How To Master The Art of Saying No

Updated: Feb 11

Saying no is one of the most important skills that a person can master. Imagine yourself as a ship in the ocean. Your yes and your no are like the winds that direct your sails. Every time we say yes or no we adjust our path. For our entire lives our interests will be at odds with the interests of others. Friends, family, co-workers, bosses, clients, salesmen, etc. It is our job to become our own advocate to make sure we keep our ship on our own path, not anyone else's. The longer you let your ship go down the wrong path, the harder it is to correct course.

1. Define What You Want

The first step is learning what you should to say yes or no to. And in order to do that you have to learn about yourself.

You have to know what you want so that you can see when you're not getting it. You have to know your values so you can see when others don't have them.

Sometimes it's hard to tell if we're doing something because we truly want to, or because we're being influenced by our peers. A helpful way to sort this out is through a simple writing exercise. You can do this any way you like, on your computer or on a note pad. I did the exercise myself to see what I could learn, and made it look pretty although that's by no means the point here.

What's important is that you start writing about the person you want to be and the future you want to have. Here are the most important questions to answer:

  • What kind of hobbies and habits do you want for yourself?

  • What habits do you want to avoid?

  • What are your values, and what do you not value?

  • What are your goals for your future? What will it take to get there?

  • What things make you happy, and what makes you unhappy?

  • Who do you enjoy being around, and who makes you feel uncomfortable in any way?

There is no right or wrong way to to this, just make sure that your answers are 100% honest and uncompromised by the influence of others. Every persons answers to these questions will be different and they will also change as your journey unfolds.

Once you have completed your exercise, analyze your responses and look for where there are contradictions in your life. For instance, if you wrote down 'going to bed early' as a habit you want, and 'drinking' as a habit you want to avoid, but your friends keep convincing you to stay out late partying, you've identified an area of your life that you could start exercising your no muscle.

Another example is if you wrote down 'saving money to buy a car', but you have a hard time saying no to the expensive brunches and shopping sprees your friends enjoy, or saying no when someone asks you to lend them money, you've identified another area that you can start saying no.

On mine I noticed that the themes of healthy living kept popping up. This is clearly a top value of mine. Say I were still a high school student and my friends went to buy pizza every day for lunch, I would have a good opportunity to start saying no and instead packing my own healthy lunch.

These may not seem like big deals, but if you struggle with being a people pleaser these are the places you want to start drawing your lines and sticking to them.

2. Look For Opportunities to Start Saying No

Now that you have spent some time writing and thinking about what you want, and identifying what you don't want, it's time to start looking for any opportunity you can to say 'No'.

Remember the movie Yes Man? Where Jim Carrey's closed minded and boring character 'Carl' commits himself to saying yes to absolutely everything at a self help summit? Think of this as the reverse, the No Woman movie, and you're the shining star.

Of course, the goal isn't to become closed minded and boring like Jim Carrey pre-Tony Robbins intervention. 'Yes' is as important a tool as 'no'. Yes is your sword and no is your shield. Yes opens the door, and no puts up a wall. The goal is to become masters of these tools, using each appropriately when they are in our best interest.

The problem is that so many girls and women have the exact opposite problem of Carl. His closed mindedness and over indulgence in saying 'No' lead to his unhappiness, whereas it is the fear of saying no and the overindulgence of 'Yes' that leads to so many people's unhappiness, and worse, getting taken advantage of. We need to have a balance that comes from knowing ourselves and being true to ourselves.

So, if you are someone that ha