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The art of saying ‘thank you, but NO’

Many of us consider ourselves to be ‘time poor’, rushing from one thing to the next to fulfill all our obligations and multi-tasking all the way through to lights out at the end of each day. We sometimes struggle to have time for ourselves to do the things we want to do, whether that is simply reveling in doing nothing at all, catching up for a glass of wine with our girlfriends – or anything that connects us with our sense of self, and refills our tank. So how do we make sure we have time for these ‘me’ moments? We learn to say, ‘thank you, but no!’

When we say yes to something, do we really always mean 100% yes? Or are there varying levels of truth and motivation to our commitment… It’s helpful to perhaps think of it like a traffic light system. Green means, “yep, I’m 100% committed“. Amber yeses are a bit less committed and maybe even depend on how you feel on the day. An amber yes likely has a should be attached to it – “I should (do this, be more, help out, attend, support)” – circle all that apply! Red yeses are where you’ve pretty much only said yes to avoid an uncomfortable situation and you’re most certainly going to get out of it later! (You already know you are most definitely NOT doing it. So why did you say yes?).

We know what makes us feel good, even if we don’t really get time to actively notice it. Our green light yeses probably make up this list. Start to notice how you feel when you commit to something, what feels right for you and why does it feel right? Those amber light yeses though, they’re a little trickier. Granted there are some things we should do that aren’t overly enjoyable and come with a level of duty to family or work or even our healthy selves (like that HIIT class!). And sometimes, doing something for others makes us feel really good and in the right measure, balanced with our own wants and needs, this is okay too. But do check in with yourself for those other things you’re prefacing with ‘should’. Should you be more, do more, have more, achieve more, look better, eat better, parent better, work harder, care less, eat less, worry less, spend less – and on it goes! Why, for what and for who? Is this for you or is this to meet some ridiculously unrealistic expectations put upon us as women by a whole raft of messages bombarding us via advertising, social media, and sometimes even those around us.

We can also sometimes say yes out of guilt or obligation. This can lead to feelings of resentment, dread, and even anger. Resentment apparently triggers the same neurological and physiological responses as stress. Learning to be true to ourselves, while also acknowledging our various family and community commitments takes practice. Start by noticing your pattern of behavior and feelings. Notice what you like to do and what makes you feel good, not what relieves your guilt but instead makes you resentful. Start to notice your use of the word ‘should’ – for yourself and maybe how you are applying it to others too. Practice noticing what genuinely makes you feel good and fills your cup, rather than emptying it.

Which brings us to saying ‘no’. Instead of a red coloured (I’m cancelling later) ‘yes’ on our traffic light, saying no upfront is better for all concerned. Has someone said no to you upfront? It felt okay, didn’t it? Clear, concise, non-offensive. Decisive. Practice succinctly saying, “thank you, but no”. And stop talking. There is no need for any further explanation. This is especially important if you’re saying ‘no’ to a master convincer! Give them a reason why not and they’ll find a reason why! Just repeat, “thanks, but no”. And stop. If there’s another attempt to twist your arm, simply politely repeat “Thank you, but I’ve said no” and then change the subject. One of the team here at The Sisters admitted that saying no without some sort of qualifier is difficult. She suggested ‘Thanks but no, I just won’t be able to fit it in’, or ‘thanks but no, it’s really not my cup of tea’. Whatever works for you, the key thing is to notice how you operate, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed and/or over committed.

This is a really nice assertiveness technique that doesn’t or shouldn’t offend, nor does it take away your personal power because you haven’t gone into any unnecessary explanation of situations or feelings that are personal to you and simply don’t need to be disclosed. It takes practice but think of it this way. If you really don’t want to feel guilty or resentful later on, then saying no upfront gives the other person a definitive response – you’re not going to their party or helping at the school fair or hosting a Tupperware party. This is much better than saying yes and misleading them and gives them the opportunity to make other arrangements if they need to.

Really start to notice what makes you feel good and fills the tank. Keep your radar on for your use of the word should in relation to yourself and what you should or shouldn’t be doing and ask yourself why should I, for whose benefit is it really and does it actually make me feel good? Who or what do you regularly say yes to, and cancel on later? Lastly, practice saying no upfront. Others may initially be a little surprised at your new approach. They’ll adjust, and you’ll feel truer to yourself, perhaps have a little more time to do the things you really enjoy, like catching up with your girlfriends for a glass of wine, or indeed it might be the luxury of doing nothing at all!