How Saying “No” Can Improve Your Life

Ray Williams
9 min readJul 28, 2022

Actor Jim Carey, played the main character, Carl in the comedy Yes Man, in which he decided to say “yes” to everything that was asked of him instead of the regular “no’s” that had plagued his depressed life. He encounters all kinds of great and life-changing events as a result of choosing the positive; he is promoted at work and even starts dating again. But Carl realizes that too much of anything, even positive thought, is not necessarily a good thing. The film was enjoyable, but it also made some significant points regarding influence and compliance in our lives, which have lately been studied by researchers.

The most common response to the question “how are you?” is some variation of “busy,” “fine, but busy,” or perhaps even “crazy busy.”

My mentor taught me early in my career to turn down the majority of requests in order to better manage my time and energy. I have carried this out successfully throughout my life.

Why It’s So Hard to Say No

Being busy has evolved into a badge of honour, a symbol of achievement, and a modest brag that suggests we are significant and in demand. However, if you are truly “too busy,” it’s likely that you are not saying no to enough things.

Many of us find it difficult to say no because we are afraid of being rejected, becoming angry, or simply not knowing how the other person would react. Our need to please others frequently has early roots. We may have received praise for being “mummy’s little helper” because we were trained to be good children, or we may not have received enough attention, in which case we may have sought it out by appeasing others even at the cost of our own happiness.

It’s possible for us to become so accustomed to agreeing and appeasing others that we lose sight of our own desires and needs. But it’s time to make a change if your life is so jam-packed with other people’s demands that you don’t have time for what matters to you most, or worse, your mental health is in jeopardy.

People comply with requests from others because they fear disapproval, according to BBC Worklife. We avoid saying no out of fear of hurting relationships because we are a social species. We sincerely want to be friendly and helpful, but instead we equate rejection with rudeness and selfishness, while acceptance is synonymous with kindness and empathy. We want to keep the door open for future possibilities, stay out of trouble, and win people over. However, by neglecting to be genuine and ignoring our own needs, we disadvantage ourselves.

According to a study by Isabelle Roskam et al. published in the journal Affective Science under the title “Parental burnout around the globe: a 42-country survey,” parents in affluent, individualistic Western countries frequently experienced stress and burnout. Researchers noted how individualistic nations frequently promote a perfectionism and performance cult. This mentality frequently extends outside of parenting, and we exhaust ourselves trying to achieve perfection in everything we do. As a result, we forget our boundaries.

The Reasons for Saying “No”

Get a bit upset about all the time, effort, and money you have wasted saying yes to things you could have said no to in order to find the word “no.” How many times have you had coffee with individuals you didn’t want to? How many weddings have you attended despite not really wanting to? How many hours of pointless meetings have you endured without a valid excuse?

Spending time, energy, attention, and motivation wisely is important. Saying yes to every request usually won’t be beneficial for you or others because you won’t give anything your best effort if you’re sick or emotionally spent. Additionally, people tend to expect more when you provide more, which creates a vicious cycle of stress and subpar performance. Instead, concentrate on maintaining your health and taking care of your key obligations. Put yourself first and respect your needs.

The upshot of saying yes to something you don’t want to do, according to businessman and author of the book The Power of No, James Altucher, is that you despise what you are doing, you resent the person who asked you, and you damage yourself.

The Benefits of Saying No

  • The stress component. Your mind and body will experience significant tension when you say “yes” when you actually want to say “no.” It causes us to feel anxious, tense, and uncomfortable. We frequently lose sleep as a result of it. Undoubtedly not the only source of stress, but it may be one of the simplest to manage.
  • Get Rid of toxic individuals. In any case, do you really want these people in your life? These people are advantage seekers, leeches, whiners, gossipers, and irresponsible people. They are expert manipulators who use deception and guilt to force you to say “yes.” If you constantly say “no,” they will ultimately go and look for a different, weaker target.
  • Time-saving. There are only so many hours in a day. While we have no control over that, we do have some influence over how we use the time. Don’t let others dictate your schedule or to-do list. Your priceless time is being wasted! It’s critical to manage your time in a way that respects your priorities, advances your objectives, and meets your requirements. You determine what demands your time and what doesn’t.
  • More vitality. It drains vital energy that could be used on the things you do care about when you take on tasks you don’t want to complete or don’t have time for. Spend that energy improving the things you prefer to do or that you absolutely must accomplish. You feel better, are happier, and are more productive when you have more energy.
  • Sharpen your focus. Accept opportunities and invitations that are pertinent to your objectives. Say “no” to the things that may cause you to stray from your objectives and lose focus. Concentrate on the topics that pique your interest or somehow resonate with you so that you can learn and develop on a personal and professional level. As much as you can, decline anything else.
  • Develop strength. Saying “no” to others is the same as saying “yes” to yourself. By refusing to let other people make decisions for you, you are regaining control over your life. When you are tough and respect your boundaries, you become more confident. Unexpectedly, you also earn respect. People respect you more when you are firm and clear about what you will and will not do. They might not like you, but they’ll still respect you.
  • Live more fully. Saying “No” to activities that exhaust you will make life so much more joyful. The same applies to your professional life. You’ll discover that work is much more enjoyable if you make an attempt to focus your time and energy on tasks that you enjoy or for which you are genuinely accountable.

