Learning How To Say No Without The Guilt Trip

how to say no


Learning how to say no is an essential skill that allows you to take care of yourself and respect your own time. I used to feel like I had to say yes to everything that was asked of me in order to be a kind or good person. But as I’ve navigated my journey through minimalism, self-care, and personal contentment, I’ve learned that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Hi, I’m Ryan

Like many of us, I used to say yes even when I truly didn’t have the time or mental bandwidth to commit to a request. Today, I’ve learned how to say no while still being polite, yet direct, and it’s given me my life back without a shred of guilt!

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Why Saying No Matters: The Power Of A Two-Letter Word

Why Saying No Matters

The truth is, we only have 24 hours in each day to use as effectively as possible. This is not a ton of time to get done everything that we need to get done in a day!

If you sleep for seven to eight hours, work for eight or more hours, take an hour to get ready for work, and an hour to drive, you’re left with six remaining hours in your day. How do you truly want to spend those remaining hours? Learning how to say no matters because it dictates where your remaining time goes.

Why Saying No Matters

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Learning To Say No Gives You The Power

Saying no is a powerful thing because it gives you control and autonomy in any given situation. Oftentimes, the people I see who are under pressure and drowning in the fear of saying no don’t believe that they have the power to decline. They feel trapped by what everyone else in their life asks of them, but forget that the power to say no lies in a simple two letter word.

Saying no is easier than you might think. I’ve rarely had a situation where I declined an offer and the person was angry! People are almost always understanding and respect the way I take control of my own life and make my needs clear.

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If You Don’t Say No, You’ll Be Walked Over

If you always say yes, your yes becomes expected. When you can’t say no, others might take advantage of you, even if it’s not intentional.

Always giving in may mean that others naturally begin to expect you to bend over backwards for them and agree to everything they ask. If that’s what always occurs, why would they expect any different?

There’s nothing wrong with being helpful and giving your time to the people you care about, but learning to say no shows others that you value your own time, and thus teaches them to do the same.

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Saying No Makes Your Yes Stronger

Saying no makes your yes stronger because it means you went out of your way to consider multiple options before deciding which was of greater value. In reality, if we are always saying yes, we are also always saying no.

What I mean by this is, every commitment you agree to is actually subtracting time from another activity. When you start to think of time as a finite resource, one no becomes a yes somewhere else.

Learning When To Say No

Learning When To Say No

I often find that one of the reasons so many people have difficulty saying no is that they can’t decipher which situations to say no to and which to say yes to. I’ve seen friends on both ends of the spectrum.

Learning to say no means making choicesThere are people that truly believe they’re a bad or mean person for saying no to someone when they’re exhausted. I’ve also seen people who negotiate for extra days off of work or opt out of necessary activities because work infringes on their personal time or selfhood.

In my opinion, there is a very delicate balance one must identify in their own lives between spreading themselves too thin and only considering themselves, without regarding others. It makes sense to reschedule a lunch with a friend because you’re burnt out. It makes way less sense to stop showing up to work or refusing to pick up your kid from school when you need more time to yourself.

Learning to say no means making choices that actively protect your own emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing and cater to the amount of time, energy, and social bandwidth you actually have.

However, learning to say no doesn’t mean blowing off all of your necessary obligations because of the way you might feel about them.

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Say No When An Event Feels More Like An Obligation

When an event or hangout feels more like a social obligation than something that will refuel your soul or recharge your batteries, that’s one way you know it’s a good time to say no.

when an obligation feels like a burdenSometimes obligations are, well, obligatory. It’s true that you can’t glide through life saying no to every have-to obligation, but when something that is optional feels like a burden or a requirement, that’s when you can use your power and decline.

If you’re worried about hurting the feelings of the person asking you to hangout, get dinner, catch up, or whatever it may be, remind yourself that giving them unwanted company isn’t good for either of you in the long run.

At the end of the day, being somewhere you don’t want to be will make the time undesirable for both of you. Even if the person you’re with has no idea you’d rather be elsewhere, would you really want someone to spend time with you if they felt forced to be there?

Practice Saying No When You’re Burnt Out

It’s always okay to say no when you’re exhausted and burnt out. In our modern always-hustle, do-as-much-as-you-can-all-the-time culture, it can be easy to feel like you have to give all of yourself and your time until your well is totally run dry. But this just isn’t the case!

say no when you are exhaustedIf you are being overworked and spread too thin, you have the option and the power to make that clear and decline an offer to do more. Only you know where you stand emotionally and mentally, no one else can understand that for you.

When your mental bandwidth is on its last leg, you aren’t obligated to spend the rest of it a dinner or party or day with a family member.

You’re allowed to take that time to recharge your own mind without feeling selfish or guilty.

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Learn To Say No When A Request Crosses Your Boundaries

If a request for your time, emotional space, or mental presence makes you uncomfortable or crosses a boundary, you have every right to say no. Even if you have the time and energy, that doesn’t mean an interaction is necessarily good for you.

say no when someone crosses your boundariesWhen someone asks for your time or attention in a way that you don’t feel right about, press the brakes. You’re the only one that knows what your personal boundaries are and what kinds of interactions cross them.

