How Saying “No” Protects Your Precious Time, Energy, and Happiness

Woman feeling happy

How often do you say yes to people when you really want to say no? Sometimes it might feel like a yes in the moment, but it quickly changes to regret.

This has been a challenge for me over the years. While I wanted to help others, the end result was over doing it and neglecting my own needs.

Especially when I was a young mom, the word “yes” jumped right out of my mouth when asked to volunteer.

  • Will you help in the classroom? Yes!
  • Will you serve on the PTA? Yes!
  • Will you coordinate the fundraiser, stuff envelopes, chaperone the dance… ? Well, yes. Yes I will!

And then I thought I should be active in the community, so I volunteered at the domestic abuse shelter, served Meals On Wheels, served as a Girl Scout leader, and the list goes on.

By not being choosey about what I said yes to (in addition to family and career), I was habitually prioritizing other’s needs ahead of my own. Over time it wore me down. I lost a bit of myself and forgot my true authentic self. Can you relate?

Saying yes when you mean no (or vice versa) can especially happen when you’re not clear about your own personal priorities and boundaries.

“Your decisions reveal your priorities.”

Jeff Van Gundy

Consider putting some thought into your priorities. When someone asks something of you, make your decision based on if the commitment aligns with your priorities. Set boundaries that work for you.

To help you explore and identify your priorities, click here for a free pdf worksheet I created for you:

The Cost of NOT Saying “No”

All of these things I said yes to were good. It was the combination of it all that put me over the cliff.

Reflecting back, unconsciously I sometimes said ‘yes” to the point of depletion, burnout, or whatever you want to call it.

Most of the things I said “yes” to were authentic – I really did want to accept the invitations and volunteer. Knowing when enough is enough is where I slipped up.

By overcommitting, I didn’t have time to enjoy simple, every day pleasures, and didn’t have the energy for must-do tasks.

Every yes and every no has consequences.

5 Costs of NOT Saying No Enough

1 – Time: Saying yes is a time commitment that takes you away from doing things that bring meaning and joy to your life.

Let’s flip that…

Saying NO to something means saying YES to showing up more fully for the people you have prioritized in your life.

Ellen Burgan

2 – Energy: While habitually prioritizing others’ needs ahead of your own, you chance giving away all your energy and leaving little for you. (Read about the importance of self-care.) Overcommitting can lead to stress, exhaustion, overwhelm and burnout.

3 – Resentment: Doing an unauthentic yes activity can bring up feelings of resentment and bitterness as it takes away from being able to do something that supports your priorities.

Being honest and authentic with others – even if that means saying no – is best for both of you. Ultimately you’ll avoid resentment and they’ll find someone who truly wants to do the activity.

4 – Happiness: Being too tired and stressed to fully enjoy life is a big cost. Do you ever say no to things you really want to do because you’ve spent all your time and energy accommodating other people’s needs?

5 – Being Less Than Your Best: When you’ve agreed to do more than your schedule, mind, and body can handle, you may feel scattered, overwhelmed, and unable to fully be available for anyone (including yourself).

When you choose one thing, it will always come at the cost of something else… something has to give.

Saying yes to something that you don’t really want is often saying no to what you want more of in your life.

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“No” is a Full Sentence

Learning to use the word no is challenging, yet liberating! For me it’s still a lesson in progress, but choosing to say no (when I want to) has become easier with time.

Sometimes I find myself explaining why I said no because I think the other person might judge me or think poorly of me. Possibly I’m unconsciously trying to justify my “no” to convince myself that I’m not selfish or uncaring. Guilt for saying no even creeps in sometimes.

TIP: Simply saying no is a fair response, with no explanation or reasons required. Explanations invite arguments.

Give yourself permission to say no to going to a party, no to helping your friend move, and no to volunteering for an event. No excuses needed.

It is OK for you to answer however it is you want to answer. Is it a yes? Or is it a no? Your choice.

Other than activities, here are some other things you might want to say no to:

  • NO to anything that influences you to be less than your best self.
  • NO to anything that no longer serves you.
  • NO to people who exhaust, criticize, or disrespect you.
  • NO to all the things that don’t bring you joy!

How to Say No

Saying no is especially hard for people pleasers. You want people to like you!

Saying yes feels good in the moment and avoids a potential awkward situation from saying no. However, saying no doesn’t need to feel uncomfortable.

At the beginning of your journey of changing your behavior, it might be easier to say no via text or email. This is OK because it’s progress in the right direction.

Here are a few tips to help you masterfully say no.

  1. If you’re not sure about your answer, say that you’ll check your calendar and get back to them by a specific date/time. This gives you time to do your inner check on whether it aligns with your priorities. If the answer is no, decline politely and directly by saying something like, “Thank you for thinking of me, but unfortunately I can’t help you.” Keep it simple, you don’t need to give a reason.
  2. If you say option 1 and the person pressures you for an immediate answer, say “If you need an answer now, the answer is no.” If they push for a reason, calmly say the truth which might be “I’m focusing on family right now.”
  3. When you immediately know you want to decline, reply “I’m not taking on any new commitments, but I’m honored that you asked. Best of luck!”

Those are some examples. Decide what reply feels authentic to you, and practice it prior to needing to use it!

For more ideas, read Berkeley’s Five Research-Based Ways to Say No.

There’s an Exception to Every Rule…

Sometimes saying yes to something that’s outside of your comfort zone is a good thing. You might want to say no because it’s scary, but it could help you grow as a person and learn new things.

For example, if someone asks you to write an article for a local newsletter, your inner critic might start screaming, “Say no! Don’t do it! You can’t write good enough and people will laugh at you.” You can begin to quiet that inner critic by saying yes and proving to yourself that you CAN write well.

It’s scary, yet a great opportunity for personal growth.

If your yes or no is coming from a place of fear, reconsider. If you really want it, say yes even if it’s scary.

To learn more about stepping outside of your comfort zone, read my post about taking chances and getting the life you really want.

The Freedom of “No”

Knowing when to say yes or no to others comes back to priorities and staying true to your authentic self. Fill your days with things that add value to your life, and say no to the rest.

There’s a real feeling of empowerment in honoring your time and energy, and selectively choosing what you want to do.

Growing your awareness of what is important to you (priorities) will make saying no easier.

If you’re on a journey of saying yes only when you truly mean it, look for improvement over perfection. As you practice saying no, the word will more naturally come out of your mouth without guilt.

TIP: Show yourself compassion as you practice saying yes only to things that align with your priorities. Having self-compassion is a really important tool, and is especially helpful for times when you are practicing a new skill. With self-compassion, you’ll be more likely to believe you can improve, correct your mistakes, and get back on track with your goals. That certainly will bring you joy! (Read more about the importance of self-compassion and how to practice it.)

Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.

Brené Brown
Woman saying no

Does this post resonate with you? Want more support?

If you are a woman who tends to chronically prioritize others’ wants and needs ahead of your own and maybe you don’t even remember who the real you is… book a call with me to see how I can help you as a Life & Joy Coach.

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