Posted by: Suzan | August 28, 2009


When we were two years old we had little difficulty saying ‘no’. What has happened? Many of us have been engrained with the value of pleasing others. Get along, go along, help and serve. Does this ring true for you?

 As adult professionals this translates to many ‘yeses’ that are really ‘no’s’ in our insides. ‘Yes’ to social gatherings we don’t wish to attend, volunteer committees we don’t wish to serve on, or unpaid overtime at work – what is it for you?

 The good news is you can choose to spend your precious time and energy on what brings you joy rather than on what drains you. Cheryl Richardson in her book, Take Time for Your Life, suggests you stop to check in with how you feel before making any decisions. Clear some space to relax, breathe, and be with the decision before you act. When your life moves like a bullet train the tendency is to make impulsive choices. You may react from how you think you are supposed to be rather than from what is true for you. When you notice how you feel, you can connect your head to your heart and make wiser choices.       

Something I do which works well for me is to first check in with myself and ask: Will this give me energy or take it? I listen to my body because it tells the truth. If my stomach goes into a knot or my chest feels tight, I trust this, for it equates to a resounding ‘no’ from the inside. If I ignore my inner-voice, I may fall into the “disease to please.” And that sickness only hurts me. If I say ‘yes’ when I mean ‘no’ then I’m lying to myself and others. There is no virtue in that for myself or anyone else.

 During a television interview noted Talk Show Host and Psychologist, Dr. Phil, shared how he creates balance in his life. He stated that he learned to say ‘no’ when he needed to and to prioritize activity versus productivity. He suggests that we look at each opportunity in terms of what it will bring us. Essentially, ask ourselves if the situation is in alignment with our values and goals or is it one more thing to do to stay busy and/or look good.

 So how do we become two year old curious with the finesse of saying ‘no’ when we mean ‘no’? The following are recommendations that I’ve learned through research and my own experiences in coaching clients:


1)     Give yourself at least 24 hours to get back to someone. For example, “Let me check my calendar and I’ll get back with you tomorrow.”

2)     Say ‘no’ as the first word of the sentence. It is easier to honor this commitment if it is the first word out of your mouth.

3)     Say ‘no’ with confidence. Look into the other’s eyes. Use a direct, firm voice. End with an acknowledgement. For example, “No, I won’t be able to serve on this committee. Thank you though for this opportunity.”

4)     Avoid sharing long winded excuses. One suggestion, “I have another commitment already. Thank You.”

5)     Realize that saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’ causes resentment. This takes your energy and creates discomfort. You are protecting your energy and likely your health by saying ‘no’.

6)     If ‘no’ is your honest response, it is honorable to tell the truth. Others will choose to think whatever they will. You have no control over that. You do have control over making the choices that will serve your life and bring you success.


Finally, if you are severely ‘no’ challenged I offer the following homework:


1)     Keep a list for a month of what you are saying ‘no’ to for every ‘yes’ you speak.

2)     Say ‘no’ one time a day for one month.

3)     Journal and/or reflect on: Am I being nice or am I being real? What is the cost of saying yes?

Saying ‘no’ when you mean ‘no’ can challenge what you’ve been brought up with. Yet when you eliminate what drains you, you’ll make space for what is really important. When you say ‘no’ to what takes your energy and time, you are saying ‘yes’ to your bigger agenda – your precious, more successful LIFE. No + No = Yes to Life Success!



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