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Saying yes to every request or opportunity can be a harmful thing, especially when it stands in the way of us living in line with our values. So, how do we learn to say ‘no’ gracefully?

The idea of saying no to increase valued living is highlighted in Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. He suggests that we can learn to say no gracefully to prioritize doing things that serve us. But it’s often easier said than done.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others,” said Brené Brown, who defines boundaries as “what’s okay and what is not okay.” She believes boundaries are about respect for yourself, and the other person. Without boundaries, the healthy lines in a relationship will become blurred, and you may begin taking responsibility for what someone else should be responsible for. 

The Brené Brown method of boundary setting is called BIG, an acronym for Boundaries, Integrity, and Generosity. It suggests that you ask yourself one question: how can you set boundaries in your life that help you stay in your integrity while remaining generous towards others?

The Positive Psychology Toolkit suggests some helpful strategies in its’s ‘Learning to Say No’ tool. Here are its strategies for learning to get comfortable with knowing elevating yourself trumps letting people down:

  1. Make saying no to someone easier by tapping into your values. Research shows that living our lives according to our values is beneficial for our health and wellbeing. So saying yes to someone or something that commits you to do something that feels somehow ‘wrong’ is doing yourself a disservice. When we feel the tension between what we feel is right and what someone is asking us to do, we experience value-incongruence. Navigating these moments by tuning in to our values will help us to say no more easily.
  2.  Understand we’re saying no to the request, not the person. Learning to recognize that declining the request is not the same as declining the person enables us to do what’s right for us without fearing that we are hurting someone’s feelings.
  3.  Don’t focus on what you’ll lose by saying no. Instead, consider what you gain. Reorient your attention to the benefits (time to see your parents, hold a team meeting, have a massage) rather than what you miss out on.
  4.  Understand that when someone asks us for something, they ask us to give them something. This is a cost. Recognizing what it is that you are giving away by saying yes can help you say no.
  5. Communicate clearly. Wishy-washy attempts to ‘soften the blow’ with non-committal language only lead to confusion and make the eventual ‘no’ that much harder for all involved.

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Blue Skies,