Saying “No”

Logically, most of us know that we should be saying “no” far more than we are. Most us want more time, more balance, and more space. We know that saying “no” is an obvious step in the direction of those goals. But why is saying “no” so hard and so painful? What is it about setting that boundary that makes us cringe?

When we operate from our prefrontal cortex (the grown-up part of our brain that’s good at planning, strategizing, and anticipating challenges) it’s easy for us to see where change needs to happen. It’s easy for us to identify areas of our life where a new boundary would be helpful. We can look at our To Do List and the tasks that we take on and easily come up with things that we could take off our plates. Logically, this all makes sense but executing is where the battleground begins.

Once we’ve started something we have a hard time backing out. Once we’ve developed a pattern of saying “yes” we struggle to develop a new pattern. Even if we know intellectually that a new pattern will benefit everyone in the long run.

When we know that we need more “no” in our life, the only way we are going to get there is if we can deconstruct the rationale that got us to the place of overloaded to begin with. The next time someone asks you to take on an additional project or to sit on an extra board or help them through a problem, whatever it may be, we must pause in those moments and ask ourselves what rationale is driving us to accept these requests. It likely sounds something like this:

I should help

It’s the right thing to do (meaning, if I say “no” I’m not being a good person)

I don’t want to disappoint anyone

If I don’t say “yes” there will be a negative consequence (I won’t get anymore clients, I will lose out on work, people won’t trust me, people won’t like me, etc.)

All of these thoughts are incredibly persuasive in the moment. All of these thoughts are also rooted in fear. We worry that if we don’t help, others will judge us. We worry that others will think we’re not a good person or we’re not a team player. We worry that something bad will happen if we don’t follow through on all of these requests.


Sound familiar? Setting boundaries and time management is a huge part of my work with my clients. If you want to change the way you respond to requests and manage your time, grab a free consult and let’s get to work. You deserve better!


Those fear-based thoughts spring from our fight or flight brain that wants us to continue our usual routine of saying “yes” and chasing the endorphins of people pleasing. When we consider saying “no” and deviating from this pattern, our survival brain goes on the defensive. It starts offering to us all the reasons why this new approach will be catastrophic for our lives and our reputations. Knowing this, we must look at all of those fear-based thoughts and challenge them (using our prefrontal cortex).

I should help.

What does that even mean?! How do you know when you should help?! Who decides? Would everyone agree with that?

When we tell ourselves that we “should” help we often get ourselves into scenarios where we’re overloaded and we do a poor job in the end. In fact, it would be more of a service to the person making the request if we actually didn’t help because it’s possible they would find someone with more capacity who could do a better job. In other words, when you find your brain telling you that you should help the exact opposite is typically true: you should not help. Back away! Let them find someone else who will be more engaged and more available for the task.

It’s the right thing to do.

Again, says who?! What does that even? Is it right to help people when you don’t really want to? Isn’t that just dishonesty in a prettier outfit? Besides, when it comes to the “right thing” to do, shouldn’t your wants, needs, and sanity be the primary driver of those decisions?!

I don’t want to disappoint anyone.

The only way we disappoint people is when we overcommit ourselves, overextend ourselves, and do not show up in the manner that the requestor knows we can provide. When we say “yes” even though we mean “no,” we set ourselves on a clear path to likely disappoint not only the requester but other people who have similar requests already sitting on our plates.

Similarly, when we tell ourselves something bad will happen if we don’t say “yes,” it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are likely to take on something that we don’t have capacity for and we do a bad job and create a negative consequence simply by doing a bad job and not being able to show up as our best selves. It’s a lose-lose scenario.

All of these thoughts are red flags that we are setting ourselves up to create the exact opposite result than what we’re wanting. More failure, disappointment, and chaos await us when we allow those thoughts to drive our actions.

Rather than allowing ourselves to be persuaded by these thoughts, we must remain rooted and grounded in our commitment to ourselves, our balance, and our happiness. We must reconnect with our prefrontal cortex that knows we already have enough on our plate, we’re already overextended, and some things just have to start coming off the list. Allow our prefrontal cortex to make those decisions ahead of time and go into the day knowing that any new request will be met with a simple “no”.

That is power.

That is having your own back.

That is putting yourself in a position to show up as your best self every time and ensuring that when people rely on you, you will have the time and energy to rise up and meet those expectations because you’re caring for yourself first.


Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash