A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble. -Mahatma Gandhi
Recently, I was walking home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and overheard an interesting conversation amongst a group of teenagers. A boy was walking a beautiful young Vizla, or Hungarian Pointer, with two other girls. Another girl joined the group and was very excited to see the beautiful Vizla. Out of excitement, she happily said, “Good boy, good boy!” The teenage boy smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “You know, you aren’t supposed to say ‘Good boy’ or ‘Good girl’ according to the disciplinarian.”
One of the girls said, “Oh! Is that like how parents aren’t supposed to say ‘No’ anymore at the Park Slope playground?” This led into a discussion among the teenagers about if and why such a rule actually exists. After all, isn’t it important to learn what an appropriately granted “no” means as a child? Isn’t it also necessary to learn how and when to say “no”?
The ability to say no can be one of the most essential energy savers and makers. Likewise, it’s a skill we can work to develop. Believe me, it can make a big difference. I used to be far too impulsive about saying yes when committing to events and engagements. Not only would I feel overextended, but worse, sometimes half-hearted or hesitant about the given occasion. The feeling of bringing a divided self to the table is one I particularly dislike and try to now avoid at all costs.
A few years ago, I made a clear intention to not say yes until I really thought it through. If I’m honestly unsure in the moment, I’ll politely say I’ll get back to you. Whenever possible, however, I’ve committed to kindly saying no. It can be done gracefully and with loving directness. It can also be appreciated.
Do you have a tendency to over-commit and feel burnt out as a result?
Here are some reasons why people might struggle to say no:
- They get caught up in being concerned about what someone else expects or thinks they should do. (By the way, it can be very powerful to stand up and lovingly say no to people a little too eager to tell us what they “think” we should be doing.)
- They’re fearful they’ll come across as impolite or disinterested.
- As a result of No. 2 they might worry that their friends will leave them. A true friend should not only understand why you decline an offer, but also appreciate your honesty.
- Sometimes people feel that it’s easier to say “Maybe” or “I’ll call you” rather than a clear “No.” From my experience of once being very good at being semi-committal, a clear no (or no, thank you plus a brief reason) from the get-go can be an appreciated energy saver for all parties.
Learning to say no to our own negative thoughts is also an essential skill. Think about when your inner critic comes knocking around and tries to tell you you’re not good enough, worthy enough, thin enough, smart enough, you name it… The ability to say “No, I’m not going to entertain you right now, Inner Critic. I AM ENOUGH!” can be incredibly transformational. Getting better about lovingly saying no to ourselves might lend itself well to a sequel blog!