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The Beauty of Saying "No"

Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Fri, Dec 6th 2013

female holding sign that says noLet me ask you something. When's the last time you said "no" to a request? Perhaps someone asked you to bring a dish to a potluck. Maybe someone requested your participation on a committee at your child's school. Or, as often happens around this time of year, we're asked (or expected) to bake Christmas cookies, send cards to anyone we've ever met over the last 25 years, or wrap gifts in such a way that they could be submitted as artwork to a posh fine arts gallery.

We are inundated with requests every day - from our employer, from our family, and - perhaps most destructively - from ourselves. And in a society that perpetuates the message that multitasking and ultra-productivity are requirements for self-worth, we feel as though we simply can't say "no."

Here's the deal. Although we might think we can't say "no," and it might feel really uncomfortable to say "no," the truth is almost always that we can say "no" and the world will not crumble at our feet when we do so.

The idea that we can't say "no" is a stubborn thought pattern (albeit with good intentions) that we must work to unravel. Here are some steps to do that:

  • First, examine what you are telling yourself whenever you find yourself saying "yes" to something when you would rather be saying "no." Are you afraid that someone will be angry with you if you don't comply? Are you fearful of losing someone's love, respect, companionship, or resources if you don't agree to a request? Or would you simply feel like a failure or a bad person if you said "no"? Pinpoint your thought process in order to examine it.
  • Once you've determined why you think you can't say "no," evaluate the validity of that statement. Would the person asking a favor of you really be angry with you or cease to respect you if you graciously declined? If this is a person worth knowing, he or she will understand. Does saying "no" every once in a while make you a heathen, or does this actually mean that you being smart and proactive by taking care of yourself? When you avoid burnout, you are ensuring you can really be there for others when it counts.
  • Create a new statement to replace the old one. For instance, instead of thinking, "I have to say 'yes' or else I'm a horrible person," you could tell yourself, "By saying 'no' I am making smart choices so I can invest my time and energy wisely." Repeat this regularly!

Finally, think about what's really important to you and where you want to invest yourself. Life is short, and you don't want to look back and wish that you had said "yes" to things you couldn't because you didn't say "no" to others. Values and priorities can guide us in learning how to say "no," which can open up opportunities for us to say "yes" to the things that really matter. In this way, we see that saying "no" can be a thing of beauty.


Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

Itís a true blessing to have you visit my blog on mental health and wellness. I also write blogs on faith and caregiving in addition to teaching part-time for Columbia College of Missouri. For more information about my background and writing, visit my webpage at

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Say NO by saying YES - leona dawson - Dec 15th 2013

I have been thinking about this recently after a bout of saying and hearing a lot of No's in the workplace...and it crossed my mind if I were to never say NO then what would I be saying YES to? This thought made me realise a couple of things:

  • asking myself to say YES asked more of me: it requires me to become more clear about what I actually want... and with this I started to feel more empowered and to own my needs/requests. 
  • saying YES gives our interaction movement instead of stoppage. The other person isn't having to guess what I need. Turns out it is easier to respond to what someone wants than what they don't want.
  • Saying YES seems to open the possibility of negotiation, conversation, a space for exploration. In the body there is a sense of leaning into. Saying NO creates a bodily felt sense of stoppage, resistance. I notice when I say NO my breathing contracts or even stops for a moment. When I say YES I take a breath, I make contact with what is alive in me and I honour my experience.

So it might go something like this at work:

Them: \\

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