You answer a call from a good friend looking forward to a pleasant chat.
Until you realize she wants your help with a charitable event, or maybe she asks you to join her for a night out with friends, which doesn’t interest you at all.
You dread telling your spouse you will be late one more night this week and hate the thought of apologizing to work colleagues who need you to stay overtime to finish a project.
But the word NO is stuck in your throat and won’t come out of your mouth.
You check your calendar hoping against hope some worthy commitment will magically appear so you can turn your friend down without feeling guilty.
Then you say “sure, no problem I’d love to,” even though what you really want to say is “no way,” or (more politely) “not this time, thanks for asking.”
Meanwhile, you scream with frustration inside.
You wonder if there is a way to say NO and still enjoy the love and respect you crave.
The good news is, the answer is yes.
It’s not you, it’s how you were taught to be
Like many of us women you were raised to be a “nice girl,” to avoid rocking the boat, and to always look after others before thinking of yourself. Heaven forbid you would ever offend someone or make them angry.
It’s not just messages from your parents that influence you this way. From day one you have been submerged in a culture that shouts “be nice!” from books, magazines, television, social media, and authority figures like teachers, coaches and religious leaders.
Remember the old adage about what little girls are made of: “Sugar and spice and everything nice”?
Struggling to never offend, to always be “nice,” is like eating a diet of nothing but sugar.
The good feelings you experience when you say YES, and your friend thanks you for your help, is similar to a sugar high. The warm fuzzies lure you in and encourage you to keep being agreeable, even when your inner self shouts NO.
And like a sugar high, there is always a crash. In this case realizing you have cluttered your calendar with one more unwanted obligation and must deal with the consequences.
Yet it’s still tough to turn someone down. The high that comes from being “nice” is addictive and you don’t want to let it go. You also worry that saying NO will keep love and respect away.
It’s no wonder YES is your favorite word.
But there’s a big down side.
The dire consequence of always saying YES
Struggling to be nice, to never say no, ultimately leads to grief.
All the yeses trigger a cascade of mind talk in the form of soul destroying questions like: “Why did I agree to help her when there’s no way I have time?” or “Why didn’t I just tell her I’d like to see her but am so looking forward to downtime at home?” Or, worse yet, “Why am I so stupid?”
This inner dialogue is so unconscious, its tracks so deep, you often don’t notice it. It feels so familiar you obey it as though it is the voice of a wise grandmother.
In reality it’s just ideas you learned from parents and other trusted authority figures starting from when you were very young. Back then the advice was well intended, an attempt to keep you safe from being picked on or criticized.
Today, though, always saying YES is a burden. It may still keep you safe, but it robs you of self confidence along with the love and respect of others.
And that’s not all.
While the wise grandmother voice urges you to be nice and never say no, another one stays busy criticizing you for taking her seriously.
The other voice is the one that says “I can’t believe I did that. Why did I say yes when I was looking forward to sitting in my hot tub?”
The bad news is, not only are there no winners in this conflict, but you are its biggest casualty.
Always saying YES sets you up for disappointment
The more you heed grandma and say YES, the more you beat yourself up. And the more you try to hide the inner battle with a sugary sweet smile, the more frustrated you become.
Meanwhile, your already overbooked calendar (loaded with obligations you can’t believe you agreed to) gets fuller. You find it tough to deliver on your promises because you can’t possibly do it all.
Even your spouse and your best friend rebel when you always put them last along with yourself. You apologize a lot hoping they won’t hold your need to be nice against you.
But you know it’s not fair to ask them to bear the brunt of your weakness. You are as deeply disappointed in you as they are.
You would also love to turn off your phone, sleep in, take a walk, get a massage, or spend time enjoying the books piled up on your bedside table, which you are always too tired to read.
But your out-of-control calendar leaves little time for self care. And, the worse you feel, the less energy you have to say NO the next time someone asks.
Surprisingly, the way to avoid all of this disappointment is to say NO more often. While this may seem counter-intuitive, when you try it you will be amazed at what a difference it makes.
Notice the wonderful changes in your life when you decide to say NO
When you say NO more often you take back control of your calendar.
You block off time for important personal obligations like work, family and close friends. You treat those commitments as sacred, not to be violated by casual requests for help or participation in empty social activities.
Self care becomes a priority and you schedule daily activities that energize you: meditation, working out, reading through your stack of books, watching a movie, taking up new hobbies, or just hanging out.
You no longer avoid incoming calls because you have the confidence to say YES only when it suits you.
If someone wants a favor, but your schedule says you’ll be taking a walk, learning tai chi, sitting in the sauna, or having dinner with your significant other, you decline without feeling even a twinge of guilt.
You tell them NO nicely and without anger or apology because you value commitments to yourself more than the empty feel-good vibes you get from being nice when you don’t mean it.
Sometimes you say NO because you want to, even if your schedule is totally empty.
While some former friends stop calling, your true friends appreciate you more when you stand up for yourself. Your willingness to say NO gives them permission to do the same.
Now when you get together it’s because you both want to be there. And you prove it by turning off your phones.
You even look forward to work.
Relieved of your huge load of guilt, and no longer at war with yourself, you are energetic and ready to participate fully. Long work days followed by an unwanted and stressful charitable event are a thing of the past.
Picture how great it feels to say YES only when you mean it
Imagine how nice it will feel when you no longer have to beg others to be understanding because your failure to say NO causes last minute changes of plans.
Enjoy how you now laugh at yourself when the old mind talk full of what you should do or how you should be reappears briefly before dissolving in your amusement.
Notice how relaxed you are knowing you don’t need to feel guilty about saying NO to those who ask for help or want to include you in activities you don’t enjoy and don’t have time for.
Feel the joy of giving time, energy and attention to others because you genuinely want to help them or enjoy their company, not because you feel like you should.
Imagine how much more relaxed and fun your life will be when you are no longer full of frustration because of a schedule packed tight with commitments you regret taking on.
Breathe a sigh of relief as you let go of the long-held stress that comes from saying YES far too often.
Then feel the joy of experiencing the respect and love coming to you because you now love and respect yourself enough to say YES only when you mean it.
* Photo credit: “Two woman laughing” by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash