To me, February feels like the most hectic time of the year. School is back, school functions are back, work kicks into a high gear all of a sudden after the relaxation of summer. There are lunch invitations and everyone seems to be having a birthday and our diaries fill up quickly. How do you stay sane and not totally exhausted? Learn how to say no.
It’s easier said than done. We’ve all been in that place of having someone ask us to do something and our first reaction is to say ‘yes, of course’. It’s easier, more polite. But then as the day of the commitment—making a birthday cake, looking after someone’s dog for a weekend—comes closer, you can feel resentment and even anger at yourself (and the person you said yes to.)
You need to learn how to set boundaries.
Boundaries are a huge part of self-acceptance. When you’re in a position of grounded confidence, this is much easier. But learning how to say no is just so difficult for so many people.
People think of boundaries and often think of huge confrontations but really it’s not all about that. It’s the constant regular little ‘nos’ that we put out along the way. When so many of us, myself included are ‘obligers’ (according to the Gretchin Rubin model … you can take the free quiz here to work out your tendency) it’s no wonder we have a hard time saying no.
Ask me about my relationship with my friend Helen and I’ll be honest: despite all my training and qualifications and self-worth, I sometimes struggle with saying no to her. I love her to bits, she adds so much to my life, but I’m often powerless when she wants to rope me into doing something. I spend a lot of time thinking about how that leaves me and how I can change it.
I believe some of it stems from one of the most common limiting beliefs around boundaries: fear. Specifically, the fear of disconnection.
—“I’m afraid he/she/they won’t like me anymore”
—“I’m afraid they will just ignore me”.
—“I’m afraid because I don’t know how to really set boundaries…. I’ve tried but they don’t work.”
—“I’m afraid they’ll think less of me and think I’m just too difficult”
Because of that fear, we build resentment and anger, and distance ourselves from the people we want to set a boundary with. There is an unspoken thing standing between us impacting our relationships in a very toxic way. This often happens in families … sound familiar?
Setting boundaries can feel uncomfortable at first if you aren’t used to setting them, but knowing how to say no shows you have respect for yourself and it can be the key to establishing healthy relationships with other people.
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others, according to Brene Brown: “We can’t base our own worthiness on others’ approval (and this is coming from someone who spent years trying to please everyone!)” she wrote for Oprah. “Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough can we say “Enough!”
She has a three-step solution for anyone wanting to learn how to say no:
- Make a mantra. Brown needs something to hold onto (literally) during “those awkward moments” when a yes hangs in the air. She wears a silver ring that she spins while silently repeating, “Choose discomfort over resentment.” She says it reminds her that she’s choosing her wellbeing, even if it’s not easy.
- Keep a resentment journal. Whenever she’s tired or overwhelmed, Brown writes what she’s feeling in her ‘Damn It! Diary’. Expressing it helps to defuse the feeling of powerlessness about not saying no.
- Rehearse. She recommends practicing saying things like, “I can’t take that on” or “My plate is full.” Then it will feel more natural and less scary when you say it for real.