Say YES to a joyful UnBusy Life with your loved ones by learning the art of saying no. This one tip from The Life on Purpose Movement will change how your no's are received.
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“That’s what I like about you,” a close friend said to me recently. “I like that I always know you’ll tell me if you don’t want to do something.”
We were four feet apart from each other, on the floor of our local gym. She was stretched across an exercise ball; I was attempting to hold a forearm plank.
“And when you do say yes,” she added, “I know you mean it.”
I set a knee down onto the ground, pausing my physical exercise so I could let my brain run through what she’d just said.
This was a benefit of saying no that I’d never thought of before. I knew what saying no did for me: it gives me time to focus on the things I really care about, it spares me the stress and anxiety of an over-full calendar, and it clears out space inside my head.
But this was something that receiving “no” did for her. For my friend.
It benefited both of us.
AN UNEXPECTED BENEFIT OF SAYING NO
If you consistently decline offers and requests that come your way, over time the people around you will come to know that you mean it when you accept.
When you say yes, they’ll know it aligns with your values and feels right in your heart. They won’t have to wonder if you’re accepting out of guilt or obligation.
With my knees still on the ground, I tried to recall all the times I’d said no to my friend. Am I really saying no that often? I thought.
I offer my help in a heartbeat if she needs something, because being there for friends is something I try to prioritize. But she’s also more extroverted than I am, so she plans the social events for our friend group, and I come whenever it feels right. But if my family’s weekend is already a bit full, I’ll say no to make sure we keep our white space. Or if she suggests a girls’ night out and I know what I need is a night in with a good book, I’ll tell her.
She laughs at my honesty; I make fun of myself for guarding my calendar so vigilantly. It’s a beautiful friendship.
A BIGGER YES
Although I practice it regularly, I’ve never completely lost that sinking feeling that comes with saying no. For those few moments, I’m never on sure social footing. I want to help people out, to be a team player, to contribute to the cause, and honestly, to be liked.
But even more than that, I want to be true to my core. I want to live the life that feels right for me.
So I work hard to think of saying no as saying a bigger yes. A yes to slow afternoons with my kids, a yes to my creative interests, a yes to weekends of exploring as a family. A bigger yes.
ONE THING THAT WILL IMPROVE HOW YOUR NO’S ARE RECEIVED
My advice is to be honest about why you’re declining.
And not just the immediate why but the overarching why.
It’s the difference between—
“I’m sorry we can’t make that birthday party; we have something else going on.”
“I’m sorry we can’t make it! Our family has been overdoing it lately with the activities; we’re trying out a slower pace.”
In this digital era where we can portray ourselves any way we want to, people are craving authenticity. We long to know that others are struggling to find a shred of balance, a little clarity in a noisy world.
Share who you are, who you’re trying to be.
If you’d like to try opening up the next time you need to say no, I think you’ll find that even one sentence can encapsulate your values surprisingly well.
The Art of Saying No — 6 Lines to Experiment With
Try playing around with any of these:
- “I do life at a slower pace than a lot of people, but I’m okay with that.”
- “We’re really trying to prioritize family time right now. The years are going by too fast!”
- “I got tired of being burned out all the time, so I’m trying to do things differently now.”
- “I’m working on living at a more comfortable pace.”
- “I’m trying hard not to let myself juggle too many things.”
- “I’m focusing on my work and my family right now; I can’t take on anything outside of my priorities.”
I’m not saying you need to bare your soul to every person who requests something of you. But if you’re looking to build a long-term friendship—or even if you’re just willing to spark some conversation and maybe inspire someone to take steps in the same direction as you—an honest, authentic answer opens the door.
A minute later, I pushed myself off my workout mat, stood up tall next to my friend, and said no, she shouldn’t plan on our family joining hers for a road trip down to Mexico (in the moment, it felt like it would take too much mental bandwidth), but yes, I’d happily bring guacamole to this weekend’s swim party.
That I can do.