Five Reasons to Say No More Often

There’s nothing wrong with a busy lifestyle if it’s what you love, but the chronic stress of being overburdened can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and burnout. Coping strategies like exercise, better nutrition, and being organized can help compensate, but there’s one strategy to top them all: saying no.

Saying no is hard; so hard that scientists have studied it, struggled with it, and published about it. Here are five reasons to keep trying anyway:

1. Saying No Can Help Improve Your Relationships

When we try too hard to please others, we often say yes to things that take time away from what we’d rather do. You’re not obligated to join the PTA, the neighborhood watch, or that Zumba class all your girlfriends rave about. It’s okay to say no to leave space for date night, building a fort with your kids, or walking your dog.

How to say no to things that distract from your relationships:

  • Set up standing appointments for activities with loved ones. Even if you don’t make every date night happen, seeing it on your calendar will help you keep a good mental picture of your available time.
  • When someone invites you to join the office wrestling team, practice saying no without an excuse.
  • Offering only a “no” is challenging because it feels rude. In this case, you can use your family commitment as your reason. Anyone who argues with you wanting to spend time with your kids doesn’t deserve your guilt.

2. Saying No Can Help Bring More Positivity to Your Life

Say no to the negativity that can easily creep into life. Negativity can be in the form of the company we keep, the media we ingest, or our thought patterns.  Being conscious of how the people and media around you affect your thoughts is the quickest way to make a change that uplifts you.

How to say no to negativity:

  • Avoid negative social media (or “positive” accounts that still make you feel bad).
  • Permit yourself to avoid negative people that drain your energy.
  • Avoid the 24-hour news cycle.
  • Don’t engage in gossip.
  • Work on making your self-talk kinder.

3. Saying No Can Help You Accomplish Your Goals

Life is full of distractions and obstacles that prevent us from accomplishing our goals. When we want to eat healthier, we clean out the pantry. When we have goals, we need to take a hard look at our calendars and clear out those obligations and extras that slow us down. If your goal has a deadline (and all goals should) then whatever you’re sacrificing is likely temporary. 

How to say no to time-sucking activities:

  • Identify your primary goal and keep it written down, somewhere visible, with its deadline.
  • Break your goal into smaller pieces, so you know how long it will take and how much of your attention it requires.
  • Remind yourself that saying no now is temporary and try to find the JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) with each new no you give.
  • Resist the effort to pick back up on those old obligations when you meet your goal. Did you really miss them?

4. Saying No Can Help Reduce Stress

Many things that add stress to our lives are things we said yes to with good intentions. Perhaps we didn’t know offering to pitch in that one time would become a weekly responsibility. Or maybe we weren’t conscious of how many late nights would come with that promotion. Saying yes once doesn’t obligate you for life, but extracting yourself from a responsibility can feel uncomfortable and even “wrong.”

How to say no to new (and old) responsibilities that bring stress:

  • Agree to give yourself some personal boundaries like a maximum of volunteer hours or a minimum of “me time” for exercise or reading.
  • Pre-organize your week on paper, so you go into the week knowing your capacity for new tasks.
  • Remind yourself (say it aloud in front of a mirror before staff meetings, if needed) that you are not responsible for solving every problem.

5. Saying No Can Help Create Better Solutions

Groupthink is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity. It’s usually caused by individuals not wanting to seem disagreeable, but many bad decisions throughout history were the product of groupthink.

Voicing your “no” to bad ideas can help keep the idea generation going and introduce better ideas—especially if your “no” is accompanied by an alternative suggestion.

If you need another reason to speak up, remember that many pointless tasks started in meetings where everyone was too timid to say, “I think that sounds like it would erode our job satisfaction with no upside.”

How to say no to groupthink:

Learning to say no is a valuable, though difficult, skill to master. But like all skills, you can improve at saying no with practice. If all else fails, make a “No Chart” and gamify your new skill, racking up tiny wins all week.