How to say yes to saying no

A self-help author gives naysaying the nod
Woman relaxing drinking wineGetty Images

We’ve all had that feeling of anxiety when we say yes to something – whether it be dinner with girlfriends or a favour for a friend or family member – that we really wish we’d said no to.

We put our own feelings and needs aside in order to be there for somebody else, which may be selfless and kind, but it’s time to start saying no (within reason, of course!).

Author, social worker and “say no” advocate Jessica Sanders explains why we need to start rejecting invitations from others and start accepting them from ourselves.

Jessica believes women have been socialised to please others and put everyone else’s needs before their own – whether that be as a mother, partner, sibling or friend.

She explains, “I believe we as women need to be much more comfortable with saying ‘no’ and prioritising our own needs.

“Too often, women burn out by over-committing in an endless pursuit to please everyone and try to ‘do it all’.

Saying ‘no’ to non-essential commitments allows us to prioritise what is most important to us, such as time spent with family.”

What if people get offended when you say “no”?

It may be that a certain person or group in your life gets offended by you saying no.

It’s important to remember you’re just doing what’s best for you – and you can help them understand that.

“Saying ‘no’ is essentially setting a boundary,” says Jessica.

“When we set boundaries with others, it’s usually met with resistance. Reassure this person about what they mean to you.

“It’s also very important to be transparent about why you are saying ‘no’ and be consistent in your approach. Over time, the other person will reset their expectations of your relationship.”

If you’re too busy to see the girls for lunch, don’t let it eat you up!

(Credit: Getty Images)

Of course it can be difficult to go from saying yes to everything, to saying no.

You may feel guilty – but there’s no need to when it’s for the right reasons.

“In our culture, we seem to idealise selflessness in women and I take issue with that,” says Jessica.

“Being selfless requires sacrificing our sense of self and defining ourselves by what we do for others as opposed to who we intrinsically are. It’s really important to make time for the things that make you, you.”

In order to change your mindset and ditch the guilt hangover, Jessica suggests asking yourself this question:

Do I want my children or close friends to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing?

I’m sure you do. So why wouldn’t you want the same for yourself?

Can you say “no” too much?

Is there a point where you can say “no” too much?

“Obviously, we need to say ‘yes’ to lots of things we would rather say ‘no’ to,” says Jessica.

“It’s about reminding yourself of what you need and value, and prioritising those things above the stuff that is less important.

“My favourite quote by [author] Paulo Coelho sums it up really well: ‘When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.'”

For more advice, read Me Time: The Self-care Guide to Being Your OwnBest Friend by Jessica Sanders

You might be wondering what Jessica means when she talks about “non-essential commitments”.

She explains they’re different for everyone.

“In order to establish what those things might be, write two lists: one with the heading ‘Needs’ and the other with the heading ‘Values’,” says Jessica.

“Under these headings, write a maximum of three things. If an activity or task comes up that doesn’t slot into any of those items on your lists, then it’s a non-essential and you can say ‘no’.”

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