I’ve never struggled with words: curse words, kind words, peculiar words, etc.
But for many years, the word “no” had the power to fill me with an odd mixture of guilt and fear. It set off a physiologic reaction I became used to. Quickened pulse. Twisted stomach. Shallow breaths.
In a Huffington Post piece, “Your Dreams for the New Year Won’t Happen Until You Learn This”, Heather Gray stated, “Saying no isn’t about disappointing others. It’s about taking care of you”.
She’s right. It took me years to realize that a lot of the stress I experienced came from not saying no enough. I made it a personal project of 2015 to practice the art of saying it more often. A sort of psychological cleaning, so to speak.
Here are four tips I learned to make saying no easier:
- Say it directly
Don’t leave room for ambiguity. Sometimes people feel the need to cushion answers with explanations, descriptions, or a mixture of both. It can help to visualize yourself saying it before you have to do so. If it’s still difficult to be direct, try employing a power pose a la Amy Cuddy moments prior to saying the magic word.
- Compromise, but only to a point
Okay, so being direct didn’t work. Some people are masters of the guilt trip. In the Psychology Today article, “7 Ways to Get Out of Guilt Trips”, Dr. Guy Winch notes, “What allows guilt trips to succeed despite the resentment they cause is the nature of the relationships that usually exists between the two parties”. Depending on who you’re saying no to, whether that’s a family member or your boss, there may be a period of resistance, which brings me to my next point...
3. Practice often
It becomes easier. I repeat: It becomes easier. At first, you may have to tolerate some unpleasant feelings. But over time, your ability to tolerate those feelings will improve.
- Remind yourself that this is not selfish and will make all of your relationships better.
Learning how to say no in the present means preventing resentment in the future. It allows relationships to flourish with honesty instead of fear or guilt. Over time, it will make you a better friend/parent/co-worker/spouse/etc.