How to say NO (and feel good about it)

If you struggle with saying NO and it’s causing you to overcommit, then read on for my top three tips on how to stop saying YES to everyone and everything.

Now, this is a follow-up blog and video to my last one on How to take Care of yourself First.  One of my top tips on that was Saying NO to others more – as when we don’t do this we commonly end up heading for exhaustion and burnout – you can watch that video at the end of this one above or read the blog version via the home page.

Saying NO is so difficult because as human beings all have a very deep fear of rejection.  This actually goes back centuries when, if we were rejected by our ‘tribe’ it literally meant we were cast out and would die.

So this is basic human survival thinking based in the oldest, limbic part of the brain.  And to this day, even though our life isn’t actually at stake, we still fear that if we do say no, people will feel disappointed in us, angry with us, or we will have hurt their feelings – and they will then reject us.

Also, we were often raised – to be ‘nice’ or ‘kind’, or to literally put our needs after those of others (some of us in more extreme levels, and historically girls more than boys), and this simplistic belief stays with us into adulthood.  Couple these with our basic human survival instinct to be accepted and not rejected, and you have a recipe for being a YES machine. So let’s start looking at how to do this well, and not feel and in the process…

Prioritise + Schedule

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

So sit down and prioritise – and schedule into your calendar or diary – whichever you use – everything that YOU need and want to be doing.  So for example if a good 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 does it for you – schedule it in.  If you want Saturdays to be a day completely for you and your loved one or family – yes, schedule it in. Then if someone asks you to do something that would take away from that time – you have a good solid reason to say no – it’s in your calendar.

 Doing this really helps with any doubts and decision making, and with any potential guilt or feeling it’s a trivial reason to say no. You and your life are important. And you can say “sorry but I’m busy all day Saturday I won’t be able to do that”. ( you don’t need to give any more excuse than that), which takes me onto how you actually deliver your NO – because it doesn’t have to feel ‘mean’.


Research shows that when we make a specific plan before something we want to do, we are far more likely to actually do it – as we fully intended. So rehearse! And there will be certain people in your life who are constantly asking you to do stuff or whom you find most difficult to say no to.  So, start with them and rehearse a simple, direct but polite response.  Something along the lines of…

“Thank you for asking but I’m unable to do help you with that right now”


“I really appreciate you asking but my week is completely full and I can’t take anything else on right now”

Because this is true – you can’t – remember that fully scheduled calendar of yours? And Offer a compromise – but only if you really want to so for example “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 all of that, rather than getting sucked down the whole ‘guilt’ tube of not being ‘nice’ or ‘kind’  – know that there is nothing nice or kind about doing something with resentment or anger. Also, know that people will feel safer 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.

Know also that you have made a conscious decision and taken action to create a better life for yourself – and your loved ones (even if it may have been one of them in the first place who asked;).

Remembering that if you don’t, you’re not much use to anyone. And celebrate who you have been in that – really brave for starters, remember that survival instinct? It’s really brave and hard work going against that and reclaiming your time.  And acknowledge what you have given yourself – time, energy, space – to do the things that are really important – to you – in this one life you have been given. As with all of my blogs and videos, if you actually want to change this then you have to take action.  So get that calendar or diary of yours sorted, and start practising saying No today – right now.

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