Maybe you aren’t into large gatherings or parties. You might not be comfortable in party-type settings with loud music and lots of commotion, and that’s okay! Don’t let peer pressure buzz phrases like, “but it won’t be fun if you aren’t there!” or, “but I haven’t seen you in forever!” make you feel like you have to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

Use your power to advocate for alternative suggestions that don’t cross your own boundaries. You could say something like, “I prefer not to be in settings with a lot of people, but I’d love to spend time with you one-on-one another day,” or, “I don’t feel comfortable around that person, but let’s find another time to meet so I can see you.” There is immense power in making your own needs clear.

Say No When It Allows You A More Valuable Yes

One thing I always ask myself when trying to decide if I should no to something is: If I say yes to this, what else am I giving up? Sometimes saying no is important just because you could experience a more valuable yes in its place.

That other yes could be another social engagement, family event, or even something for you and you alone, like a relaxing night in. As a minimalist, when I’m trying to decide between two things that both seem like a worthwhile use of my time, I ask myself what underlying values I will gain by saying yes to a task or event.

For example, if I’m deciding between attending a hangout with a friend or going on a solitary hike, I would note that one of these things would give me quality time with a loved one, and the other time to recharge, refresh, and care for my body.

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I would think through those values and try to decipher what is more important to me right then and there.

Learn To Say No By Listening To Your Gut

Oftentimes, people say no in spite of their initial instinct. When something is asked of us or a task is presented, our brain has a visceral reaction regarding whether or not that experience will be good or bad for us, right or wrong, hard or easy.

listen to your gut instinctHowever, after we react from our gut, we then come up with millions of reasons to discount what our instincts tell us. We tell ourselves “Well this may not be good for my mental health, but I have to go to be a good friend” or, “I think adding this on will be too much in one day, but I can probably squeeze it in.”

Instead of rationalizing ourselves farther away from our instincts, we should use our instincts as tools when making decisions. Oftentimes, that initial gut feeling about a task or event is revealing your true feelings about taking it on.

Questions To Ask Yourself When Deciding If To Say No

Questions To Ask Yourself When Deciding If You Should Say No

Not every situation is one where saying no is necessary. Personally, I use a specific list of questions to help me decide when to say no and, conversely, when the event or situation is worth my time and energy in the long run.

When Deciding If You Should Say No, Ask Yourself

  • Is this something I want to do?
  • Is this something I need to do?
  • Is this obligation required of me or part of my job?
  • Is it necessary to do this out of respect for someone else?
  • Would backing out of this commitment mean going back on my word?
  • Will this event be draining to my mental, emotional, and physical health?
  • Is this something that I could easily reschedule for another time?
  • Will saying yes to this cross a personal boundary for me?
  • Do I have ample time to do this and still have time for myself?
  • Does this person expect me to say yes, and is that expectation realistic?
  • Has something changed about the situation to warrant backing out of this?
  • Will saying yes to this make things easier or more difficult for me down the line?
  • What else am I saying no to if I choose to say yes to this?

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The Best Ways To Say No When You Feel Stuck

The Best Ways To Say No When You Feel Stuck

Sometimes, even after you’ve decided that it’s best to say no, it’s hard to know exactly what to say. One of the best ways to say no kindly and politely is to offer up a reason to explain yourself.

There’s no need for a lengthy explanation or over-the-top excuse. However, a simple why is helpful when trying to respect the person you’re declining.

15 Polite Ways To Say No

  1. I don’t have room in my schedule to commit to more right now, but thank you.
  2. I’m honored you asked, but how about scheduling something another time?
  3. That’s sounds like a fun experience, but I need to take time for myself today.
  4. I’ve committed to something else at that time, thank you for understanding.
  5. I’m not able to take on more work this week, I hope you can find help elsewhere.
  6. That request is outside of my job description, please ask someone qualified for this specific task.
  7. I’d love to do that but can’t this week, keep me in mind for next time!
  8. I don’t have the social bandwidth for that right now, maybe in the future.
  9. I know you really need help with this task, but my plate is full. I hope you understand.
  10. I’m trying to focus on my budget right now. Can we spend time together doing something free?
  11. That activity doesn’t sound fun to me. Can we do something we might both enjoy?
  12. I don’t think doing that will be good for me emotionally. Thank you for understanding.
  13. Agreeing to this would go against my values. Thank you for being understanding.
  14. I’m at a different mental place than when I made these original plans, and will need to reschedule.
  15. My family needs my full attention right now, maybe another time.
Notice how none of the polite ways to say no include an apology. Instead of apologizing, these phrases thank the other person for being understanding of your needs and space!

At the end of the day, there is no need to apologize for understanding that your time is a precious resource and wanting to use it for your own life betterment. If there’s not enough to go around, there’s simply not enough, and that’s okay. Those who truly love and respect you will understand your needs when you say no.

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Your Turn!

  • What will learning to say no add back into your life?
  • Which values will saying no teach you to prioritize?
1 Comment
  1. Great article Ryan

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