Changing the Way I Think About Saying 'No'

Like many people, I struggle with saying no. It's part of my brand of perfectionism, which includes people pleasing, and can wreak havoc when not checked. In the last few months though, I've started saying no more. My schedule and obligations were piling up as a result of my not being able to say no enough and I feared they'd topple over and bury me. 

Learning to Say No

Saying no is hard because it makes us uncomfortable. Whether it's declining an invitation to a party because you're exhausted and would rather relax at home or refusing additional volunteer responsibilities at an organization you're involved with, saying no is tough. But when we don't say no enough, our obligations threaten our well-being. We become stressed, can't sleep, get burnt out and rush around all day feeling overwhelmed. We can become resentful of our many responsibilities and that overburdened state can lead to more stress and anger.

I know when I can't say no it's often because I'm not listening to my intuition and I'm placing everyone else's needs above my own. My mom used to have a sign in our kitchen when I was little that said, "Stress is what happens when your gut says 'no' but your mouth says 'of course, I'd be glad to.'" But recently, I've been trying to align my gut with my mouth by saying no when I feel it's the right thing to do.

While it hasn't been easy, the results have been positive. I'm less stressed, less overburdened, less harried and frazzled and "busy" (a word I have a lot more to say about, but that will have to wait). Saying no hasn't really gotten easier, but as I do it more, it becomes less fraught. And one shift in my thinking has really helped me feel good about it.

Focus on Feelings

When I first started getting into eating healthier about five years ago, it was because I shifted my focus to how food made me feel, not just how it tasted in the moment. Don't get me wrong, I love food and always want it to taste good, but sometimes what we eat makes us feel terrible for a long time after. It can make us sluggish or fatigued, unable to perform our best at work or life in general. But food can also make us feel energized, awake and alive, ready to take on whatever comes our way. By focusing on how your food makes you feel, you're more likely to make better choices.

That's how I now think of saying no. Instead of focusing on the uncomfortable sensations that crop up in the moment of saying no, I focus on how I feel later. I nearly always feel lighter, less overwhelmed, less resentful, calmer and more relaxed. I especially try to tune into these feelings when the thing I refused comes up, like an event I declined, so I can recall them more easily in those tough moments. I'm usually always so happy not to be heading out to whatever it is, instead able to complete the tasks on my to-do list or just relax for a little while, on my terms.

 This small shift in my thinking has led to big changes in my life. The more I exercise my no muscle, the better I get at it, and being able to call up these feelings in tough moments makes them come more easily and frequently.

Do you have trouble saying no? What tricks have helped you set boundaries?