Learning how to say “No” and when to say “No” is essential to living your life with purpose.

When you say “YES” to one thing, you’re saying “NO” to something else. Time is a limited commodity and each of us has 24 hours per day. Once you invest that time, it is irretrievable. Oftentimes, when you are helping others accomplish their “to-do lists,” you’re not investing your limited resources in your own priorities.

Why is it hard to say “No”? Saying “No” can elicit intense negative emotions. You may feel guilty, embarrassed and apologetic. Or you could fear it makes you look selfish, lazy or like a bad team member who doesn’t care about the feelings of those around you. To avoid those feelings you often say “Yes” even when you know it’s the wrong answer! And then, you may become resentful and angry.

When used deliberately, “No” can empower you to be in greater control of your life. You can invest your time, energy and money to focus on your priorities. Some tips for saying “No” include the following:

  • Determine your life’s purpose and priorities so you can make important decisions about how to spend your time, energy and money. Block out time on your calendar for your priorities to “pay yourself first” by investing in your values and priorities. Schedule date nights with your significant other; calendar play dates with your kids; commit to exercise, prayer, meditation and talks with your best friend. Figure out what is most important to you, write it down and post it in a visible places to keep yourself focused. Examples are: “I already give to three charities so I will not give to other charities this year.” “I reserve Sundays for my family time.”
  • Understand that you probably believe others judge you more harshly than they actually do. Most people move on to ask someone else once you have declined their request.
  • Quickly and politely decline right away if you’re sure you are not going to accept the assignment. That way you don’t delay anyone else’s plans. If possible, suggest an alternate who might be able to take your place.
  • If this request is the wrong investment of your time, consider saying, “The helpful part of me would like to say ‘Yes’,” but the rest of me is overcommitted and more realistic.” Or, “I’m going to pass. I’m really trying to slow down my pace these days.”
  • If you are not comfortable making an immediate decision, it’s OK to say, “Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” This response provides you a chance to step back, consider your priorities and do a cost-benefit analysis of your limited resources.
  • If you’d like to be involved on a limited basis and on your own terms, say “I can’t do what you’ve asked me to do, but I can…” and mention a lesser commitment that you are willing to make.
  • Have criteria for when you say “Yes” and when you say “No.” This makes decision-making easier! Ask yourself: “Do I really want to do this? What do I gain from attending this event or doing this task? What has this person done for me lately? What else will I do with my time or money if I don’t do this?”
  • Ask yourself if you have a FOMO (fear of missing out)? Does your FOMO get in the way of your purpose and priorities? Facebook and other social media sites can make you feel like you need to overextend and say “Yes.”
  • Practice makes perfect when it comes to saying “No.” Say “No” as often as you can to get more comfortable saying the word. Sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to persistent people. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  • Say “I don’t,” not “I can’t.” This is a simple shift that suggests that your refusal is based on strongly held beliefs. “I have a policy that I don’t lend money to friends.”
  • When your boss wants you to take on new assignments and you believe you are spread too thin to take on more work, consider saying to your boss, “I’m not sure I can add this considering my current projects. I would appreciate your thoughts on how to prioritize.”

Bottom Line: “No” is a complete sentence. Try it!

Dr. Susan Murphy is a best-selling author, coach and speaker who specializes in relationships, conflict, leadership and goal-achievement. She is also the co-author of In the Company of Women and can be reached at [email protected]. (760) 674.1615.

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