Stress can be defined as experiences or situations that demand more from us than we are able to give. Do you have a busy to-do list and find that you are investing time and energy doing things for others that causes you to feel stressed? Are you saying yes to things that you don’t want to do because you don’t want to disappoint people, or because you feel bad or even guilty saying no?
The reason we do this is because most of us do not like conflict and we want people to like us, so we find it very hard to say no especially when we don’t have the language to let them down easily. Learning to say no to more requests can be one of the biggest favours you can do yourself and those you love.
When asked to do something and deciding how you will answer, it is important to first ask yourself these questions:
- On a scale of 1-10 how much do I really want to do this? (1 being not at all)
- Is this something I want to do, something I need to do or something I have to do?
- If I say yes to this request will it make me feel good, happy and fulfilled?
- If I knew this person wouldn’t be angry, disappointed or upset, would I say no?
Saying yes when you really want to say no causes you to feel anger and resentment. In order to protect your time, energy and emotional needs you need to set limits, put boundaries in place and learn to say no.
Here are a few tips to help you:
When someone makes a request of you instead of answering straight away, get into the habit of always saying “I’ll need to get back to you” or you may even say “I’ve recently made a decision to limit the commitments I make, so I may not be able to do this.” Be matter-of-fact and not too promising so this prepares the person early on for the possibility that you won’t be able to help them and encourages them to consider other options. This tactic buys you time to think through the 4 questions above before answering, and it also helps you to think things through so that you avoid letting yourself be pressured into overscheduling and taking on too much stress.
If you would really like to do what they’re requesting, but don’t have the time then say “I can’t do this, but I can …” and mention a lesser responsibility that you can and want to commit to. This means you can still be involved, but it will be on your terms.
If the 4 questions above lead you to decide that you do not want to be involved then say “I’m sorry I can’t do this right now.” Use a sympathetic, but firm tone. If pressured as to why, simply reply that it doesn’t fit with your schedule and change the subject. Do NOT defend or justify why. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. The fewer words the better. Most reasonable people will accept this as an answer, so if someone keeps pressuring you just keep repeating “I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t fit with my schedule” and change the subject, or even walk away if you have to.
Doing this will take some practice and like anything else the more you do it the easier it becomes. If you always said yes and now begin to say no, you can expect some fallout and you may even lose some relationships. While you can’t control how someone feels or how they react, you can control how you feel and how you choose to respond.
A good way to measure your success is by answering these questions:
Do I feel relieved that I said no?
Do I know in my heart that I made the right decision?
Has saying no freed up some time for more important things?
There are only so many hours in the day so this means that whatever you choose to commit to limits your ability to do other things. Remember that when you say no to others you are actually saying yes to yourself and your needs.