How to say

By Nele Costers.

Let's start with a small exercise. Think of your past week. How often did you say "yes" to something you actually wanted to say "no" to?

And how often did you condemn yourself afterwards for having accepted? Perhaps it got you in a bad mood, testing your nerves and relationships with co-workers, family or friends. Or you started taking on more than you can, maneuvering yourself into poor time management. Saying "yes" when you really mean "no" can easily become a lose-lose situation for both you and others.

Be kind to yourself: saying "no" is one of the hardest things to do. Our society is built on maintaining harmonic relationships. Many of us feel a tendency to please, to fit in, or to feel useful. This tendency is engrained deep into our psyche: one of our biggest fears is the fear of rejection. In ancient times, being rejected by the group or clan you lived with, meant almost certain death. No wonder we have learned to say "yes" much more easily.

Saying "no" makes us believe that others won't like us if we don't live up to their expectations. But is that really the case?

Setting compassionate boundaries

Mindfulness can help you set compassionate and healthy boundaries, at work and in your private life.  Sometimes, a negative response might actually be the most positive one.

Setting compassionate boundaries means that you turn toward whatever difficulty you are feeling, with compassion, and that you listen to the underlying need. This can help you to see what is both compassionate to yourself and to the other person involved.

When you notice feelings like anger or irritation while you're about to say "yes" when you actually mean the opposite, ask yourself two questions:

  • What needs to be protected?
  • What needs to be restored?

These questions help to explore and restore your boundaries with compassion to yourself and to others. Unpleasant feelings can serve as a signal to protect yourself from harm, and it's wise to respect them. They then become powerful allies to transform your automatic reactions into a conscious response from a courageous heart.

Choosing a conscious "yes" or "no"

When you're very busy, and you are running on autopilot, getting done as many things as possible, you might easily say "yes" on autopilot too. Without realizing that you are taking on too much.

It can be helpful to build in regular short breaks to tune in to how you are feeling, and to reflect on your reasons for saying "yes" or "no". Mindfulness is about cultivating awareness from moment to moment, so your "yes" or "no" is not an automatic reaction, but a conscious choice.

Reflecting on how to say "no"

If you feel some resistance about saying "no", you may want to take a moment to reflect on how you want to say it. Perhaps it can make it easier if you can find a kind and respectful way to bring the message.

Personally, I like to reply with a kind: "Let me think about it and I'll come back to you on that." Which buys me some time. I'm naturally very enthusiastic but I have learned that I easily take on more work than I can cope with. I now sense first where I am at, and learned to say no with my heart.

I hope that you can increase your confidence from successfully experimenting with these suggestions, so you can live your life to the fullest and say "no" without having to worry. Can you already start feeling the relief? Let us know your experience with saying no with kindness.