Do you sometimes struggle with saying no to requests or invitations? Or feel guilty if you do? Over-commit or take on tasks and then wish you hadn’t? Lots of people do. I know I have.
Most of us have multiple demands on our time. At different life stages, we may be juggling family, work and community responsibilities, with competing requests for our time and attention. Busy schedules can leave little left over for personal pursuits and downtime. That’s where the art of saying no comes in. Saying no takes practice and a certain amount of skill in communication, but it is essential to living a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle.
I’ll be the first to admit that saying no has not always come easily to me. I’ve had to work at it and I’ve learned a few things along the way as I’ve grown (not always gracefully!) One of the most important things I’ve come to understand is that I simply cannot do everything. One has to say no to some things in order to say yes to others. If I am making spending time with my husband on a weekend a priority, I will have to say no to a lunch date with a friend. It’s that simple.
If you regularly find yourself doing things you don’t want to do and/or over-extending yourself, here are some ideas and actions that I’ve found useful to break the cycle.
- Saying no to some things means saying yes to yourself and your true priorities. For me those things include keeping my family, friendships, work responsibilities and healthy pursuits in balance. Your priorities might be different but what’s important is to treat them as such. If you’ve committed to a Friday night date night every week and keep letting other things get in the way, your commitment will soon fall by the wayside.
- A simple “Thank you so much, but I already have plans for that time,” is all that’s necessary. Don’t make excuses or apologize needlessly.
- Be appreciative. If someone has taken the time to invite you to an occasion or feels you can make a valuable contribution to an event, that’s a compliment. Accept it as such sincerely. Something along the lines of “I’m honored to be included but I have other plans that day,” works well if it rings true for you.
- Get over the idea that saying no makes you selfish. I realize that this is easier said than done. Something that I’ve found helpful is to remind myself that if I’m over-committed and stressed, I can’t be at my best for anyone. Prioritizing my own needs for sleep, exercise, and relaxation is essential to well-being and helps me to be fully present for the activities and people that are important to me.
- If you are certain that you need to decline a request or invitation, it’s best to say so directly. Saying “Can I let you know?” or “Let me think about it,” if you don’t mean it, is just avoiding the inevitable and stringing the other person – and yourself – along.
- Never say yes if it means you will compromise your integrity or values. Listen to your gut instinct – it’s there for a reason. That inner voice is your guide to what’s right for you, pay attention.
- You may feel concerned about losing a relationship if you have to say no. The truth is you will never lose a real friend if you have to decline an invitation or request. That’s simply not the way real friends operate. If you do lose a relationship because you aren’t available for a request, well, you already know what I’m going to say.
In the end, you are the only one who can decide what is right for you at any given time. You are the one who knows what you need and how much you can comfortably take on, and have to decide what’s most important to you. Sometimes a weekend day spent puttering without any plans, or sleeping in, is just what I need to take care of myself, and that isn’t selfish. When I take that time, I feel better, I’m less tired and more content, and that only benefits me and those I love.