The Art of Saying No (When You Can’t Stop Saying Yes)

By Contributor | Thursday 2nd August, 2018

When I was a waiter, I always got promoted quickly because I was considered to be a ‘Yes’ person. Will you cover my shift next week? Yes of course! Will you stay an hour later? Yes, if you need me to. Will you clean up that customer's vomit? Point me in the direction of the mop!

And like most, I therefore equated the potential for success with the word yes. But this filtered into my everyday life. From staying out drinking when I had work the next day to going on terrible dates just because I didn’t want to say no, my social calendar started to fill up with so much pointless shit that I was having to say no to things that really mattered- like sleep.

But I soon realised that real success and contentment doesn’t look like a diary full of mediocre events, a list of favours on your to-do list, or endless threads of conversation with dates and people you wasted time on.

The Office

Steve Jobs once said that "focusing is about saying no", and it was when I started to say no that I not only began to get shit done, but I saw how difficult a task it really was. Saying no is hard, especially if you’re a people pleaser. Whilst I’d hardly call myself one of those, I do find it difficult to negotiate situations in which I’m being heavily pressured to say yes. Why? I like an easy life.

Many people (not me, by the way) will say yes to avoid conflict. In the heat of the moment, it’s really easy to be manipulated by comments such as ‘oh but everyone else does it…’ or ‘you’d be doing me a massive favour’ or ‘I promise it will be worth it.’

N.B. It’s never really worth it.

And actually, always saying yes can negatively impact your life. It can cause you to have bad relationships because there are no real boundaries; it can lead to stress, anxiety and depression because of the added pressure; it can cause burnout; and it can affect your sense of identity.

So if you’re ready to start being an ‘absolutely not’ person, follows these tips:


Assess the situation

Don’t suddenly become wayward and defiant, saying no to everything. Sometimes it’s good to say yes. For example, when you’re offered a pay rise, or someone offers you cake (no brainer). If you see the value in doing something and you’re willing to waste the time on it, then by all means, say yes. But before you give an answer to someone’s request, take a deep breath and think to yourself ‘do I actually want to do this/ is there any value/ am I actually getting mugged off?’

Ignore people

You don’t owe anyone a yes or a no ever. So no matter what BS they sell you to encourage you to do something, you can totally say no. I once got persuaded to buy health insurance for if I broke my leg. But that was the only body part included and it cost me £5.70 a month. This is an example of when you should not give in to pressure when you really want to say no.

Practice with small things

“Hey can you pick me up a coffee on your way in?” No.
“Any chance you could make that call for me?” Nope.
“Will you do these 5 shots of Sambuca with me” Absolutely not.


Don’t doubt yourself

One of the emotions that follows the answer no when you’re new to the ‘absolutely not’ club, is guilt. Should you have said no? I mean, you probably could have done it if you’d moved some stuff around and actually, that person is probably going to think you’re a selfish, lazy bitch now… Look, you weighed up the options and unfortunately ‘No’ came out on top. No one will care tomorrow, move on and get on with the stuff you actually want to do- you made the right decision (plus if you didn’t you can always change your mind).

Get comfortable with it

At first, when you start saying no, it feels alien. But what you’re actually doing is laying out your boundaries with people. Only you get to decide what is a good use of your time, what’s worth your energy and what will keep you sweet. So get comfortable with saying no and you’ll start seeing what real success looks like.