Creating Healthy Boundaries

Learning how to say No is tremendously crucial in our lives. In addition to enabling us to be more considerate and devoted to the things we say Yes to, doing this aids in the maintenance of healthy boundaries and relationships with others and ourselves. Even while many people are aware of the advantages of being able to say “No” when necessary, many of us still have difficulty actually doing it.

Keep in mind that just because you have the time or the ability to accomplish something, it doesn’t imply you should. Ask yourself, “Do I want to do this thing, or is it that I feel I “should”? when you are requested to do something or make a commitment. Will accepting bring me happiness or meaning? Or when this particular event or task comes along, will I experience dread or regret?”

In The Family Journal, Jesseca N. Fish and Jacob B. Priest published study which describes three different kinds of boundaries.

  • Defined boundaries: Defined boundaries are explicit, adaptable, and flexible. Although there is warmth, love, and stability within the family, each member is also able to assert themselves, express their needs, and pursue their own interests.
  • Rigid boundaries: Rigid borders are closed and unyielding, similar to a wall that prevents access to or expulsion from a space. Within the family and outside of it, there is less interaction and increased isolation. Family members could find it more difficult to show their individuality and communicate their wants.
  • Open boundaries: These limits are less defined and may even be flexible or blurry. Individual family members’ needs might not always be satisfied. Families with loose boundaries could be more intertwined and codependent.

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is essential to self-care. Because, according to psychologist Dana Nelson, “poor boundaries in our personal or professional relationships lead to resentment, rage, and burnout.”

Our ability to politely but firmly refuse to do something that we do not want to is a crucial component of creating healthy boundaries. As for how to really create these boundaries, “Say ‘no’ simply but firmly to something you do not want to do. Do not feel that you need to explain. Do not feel as though you must explain (Kairns, 1992). Setting limits well requires not over-explaining, since everyone has the right to choose what they do and do not want to do.

A powerful, nine-part video resource has been presented by Henry Cloud et al. in their book Limits: When To Say Yes, How To Say No to assist create and uphold the distinct personal boundaries that are necessary for a successful and balanced life.

Strategies for Saying No

The refusal tactic is one strategy. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research by Professor Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt, participants might escape unwelcome commitments by using the word “I don’t” rather than “I can’t.”

“I don’t” means that you have set specific rules for yourself, but “I can’t” seems like a justification that is open to discussion. This suggests conviction and stability. Additionally, because it’s private, it preserves the need for interpersonal connection to others.

Reasons “I Don’t” Is More Effective Than “I Can’t”.

Your words contribute to the way you express your sense of power and control. In addition, the words you use set off a feedback loop in your brain that affects your subsequent actions. As an illustration, whenever you tell yourself “I can’t,” you start a feedback loop that serves as a constant reminder of your limitations. By using this word, you’re telling yourself that you’re forcing yourself to accomplish something.

In contrast, when you tell yourself “I don’t,” you start a feedback loop that serves as a constant reminder of your authority and control over the circumstance. It is a slogan that might encourage you to kick bad behaviours and adopt positive ones.

The head of the Columbia University Motivation Science Center, Heidi Grant Halvorson, explains the distinction between saying “I don’t” and “I can’t”: “‘I don’t’ is felt as a decision, thus it seems strong. It’s confirmation of your tenacity and resolve. “I can’t” is not a decision. It’s a limitation that’s being put on you. Therefore, telling yourself “I can’t” weakens your sense of authority and personal agency.

In other words, using the statement “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” is a psychologically stronger approach to say no than using the latter.

Create a few anchor phrases for various scenarios so that you can say no with ease when you know exactly how to. “No, I don’t buy from solicitors” for door-to-door sellers, for example. For coworkers who want to go on a drinking binge on a Monday night, I say, “No, I don’t go out during the week.”

You won’t have to waste time deliberating over an explanation once you have these sentences prepared. And you begin to automatically say no to things.

Here are some tips you may start using right away to practise the art of saying no:

  • Use the word “No” used as a complete sentence: “No, thank you” I’ll be unable to. (Say it, don’t say sorry, then stop talking.)
  • Be vague and firm: “Thank you for asking, but it won’t work for me.
  • Last-minute boundary: “I won’t schedule anything this month, but please let me know as soon as you can the next time you’re intending to go ____ because I would love to go with you.”
  • Showing gratitude: I’m honoured that you thought of me and I sincerely value your excitement and assistance. I regret that I won’t be able to assist at this time.
  • It’s not whether, but when: “I’d like to, but I won’t be available until August. Could you ask me one more when that moment approaches? or “I would love to visit you, but none of those times work for me. Send me more date suggestions.
  • Know thyself: “No. However, this is what I can do. (Thereafter, restrict your commitment to what suits you.)
  • The pressure valve: According to Maxed Out author Katrina Alcorn, “We need a’safety word’ for saying no — an easy way to inform others that we can’t or won’t do the item they are demanding, but that it’s not personal.” People will relate to your statement about being maxed out because of their own experiences.

Remember what the famous quote from successful businessman and billionaire Warren Buffet, “Successful individuals say no to practically everything,” if you are still having trouble saying no. You may say yes to what is important to you by saying no to other things. Because your yeses come from a good place rather than from resentment or fear, it enables you to be a better person. It makes space for what matters most to you, rather than drowning in busyness, like most of us are.

Ray Williams

Author/ Executive Coach-Helping People Live Better Lives and Serve Others