Saying No

This is an issue I see again and again with my clients. If, like my clients, you struggle with the idea of prioritizing your self-care over everyone else’s needs, then read on.

Saying ‘no’ is about creating healthy boundaries around your time and energy; it is not about being mean or selfish or disregarding the wants or needs of others. However, it can be extremely difficult, because we have a very deep fear of rejection. If early humans were cast out by their tribe, they wouldn’t survive; today even though our lives are not actually at stake, we worry that if we say ‘no’ people will be disappointed in us, angry with us, or that we will have hurt their feelings.

Moreover (and this is more common for women), many of us were raised to be ‘nice’ or ‘kind’, and to put the needs of others before ourselves, and these beliefs remain with us into adulthood. A fear of rejection combined with a tendency to put others first leads to a high likelihood of our saying ‘yes’ to everything. So let’s start looking at how you can begin saying ‘no’ well, and not feeling ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ in the process.

Prioritize and schedule

We all only have so many hours in the day and so much that needs to get done during that time. In addition, we often have long term dreams and goals we want to fulfil. If we want to sustain all of this and live a happy, balanced life, we must take time out to take care of ourselves and enjoy it all (otherwise what’s the point?).

Sit down and prioritize – schedule into your calendar or diary, whatever you use – everything that you need and wants to be doing. For example, if a nice long dog walk first thing in the morning sets you up for the day, schedule that in. If going out with your friends once a week makes you happy, schedule it in. If you want Saturdays to be a day set aside completely for you and your loved one or family, yes, schedule it in.

Then, if someone asks you to do something during that time, you have a valid reason to say no – it’s in your calendar. Doing this really helps with any doubts and decision-making, and with any potential guilt. You and your life are important.


The way you deliver your ‘no’ is important. Research shows that when we make a specific plan before we do something, we are far more likely to do it – in the way we intended. So rehearse!

There will be certain people in your life who constantly ask for help or to whom you find it difficult to say ‘no’. Start with them and rehearse a simple, direct, but polite response.

For example:

‘I really appreciate you asking, but my week is completely full and I can’t take on anything else at the moment.’

Because this is true – your calendar is full. You can offer a compromise – but only if you really want to – such as:

‘I’m sorry I can’t spend time helping you to write that article – but here’s a blog I wrote on how to get started.’

Focus on the positives

Once you’ve done that, rather than feeling that you are a ‘bad’ person, be aware that there is nothing ‘good’ about doing something with resentment or anger.

People will feel more comfortable around you knowing that your ‘no’ means no and that when you do say ‘yes’ you really mean it and want to help them – this all creates trust.

You have also made a conscious decision and taken action to create a better life for yourself – and your loved ones. Be sure to celebrate who you are by saying ‘no’.

Doing that and reclaiming your time is hard work and really brave. Acknowledge what you have given yourself – time, energy, space – to do the things that are really important.

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