constantly saying yes can leave you feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, and you already have enough of that in your life. If you struggle with being like, “Nah, I really can’t” (or even “I don’t want to”), here are some suggestions for learning how to say no without feeling guilty and letting it eat at you for the next million years.
1. Understand Your Limits.
You’re literally one person with the same 24 hours a day as everyone else (though your 24 hours may be a little more jam-packed and stressful than other people’s). That means you have finite resources with which to work and you can’t be everything to everyone or be everywhere at once. Accept that you’re not a superhero and that you can only realistically do so much. You’ll have to say no to some things by default. That’s just the way it goes.
2. Offer an alternative if you can (and want to).
Say someone invites you out for coffee and you’re super swamped with work, already have other plans, or really just want to go home and throw a frozen pizza in the oven and watch “Love Is Blind.” It’s not that you don’t want to hang with the person, you just can’t do it tonight. In that case, you might find it easier to say no by throwing in an alternative. Something like, “I can’t tonight, but how’s Friday for you?” can soften the blow for both you and them.
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4. Be brief but assertive and honest.
You don’t have to give some long-winded explanation for why the answer is anything other than “yes.” It is what it is — and if the person is a grown adult who’s mature and has a modicum of intelligence, they’ll accept it and not push you for justification. Just be like, “Yeah, no, I can’t” and leave it at that. End of story. Trying to sugar-coat it or tiptoe around the fact that your final answer is anything other than “NOPE” is a waste of time and energy.
5. Practice with the little stuff.
If you struggle with being able to say no to the big stuff, try the small stuff first. Say no to working late one night or to a colleague asking if you want anything from the McDonald’s run at lunch. The more practice you get in, the easier that two-letter word will become for you (and the more you’ll realize it’s really no big deal).
6. Accept that it’s okay to prioritize yourself.
Part of the reason so many people struggle to say no is that they’re always putting other people’s needs first. You don’t want to disappoint them or let them down, so you overextend yourself and get roped into plans you really don’t want to (or don’t have time or energy to) be part of. Getting out of this pattern takes time and effort, but it also takes a strong belief that your own needs matter and that it’s okay to put those first sometimes.
7. If you’re unsure, don’t commit right away.
Maybe it’s not a definite “no” but you’re not really sure if it’s a “yes” yet either. In that case, buy yourself some time by saying something non-committal like, “Hm, I’m not sure if I can — let me check my schedule and I’ll let you know!” This gives you time to figure out how you’re really feeling and if this is something you want to do. Of course, if the request is time sensitive, you’ll need to be quick about it. Otherwise, don’t jump the gun!
8. Get some professional help if this is a serious struggle.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you need a little extra help in figuring out how to say no without feeling guilty about it (or saying it at all). That’s what licensed mental health professionals are there for. They can help you get to the root of the problem mas well as giving you tools and skills to be able to get a grip on the situation. With some hard work and some guidance, you’ll be turning people down in no time (in the best possible way).
9. Suggest someone else who might be able to help.
If someone asks you to do something you don’t have the bandwidth for but you know someone whose schedule might be a bit more open (or they might be a bit more willing), feel free to offer them up. For example, maybe you can’t pick up an extra shift at work but Shirley in marketing mentioned that she was looking for more hours. Suggest your boss ask her — you get the heat off yourself and do someone else a solid. Just don’t put anyone else in the spotlight if you’re not sure it’s okay with them.
10. Remember what “yes” costs you.
This is perhaps the easiest way to get to grips with saying no. Think about the alternative. Sure, you could say “yes” to everything you don’t want to or can’t do, but what would that mean for you? Would it cause you extra stress, anxiety, exhaustion, time with people who matter to you? Sometimes considering the repercussions of the choices we make is the best way to guide ourselves to a different path. Just sayin’.