Saying “no” is really hard for some people, especially those of us who are bent toward connections. We fear that when we say “no,” we might disappoint someone. Or we might miss out on a cool opportunity. Or we might burn a bridge.
But the ability to say “no” is an invaluable asset. It contributes to better boundaries, better time management, and better mental health.
A question I like to ask my clients is, “By saying ‘yes’ to that, what are you saying ‘no’ to?” When we consider that we have limited resources of time and energy, we realize that we need to be selective about what we say “yes” to. There are only so many hours in the day, and if we aren’t intentional about our commitments, we can find ourselves spending our limited resources in places that don’t really matter to us, without anything left for the things that do matter.
With that, here are five tips for getting better at saying “no.”
1. Identify Your Priorities and Filter Requests Through Them
Two things happened in 2021 that helped me reprioritize my life in 2022. First, my dad was diagnosed with a “rare and aggressive” cancer called angiosarcoma. And second, my eldest daughter graduated from high school.
Both of these events served as wake-up call. In them, I realized that I won’t have my dad or my kids here forever. This season of life, with my mom and dad living down the road and my kids living in my house, are just that—a season. And as I did my year-end assessment and prepared for 2022, I recognized that I needed to make some changes in order to make the most of my time with my parents and my children while I can.
These priorities—time with my parents and my kids—have shaped many of the decisions I’ve made, and they have freed me to say “no” to things that would displace them from my schedule. Identifying your priorities can do the same for you.
2. Design Your Schedule Around Your Priorities
When you clearly identify and define your priorities, you can filter decisions through them, bringing clarity to when it’s appropriate to say “no.”
Time with my parents when my kids are there is very different from time with them alone, so I created a work schedule that allows me to spend time with them every Friday while the kids are in school. I go to the gym and, on my way home, stop in at their house. Mom makes coffee and often has something freshly baked, and we sit in the kitchen and talk for an hour or so. It has become a highlight of my week. Saying “no” to certain work opportunities, which would involve less flexibility and require me to work on Fridays, has allowed me to say “yes” to spending quality time with my parents each week.
Likewise, wanting to be with my kids more has helped me say “no” to things that take me away from them on a regular basis. They are in school Monday-Friday for seven hours, so I really only have between five-six waking hours with them each day. During those hours, we have extracurriculars, homework, piano practice, household contributions, play dates, and things like meals and showers. When you really think about it, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for meaningful conversations or going out for “special time.”
By blocking out my working hours, evenings with my kids, and Friday mornings with my parents, I am invariably saying “no” to “calendar creep” — less important opportunities that would take me from what matters most to me in this season of life.
3. Resist Trying to Squeeze Things In
“I already have plans” is a perfectly acceptable reason to say no to something. Never mind the fact that your plans are to go to bed early, clean out a closet, or take a walk. Some people think if they don’t have a “legitimate” conflict, they need to try to squeeze things in, saying things like, “I can make that work.”
I encourage people to remove “I can make that work” from their vocabulary. Instead of squeezing things in, pursue a schedule that contains white space, and protect that white space as if your life depended on it! We can all use a bit more breathing room, and white space allows for that.
4. Give Someone Else the Ball
I’ve always been someone who had a high capacity for leadership and service, which naturally meant that I had positions of leadership in just about everything I was involved with, and I volunteered every time a need arose. But just because you can lead something doesn’t mean you should. Once I became more selective about the commitments I made, I made room for others to lead and serve. And it felt great.
Some people have no problem saying no, and God bless ’em! But for the rest of us, it’s a skill that takes honing. While we may indeed disappoint someone, or we may in fact miss out on a cool opportunity every now and then, I’ve learned that as we get better at saying no, we experience more fruitfulness in the areas where we have said an intentional “yes,” leading to a life marked by flourishing rather than frustration.
Christy Tennant Krispin is a Whole Life Coach helping clients live more intentionally in alignment with their goals and values across all spheres of life. Schedule a free consultation with Christy here.
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