Even though I posted about holiday self-care yesterday, I wanted to revisit this specific issue. Saying “no” and setting boundaries isn’t important only during the holidays. In fact, this is an issue that most of us face daily. And it can get even harder during the holidays. There are always more activities than anyone can actually attend, more requests than anyone can actually fulfill. Oh, and there are those pesky expectations: for a perfect meal, a picture-card family moment, the “just right” gift. . .you know the drill.
Many of my clients struggle with “no.” There are lots of reasons for this struggle. Here are just a few that I hear in the office:
- I don’t want to let someone down.
- I don’t want to be seen as incapable.
- I’m afraid they won’t ask again.
- I will feel so guilty if I say no.
- I don’t want to be selfish.
Do any of those sound familiar? Maybe like something you’ve said before? Maybe like something you’ve said today? If so, then I want you to repeat after me:Great. Maybe you could say it again. (If you don’t want to, you can always tell me “no.”)
I have been a tiny bit of an overachiever during different parts of my life (this is not a huge revelation–the graduate degrees were a dead giveaway). “No” has been a word that I struggled with. Because I don’t want to disappoint someone who is counting on me. Because I care about being seen as a team player, a contributor, someone you can count on.
My journey to become more comfortable with “no” has been a bumpy one at times. But I had one of those bite-you-on-the-nose kind of learning experiences. I said “yes” too much. I put too many balls in the air. And then I dropped most of them. Spectacularly. In a “things are broken” kind of way. I got to eat a lot of humble pie. I learned that I have limits, whether I want to own them or not. And I learned that an honest “no” is a better way of being in my communities than an over-committed “yes.”
These days, I’m better at “no.” Not perfect, but better. And my “yeses” mean more, because they include the ability to follow-through. I’d love to invite you to think about how you relate to “yes” and “no.” Is there some balance in how you use them? Do you feel comfortable saying “no” when a “yes” would overstretch your boundaries? What are the messages you give yourself about “no?”
After you think about that, I’m inviting you to consider a “no” experiment. Try saying “no” at least one more time than you would have done normally. If that’s too hard right away, maybe you can use the, “let me check” or “let me think about it” response instead of an automatic “yes.” Because “no” isn’t a bad word. It is a word that allows us to check our boundaries, assess our existing commitments, and then respond in a way that honors them all.
What was your best experience saying “no?” When was it hardest?