If you’ve made New Year’s resolutions lists in the past, how has it worked out for you? If it’s been successful, it’s probably worthwhile to keep doing it. If it’s been less than what you wanted or hoped for, here’s another way to make this next year better, reduce stress, and make you feel better about yourself.
Take a look at the times you’ve said “Yes” or “No”
Think about this past year: how many times did you say “Yes” when you wanted to say “No”? What were the situations or events when you did this? What were the reasons you didn’t say “No”? Make a list.
Some of the possible reasons:
- You were concerned about hurting someone’s feelings
- It made you feel like a “good” person
- You were trying to impress someone with your generosity, good heart,
- You thought not saying “Yes” would create ill will, make you look bad, uncooperative, etc.
- It simply didn’t occur to you that you could say “No”/li>
- You wanted to say No, but objectively evaluated the situation and recognized there truly was no other option you could live with
- Another reason __________________________________________________
willingness to go along with the other person’s agenda, be a team player, etc.
Now review each of these situations. How did you feel after—how you really felt, not the rationalizations you gave yourself. You may have mixed feelings—relieved that you avoided a conflict or confrontation, satisfied that you made yourself look good, or did a good deed.
You may have also felt: a sacrifice, a sense of dishonesty, a compromise of your own values, being ingenuine, a loss of time or opportunity to do something more personally rewarding.
Write down both all positive and negative feelings. Which feelings stayed with you? Did you pay an emotional price for your actions? If you could have done it differently, what would you have done?
In working with clients on this issue, I have often found that the main reason they said “Yes” was because they didn’t know how to say “No” or do anything different. It was more a lack of how to avoid the “Yes” than whether or not to avoid it. They would have said “No” if they could minimize their perceived or actual negative feelings.
What are the anticipated negative feelings you try to avoid? Rate them on a scale from 1 to 10, from minor to major. For example, you might think saying “No” would cause the other person to feel disappointed, sad, frustrated, angry, or even reject you and end the relationship. Now ask yourself how likely do you think your worst fears would come true?
A woman I know avoided any kind of reaction she imagined would upset other people, especially those close to her or in a position of authority. So she said “Yes” way more often than she wanted to. She assumed if she said “No” the other person would become so disappointed or angry, that she would lose their good will or even the relationship. She thought she was avoiding an inevitable rejection, and didn’t pay attention to the fatigue and strain this effort caused her.
On those rare occasions when she was unable to say “Yes” or was just too tired, she was surprised to see reactions she didn’t expect. Sometimes the other person just shrugged it off, other times they reacted with disappointment, and sometimes even became angry. What was surprising to her was that she didn’t get rejected, the anger passed quickly, and there were none of the consequences she assumed. At times she even received a response that expressed appreciation for her honesty.
If you never had tried this, you may be missing out on relieving some of your imagined fears, a burden that is no fun to bear. And it can be an opportunity to like yourself better for being more honest with yourself and others.
So, the challenge is, how can you learn to say “No” more comfortably? Often, it’s difficult because you are already feeling burdened, resentful, or some other negative feeling, so you don’t trust you can express yourself without those feelings sneaking in. When you think about it, how often do those feelings come from knowing how you will feel after saying “Yes.”
Some ways to avoid saying “Yes” when you want to say “No”:
“I know this is important to you, and you would appreciate (or believe you need) my help.” (showing empathy)
“What ideas have you had about how to solve this issue?”
“What ideas can you come up with now about how to solve this issue?”
“I know you are struggling with this. What do you think you can do to help yourself?” “What other resources do you have?” (encouraging self-reliance)
“I know you are capable of figuring this out, even though it may not feel that way now.”
“I’m just not able to help you out now.” (setting limits, kindly, without making excuses)
“It’s hard for me to say no, because I care, I just need to say no.”
“This is something I’m not willing to do.”
Imagine yourself in a situation where you have been saying “Yes,” and now say “No.” What would it feel like? From my own personal experience, as well as that of clients, the surprise was how good it felt to say “No,” as long as it was done with kindness. Try it out in a situation where the stakes don’t seem too high, where you aren’t likely to be risking the relationship. Give some thought as to how important the relationship is to you, and/or the reasons you want to hold on to it.
Does your “Yes” habit become one where you are enabling the other person, where they are using your “help” to avoid taking responsibility for their own lives? How much of a favor are you really doing them, if this is the case?
How many times have you said “No” to something you really wanted to do:
- You didn’t feel you deserved the opportunity or experience
- You had so much else on your plate that seemed to take priority
- There were voices in your had that told you it was wrong, unimportant, too indulgent, etc.
- You developed a habit of saying “No” to things that seemed frivolous or impractical
- You have a habit of making sure all your obligations are met before you take advantage of something fun, interesting, or otherwise appealing (and somehow you never get to it)
- Your other reasons:_____________________________________________________
What have been the consequences of saying “No”?
Did you feel regret, deprived, disappointed, jealous of others who allowed themselves the opportunities you denied yourself, resenting yourself or perhaps projected the resentment onto others?
You may also have tried to minimize the disappointment to make the feelings go away.
Do you ever think about any of those times when you said No? if you do, the regret hasn’t gone away. It can serve as a lesson to you about what you can do in the future.
What’s the worst that would have happened if you said “Yes”?
It just might be worth experimenting saying “No” when you usually say “Yes”, and saying “Yes” when you usually say “No” on at least one or two occasions and see what happens.
Pick times that are easier for you—start small. Notice how you feel: more confident, empowered, and energized, both mentally and physically.
Isn’t this more productive than setting New Year’s resolutions that you may not get to, and the resulting feelings of pressure and/or guilt for not accomplishing your “goals”?
If you are willing, please share your experiences here and how they made a difference.
Feel free to send this blog to anyone you think might be interested.