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Yes. It's Possible to Say No

Although it is only two letters, saying no can is difficult. It can be complicated. And, it’s not just awkward to say no to someone, it just feels wrong. As such, you blurt out yes whenever someone asks you for a time request -- even if you would prefer to decline the request.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

“The human brain likes the feeling of closure: People often strive for the feeling that everything is right and finished,” says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. “Often people work late, only to stay even later when a new email comes. They want to tend to it so their inbox is clear the next day.”

Other reasons we say yes, according to Dr. Bea is because;

  • We want to avoid confrontation

  • FOMO

  • To please others

  • We feel compelled to say yes

And, most of us just aren’t used to saying no.

“Saying no is not a well-developed skill. We generally have long histories of complying with authority figures — parents, teachers, religious leaders — so we don’t come to adulthood with much experience,” explains Dr. Bea. “Growing up, we were rewarded for compliance and experienced negative consequences when we didn’t perform a task.”

The consequences of saying yes.

“There’s a lack of balance in our lives when we do too much,” notes Dr. Bea. “Overdoing anything — whether working, eating or exercising — can have painful consequences.”

Those consequences could include:

  • You have less time to devote to your favorite activities.

  • Feelings of resentment or anger.

  • Stress that manifests into physical symptoms, such as muscle pain and stomach discomfort.

It isn't always obvious when saying yes will lead to painful consequences. “Think about it as carrying a set of logs in your arms,” says Dr. Bea. “There’s going to be one log too many at some point, and they will start falling to the ground. Try to notice if tasks are falling off your radar or you’re missing deadlines. That’s a clear sign you’re overdoing it and need to take a step back.”

Overall, setting boundaries and saying no is one of the best things that we can do for our self-care.

When to say no and how.

We say yes sometimes when we are unsure of what we want. Sometimes we just need to summon the courage to speak up.

Regardless, you can ask yourself the following questions to determine whether or not to say no;

  • Will saying yes distract me from my priorities?

  • What values, beliefs, and goals do I align with this potential project, opportunity, or activity?

  • What are my core values, goals, and current desires?

  • Is saying yes going to make me even more tired or burnt out?

  • What effects would it have on my mental health if I said yes? Is it going to worsen my symptoms?

  • When have I said yes in the past and regretted it later?

  • How do I know when to accept a request I'd rather decline? Is there a way to reduce these challenges?

“It can also be helpful to work with a therapist to explore the above questions. “A therapist can help you identify both what you need and what blocks you from advocating for what you need,” says Dr. Emily Anhalt, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Coa.

But, how can you actually say no? Keep the following tips in mind;

  • Just say. No is a powerful word, so use it without fear. Just avoid vague phrases like "I'm not sure" or "I don't think I can." These may be interpreted as a hint that you might say yes later on.

  • Be brief. You don't need to elaborate on your reasoning for declining the request. Be short, decisive, and to the point.

  • Be honest. If you can't fulfill an obligation, don't invent reasons for not doing it. Turning down a friend, family member, or coworker with the truth is always the best option.

  • Be respectful. It can be hard to refuse many good causes that come to your doorstep. It shows respect for what the group is trying to accomplish when you compliment their efforts while saying you can't commit. You might say something like, "Thank you for the opportunity, but I have a full plate right now."

  • Be ready to repeat. It may take several refusals for the other person to accept your response. If that happens, repeat your no as calmly as possible.

  • Offer alternatives. If you don’t want to close the door completely, offer alternatives. For example, if you can’t attend a friend’s birthday party, offer to take them out to dinner when you have the time in your schedule.

For the sake of your mental well-being, say no when you’re limited on time or need to protect your feelings and needs.

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