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The Power of Saying “No”

Have you seen the “NO!” buttons that some people have on their desks? While they may have received them as gifts in jest, these can actually serve as reminders to give oneself permission to say “no” when asked to do more and more, whether at home or at work.

So, why does one need permission to say “no” to requests, and what is so powerful about the tiny word “no?” Ironically, it was one of the first words many learned when starting to speak, as well as one of the words most widely used (or screamed) by toddlers. So, at what point in life’s journey, did people forget or avoid the word?

It seemed to vanish from our vocabulary, or at least from our mindset, when we faced repercussions after resisting what we were asked or told to do. First by our caregivers and elders, then by teachers, and finally by managers. Maybe we thought our reputation, especially when it is related to work, would be in jeopardy if we said “no” to a request or an assignment. In personal relationships, maybe we thought people would not like us if we declined to do something for them. Maybe in our minds, we think we could/should “do it all,” or perceive ourselves as weak or not good enough if we say “no.”

Perhaps one day we wake up feeling burdened by the heavy accumulation of taking on more and more – at work, at home, with friends, and even in our community. Demands take up time, energy, and finances, which takes a toll on our well-being. Being out of practice for so long, we may not know HOW or when to say “no” to the many requests we have accepted and the expectations we have often fulfilled (for others and ourselves). With increased signs of exhaustion, depletion, and burnout, we need to gather back our energy, and this sometimes means saying “no” and knowing that it is okay. By always putting others first, we harm ourselves by throwing ourselves off balance. What good are we to ourselves and others if we don’t take care of ourselves? The age-old airline safety instruction, “put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others” is true in all contexts. Knowing when you need to step back and say “no” to a request, an opportunity, an invitation, or an unwelcome advance is a thoughtful process that takes self-awareness and practice until it becomes a natural part of self-care.

Acknowledge your feeling

The first step is to be aware of how you feel when asked to help with something or wanting to go an extra mile. Before subconsciously agreeing, pause and notice what you feel and where you feel it in the body. Do you really want to accept the request? Are you going along with it out of habit or because you think you should do it? What is it going to “cost” you in terms of energy, time, etc.?

Really listen

Once you acknowledge this, really listen to what you want and need – not in a selfish way, but in a self-nurturing way. If you would like to accept a social invitation, but you know that you will feel exhausted after attending, listen to your inner wisdom/warning system. Perhaps it is telling you to decline the invitation in order to take care of your wellbeing.

Know your limits and honor your self-worth

Often people like to think they can do it all – be the ideal partner and/or parent, be a stellar student or employee, engage fully with friends and community -- but we all have limits in terms of how much we can do and be for others. When we recognize and accept this, we respect ourselves. Parents especially struggle with this, as they usually put their children first by default.

Set boundaries

When our boundaries are clear, we have a guideline for how much we can take on at work, at home, and even in our social life. Boundaries help define parameters for oneself and others. Adhering to healthy boundaries protects one from burnout at work, as well as toxic relationships. The care and respect we give ourselves affirms and reflects our value to ourselves and to others. This is probably one of the greatest forms of self-care and is critical to one’s health overall. Boundaries may need to be flexible at times, but it is important to weigh the cost of stretching one’s boundaries, especially when it is to accommodate others. Others may try to push these boundaries, but that is when a solid sense of self is important.

Ease into imperfection

In knowing and accepting our limits, we can relinquish the expectation of being perfect. The relief comes when we no longer put that pressure on ourselves, and we understand that it is perfectly fine to be imperfect. Cultural and social norms have traditionally rewarded people to “be their best'' in everything and for everyone, but being one’s best ultimately comes down to taking care of oneself. At first, it may seem counterintuitive that saying “no” to others means saying “yes'' to oneself. However, this is sometimes what we need to do to be our best and healthiest selves!

This excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Journey” says it well:

“But little by little,

as you left their voice behind,

the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own,

that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world,

determined to do the only thing you could do

-- determined to save the only life that you could save.”

We must commit to life – our OWN life. This is the life we have been charged with caring for and prizing above all because it is the only life we can really take care of when it comes down to it!

So, no matter what your profession is or what the status of your personal life is, “no” can be an appropriate and powerful declaration of your boundaries, your limits, and your worth. In claiming what is right and true for you, you are saying “yes” to your health, your wellbeing, and your life! You are giving yourself permission to live the life you want to live, and this is indeed your birthright.

What to do TODAY?

Karen Natasha Coaching helps many people claim the life they love, and sometimes that means saying “no” to others or to their own self-defeating thoughts. We help people shift their energy so that they are able to move ahead with assurance, confidence, and renewed energy to achieve their goals. Contact Karen Natasha Coaching for a consultation to experience how we can help.

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