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I’ve always had a really hard time with the word “no.” It’s not hard for me to hear it — truthfully, I expect to hear it. The problem I have is with saying it. I have this fear that if I tell someone no, and if I don’t do what they want, then they won’t like me anymore. That terrifies me, so I say yes.

Obviously, this is no way to live a healthy life. People take advantage of people who always say yes. You end up agreeing to do things you don’t want to do, you overexert yourself, and you get put in a lot of unhealthy situations. But it’s also not true, or healthy to think, that people will stop liking you simply because you can’t do something for them.

It has taken me 39 years to realize this fact fully — that if you say no, it won’t change people’s opinions of you or lessen their feelings for you. More importantly, even if it did do that, it would way more about that person than it would about you. Quite honestly, it’s better to know sooner, rather than later, with those types of people. While I still struggle with this, I feel like I have finally turned a corner and have begun to say no. But how did I get here?

I wish I could give that to you — “five easy steps to saying no (and being at peace with it)” — but I can’t. I can, though, tell you the journey I took. Shockingly, it started with therapy. I think I needed to find and believe the value of myself so I could put my own needs at the same level as, if not a higher level than, those of others. If you believe your needs are as important as the needs of the person requesting something of you, it becomes much easier to say no. Knowing that you have value also helps quiet the baseless voice in your head that says, “If you say no, you will be letting them down and they will not like you as much anymore.” If you know you have value, you can say, “So what? If they only like me for the things I do for them, then they are not someone I want in my life anyways. So, Step 1: Acknowledge and believe in your worth.

Next, I make myself wait before I agree to things or volunteer. I find if I can find the courage to say, “Let me think on it.” I have the distance and the time to decide if this is something I want to do. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t, but that space gives me a chance to avoid my knee-jerk habit of simply saying yes. An important thing to note here is that if your answer is no, then you have to tell that person. Because I have a looooong history of saying yes, a lot of times, people believe a non-answer is a yes, so I have to make sure to follow up. This is also good for me because it makes me actually say the word “no.” Step 2: Wait.

Obviously, not every situation allows for a “Let me get back to you on that.” What then? A lot of times, I still say yes. (Ha.) And many times in those situations, I walk away thinking, “Darn it, why did I say yes?” Just recently, I have given myself permission to change my mind. This is a powerful thing. It means I can still say no even when I said yes. Now, there is obviously a time limit on this, if I can’t find the courage to back out in the following three days, then I am committed, but it does allow me an exit. I’ve just started using this strategy, and it has been glorious. Old behavior patterns are so easy to fall into, and sometimes you cannot recognize it until it’s too late. Allowing myself to still say no, even after a yes, has been huge for me because it has greatly increased the nos in my life. Step 3: It is OK to change your mind.

So I guess I have three easy steps. But sometimes, that’s still not enough, and I find myself overcommitting. I think the reason is that I still struggle with saying no to the judgmental voice in my head saying I have to do it all, be it all and have it all covered on my own. That asking for help is a weakness, and that I should just be able to handle it. I think that’s the next step in my “no” journey. A firm no would then be the biggest, and possibly final, release from my “yes addiction.” Step 4: You can say no to your own unrealistic beliefs and ideals of what you should do, say or be.

Since I’m still working on that, I’ll ask you: How do you say no? I’m always looking for ways to build my arsenal, and I would love to hear how you do it.

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