Saying "No," never used to come easily to me. I was taught as a kid that I was supposed to say "Yes," to take care of others before myself. But I wasn't taught when it was ok to say "No." It took years for me to learn that by saying "No" in a balanced way, I would have more to give. It's like digging a new garden. If I go too fast, I deplete myself and then have to stop, but if instead I find a rhythm I can maintain, I'll go for hours without feeling depleted. It took even more years for me to learn that I am entitled to say "No." The conditioning can go deep.
So the trick to saying "No" well is to drop some of the things I'd normally say "Yes" to long enough to restore that rhythm.
I can always tell when I've lost the rhythm. My stress levels go up. Everything seems harder. I get snippy with people. I say, "No!" to innocent requests with an emotionally laden afterthought like, "She should know better than to ask." These signals all tell me I've said "Yes" too much and need to dial it back a bit.
So here they are. Janet's 5 Rules of "No." (I count them out on my fingers.)
- "No," without apology.
- "No," without explanation.
- "No," without leaving room for negotiation.
- "No," without fear of consequences.
- "No," without hard feelings.
- No apology. I am the best judge of what I'm up for at any given time. I give when I have it to give. I don't when I don't. I need not apologize for knowing (or figuring out) where my limits are.
- No explanation. Adding an explanation can mean I'm trying to justify my refusal. See rule 1. Knowing what my limits are is reason enough.
- No room for negotiation. If I follow my refusal with "But if you're really really stuck..." that is not saying "No." It's saying "Yes."
- No fear of consequences. "Will she stop being my friend if I don't agree to her plans?" A true friend may grumble, but remain a friend.
- No hard feelings. No judgement. I learned this by watching my sister one summer afternoon. She had 4 small kids at home. It was a hot day. The neighbour asked over the fence if she could borrow my sister's wading pool. My sister looked at the pool, thought about her day, and said a kind "No," before moving on to her next task. Nothing added. No emotional load. Just the facts. A simple complete "nope."
I've struggled with all of these off and on. Some are harder at times than others. The big message for me though, was that I don't have to wait until I'm depleted to say "No." Quite the opposite. And I'm entitled to go even farther. I can say "No" because I'd simply rather not. "I'd rather not" is an early sign that my energy levels are dropping. Like digging the garden, once the rhythm is restored, I'll have lots to give.
First published December 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.