It’s important to say no so we can create more time to engage in what matters most. Even though we may feel bad or worried about saying no, it’s still important, because we need more time than we think.
Not only do we need time to do the usual things, but we need time to notice things and to process thoughts and emotions. We need time to move through the world, present and undistracted. We need time to just be. We need time to remember who we are. We can better serve the world when we have time to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting mindlessly.
We need time to take care of our bodies, and time to listen to our hearts. We deserve time to engage in the things that are on our heart lists, not only the things on our to-do lists. Things like …
- take a long walk
- doodle in a notebook
- call someone who makes you laugh
- lay around and put your feet up
- disconnect from the internet for 3 days
It takes time to take care of our bodies, brains, hearts and souls, and if we don’t take that time, we can’t take care of anyone else, at least not for very long. Continuing to serve everyone but ourselves will leave us completely depleted and there will be consequences.
When all of your free time and space is dedicated to keeping up, catching up, regrouping and making ends meet, it’s not free time. If you want free time – real free time, or if you crave 8 whole hours of sleep, a proper lunch break, or at least 24 hours away from your email, you are going to have to say no. A lot.
Saying no is no easy feat, especially for kind generous souls, for people pleasers, and for people who are used to saying yes to everything.
- Yes, I’ll chair the silent auction.
- Yes, I’ll meet you for coffee
- Yes, I’ll make a wonderful family dinner.
- Yes, you can pick my brain.
- Yes, I’ll drive you to the airport.
- Yes, I’ll take that call.
- Yes, I’ll make that thing for that party.
- Yes, I’ll respond to every notification on my phone.
The list goes on, and on and on.
We’ve all said yes, when we wanted to say no. Whether we say it out of guilt, for fear of missing out, or out of habit, it’s important to note that saying yes, when your heart says no is a disservice not only to you, but to everyone you say yes to. If your heart says no, it will fight the yes all the way through. You won’t be excited to contribute. You won’t give your best, and you may end up resenting the commitment or the person who asked you to commit.
(I know there are exceptions to the never say yes when your heart says no rule. My heart doesn’t want to go to the dentist every 6 months, but I do go.)
If you struggle to protect your time, use one or more of these 10 simple ways to help you say no.
1. Figure out what matters to you by asking questions.
It helps to ask the questions out loud. Put your hands on your heart when you ask:
- “Does this really matter to me?”
- “Is this love?”
- “Is this contributing to the life I want, to my health, or to the way I want to treat people?”
- “Am I holding on for the right reasons?”
Ask it about your stuff, about how you feel, about your work, about a grudge, about invitations, requests, everything. Put your hands on your heart and ask. Your heart knows things and she will help you make room for what matters most.
2. Know you can be grateful and graceful while saying no.
Jonathan Fields suggests practicing the loving no in How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom. Fields says to ask yourself, “How can I be kind and respectful yet also stand strong in what I need? What would that sound like?” He suggests picturing yourself spending all the time you’ve now freed up doing the thing that really matters to you before responding with your no.
Be grateful for the invitation, respectful of the time and courage it may have taken someone to ask, and graceful and loving when you decline.
3. Keep it short.
Author Anne Lamott says, “No is a complete sentence.” Expand when you need to, but still keep it short. In just a few sentences, you can say no with gratitude. “No thank you. I appreciate you thinking of me, but I have another commitment” is better than a long explanation about how busy and sorry you are.
4. Turn FOMO to JOMO. (Fear of Missing out to Joy of Missing out)
Instead of feeling like you are missing out on something else, honor the commitments you make to yourself. When you decline an invitation, find joy in how you decide to spend your time instead of wondering what you missed out on.
Feel joy that you have a choice, and joy because you are protecting what matters most.
5. Say Hell Yeah.
Derek Sivers’ approach to feeling like you are doing too much is this: “Those of you who often over-commit or feel too scattered may appreciate a new philosophy I’m trying: If I’m not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, then say no.
Meaning: When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than, “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” – then my answer is no. When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!” We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.”
6. Be clear.
Saying things like, “let me think about it” is often a delay tactic. When you know it’s a no, say no. If you want to say yes, but the timing is bad, suggest another time and be specific.
7. Read Essentialism.
Greg McKeown, Author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less reminds us, “Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” He says, “Essentialism is not about how to get more done, it’s about how to get the right things done.”
This book will help you evaluate or re-evaluate the priorities in your life.
8. Do your work first.
If the first thing you do in the morning is check email, you may never have a chance to decide what’s most important to you. Put your oxygen mask on first.
9. Try a yes fast.
If it’s impossible for you to say no, or to know when to say no or when to say yes, try a yes fast. Make a commitment to say no to every request for 30 days. Practice the loving no over and over again. Share your challenge with others, not as a built-in excuse, but to inspire them to respect their time and what matters to them too.
10. Dump the Guilt.
Of course you will help someone in their time of need, so dump the guilt around not baking cookies, attending an event, or picking someone up from the airport at midnight. Believe in yourself, and what you know is best for your life and say no to guilt.
It is in the small, still moments where you build your strength, and resilience so you can contribute to the world in more meaningful ways. When you sit quietly and put your hands on your heart, you’ll know what matters most.