Dear fellow overachievers and people-pleasers. Ever noticed yourself saying ‘yes’ to everything? Drinks with your neighbour, dinner with family, jumping on a work project, circling back to the supermarket for the second time today, helping with someone’s new business idea… everything and anything to be there, be kind, and support.

If you’re anything like me, this is familiar territory. But I want to remind you, first of all, that you’re not alone. Millions of us people-pleasers are out there, saying yes to absolutely everything and feeling burnt-out because of it. And secondly, it’s really not okay. I’d go as far as saying it’s actually quite damaging. And you probably know this, but you do it anyway. How come? Let’s dive into this seemingly innocuous habit, and see if we can shift perspectives and learn… wait for it… to say no more often.

Why you struggle to say no

Fear of Disappointing Others

One of the primary reasons we struggle to say no is our fear of letting people down. Especially as women, it’s hard for us not to nurture, to give more of ourselves, and make sure those around us are happy, safe, secure, and supported. This can be with your children—the obvious one—or with literally anyone else. And we can almost take this role on as a trait of our personality, it’s that ingrained. Being a people-pleaser means we want to be seen as reliable, helpful, and accommodating, and saying no feels like failing. But, yes, girlfriend, it’s not doing anyone any good; yourself, your kids, your family, your work, your relationships all suffer because of your inability to let people down (gently—we’ll get to that in a sec).

Desire for approval

As a people-pleaser, you’ll probably thrive on the validation and approval of others. Doing that thing for your neighbour, saying yes to that event, or adding more to your plate because a friend needs support feels like it’s the way to earning that approval. Even when it’s at our own expense. Even writing this, I’m getting those common feelings; “of course I can help you! Let me block out this huge swath of my time to help you so you can see I’m worthy and valuable. It’s a pleasure to help!”

And, of course, helping others is an absolutely privilege and honour and, generally-speaking, it does us so much good (as well as them, hopefully). But your time, like mine, is limited. We can only do so much. Learning to say no is about stepping into your own power so you actually can have enough time and energy to support the people close to you. Say yes to everyone for their approval and, you guessed it, you’ve turned into a time-poor energy-zombie who can’t help but snap at her mother.

Fear of conflict

Saying no can sometimes feel like conflict is the only possible outcome. Your neighbour / colleague / friend / partner will think less of you, feel sad, or outwardly attack you for not being there for them. We worry that setting boundaries will strain our relationships or lead to wildly negative consequences. We’ll lose our friends, our partner, our kids will hate us, and we’ll not progress with work.

It’s not the case, my friend, but I know you think this sometimes, because this is absolutely the pattern that I’ve been familiar with myself, and I see it in my clients over and over again (learn how I can help you here).

Guilt and obligation

We often feel a sense of duty or obligation to help others, even when it means sacrificing our own needs and energies. This can be a particularly big one when it comes to families; we feel obliged to spend time with them, support them with anything, and generally be there when they need us. And, again, what a privilege that is. I’m amazingly lucky that I got to spend some quality (yet slightly challenging) time with my mum lately after she had a hip replacement. I’m so glad for that time! But you bet I had to say no to a fair amount of other responsibilities, friends, events, even work projects during as she got back on her feet. My point is, it IS a beautiful thing to help out, especially family, but we often do so from a place of guilt and obligation. And this can be crippling.

The Benefits of Setting Boundaries

Yes, it can be amazingly hard to do, but learning to say no is essential for our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Setting boundaries not only protects our time and energy, but it’s also an important part of healthy relationships, self-respect, and personal goals and dreams.

If this list doesn’t encourage you to make this a priority, I don’t know what will. Here’s why saying no will be a life-changer:

  1. You’ll get more energy. Saying no allows you to conserve your own limited energy resources for the activities and relationships that truly matter to you. By prioritising your own needs, you’re more likely to avoid burnout and overwhelm (because I know how familiar you are with these struggles).
  2. Honours your personal time. Time, like energy, is a finite resource, and saying no helps you allocate it more effectively. By declining commitments that don’t align with your priorities, you create space for activities that bring you joy and fulfilment. Think: that craft project you’ve wanted to get started (or finished) for ages, writing your novel, learning a new language, learning to meditate, or just taking longer walks in the woods… I’ll bet there are plenty of things you want to be doing with your time, but you’re constantly finding there’s just not enough of it to get started. Saying no gives you the time you need.
  3. Strengthens relationships. Contrary to the fear of conflict, the disappointment, and obligation I mentioned above, setting boundaries can actually strengthen your relationships. When we communicate our needs and limitations honestly, we foster trust, respect, and understanding with others. Not only that, but we’re actually encouraging others to do the same. Saying no is basically a radical act that can change the world.
  4. Improves your self-respect. It sounds a bit over the top, but I promise you this is a big one. Learning to say no is an act of self-care and self-respect. It affirms your worth and value as an individual with your own unique needs and boundaries. Opting out means you’re putting more value on your time and energy, and that’s a big deal.

How to say no in the best way

I’m hoping by now you’re ready to step into this event-declining goddess you’re destined to become. Let’s explore some strategies we can do this gracefully and assertively:

Be honest and transparent

When declining a request, be honest about your reasons for saying no. You don’t need to provide a lengthy explanation, but a brief, sincere explanation can help others understand your decision. It’s really okay to tell people you don’t have the energy, you want to spend time alone, or you’re not looking to have a social time right now.

Offer alternatives (if appropriate)

If you’re declining an invitation or request, think about whether you can offer an alternative date or compromise. “I can’t do tonight, but how about next weekend?” This shows you value the relationship and are willing to work something out. Alternatively, if you’re being asked for support with a project or something similar, you can decline whilst giving them alternatives they could consider. In a previous life, I often supported clients with web-builds, building simple websites for new businesses. Sometimes, I just didn’t have the time, energy, or resources to build a site someone needed, so I’d give them the name of a contact who I knew might be able to give them what they were looking for.

Don’t apologise

Assertiveness is key here. Don’t feel like you need to apologise, be confident in your answer, and don’t feel like you need to come up with a thousand excuses. People understand, and actually, by asserting your own boundaries, you’re also encouraging others to do the same, and that’s a brilliant thing. Learn to say, “thank you for the offer, but I can’t this time” and go and finish building your French bulldog a den.

Think proactively

Maybe, instead of dealing with the requests as they come in, you can actually set your boundaries beforehand. Take some time to work out what you’re happy doing, and what you’re not happy doing, and let the people around you know.

Be kind to yourself

If you’re anything like me, or the clients I speak to all the time, saying no can be a really challenging new skill to learn. Just remember: whilst a challenge, this is an essential part of self-care and your wellbeing. Be kind when you struggle to prioritise yourself, when you struggle to ‘let people down’, and just keep going.

The takeaway

Learning to say no is a powerful act of self-care and self-respect. Consider this a big deal. By setting boundaries and honouring your own needs, you’ll find yourself cultivating authenticity, balance, and joy in your life. The next time you’re tempted to say yes when you really mean no, you have my permission (not that you need it) to say no, kindly and confidently. Your well-being depends on it.

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Chloe - TYR Founder & Joyful Living Coach

POSTED: 22/04/2024

Chloe is a yoga teacher, mindfulness guide, and joyful living coach, and she thinks the meaning of life is probably to be as happy as possible.

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