say no

Why You Need to Say “No” More Often (And How to Do Just That)

Do you ever find yourself saying “Yes” – only to immediately experience a sinking feeling inside?

Many of us take on too many commitments, because we have a hard time saying “no”. We’re constantly busy – perhaps without the time to exercise regularly or pursue our own goals – and yet we often bend over backwards to accommodate other people’s requests.

Of course, there’ll be times when you want to help out a friend, college, or family member. There’ll also be times when you think you don’t have any choice about saying “yes” or “no” – like when your boss asks if you can work late, again. But if you run yourself ragged trying to help out everyone else, you’re never going to achieve the things that you want.

You need to say “no” more often if:

  • You always tell yourself that you’ll be less busy in a few months … but you seem to get busier and busier.
  • You feel resentful about some of the tasks that you’d taken on, and wish you hadn’t.
  • You’re stressed out trying to find time to do everything.
  • You’re neglecting some of your basic needs, like exercise and healthy meals.

People won’t stop liking you just because you say “no” to a request (though they might well develop more respect for you). And the world won’t fall apart if you say “no”, even in situations where you feel like someone really needs your help.

Get Better at Saying No

Try to make “no” your default. It’s all too easy to say “Sure, that’s no problem” when, in truth, you’re already feeling anxious, even panicked, about how you’ll possibly find time.

Next time someone makes a request, think carefully before saying “yes”. If at all possible, delay giving a response so that you have time to think it through – for instance, you could say “I’ll need to think about that” or “Let me get back to you tomorrow once I’ve checked my diary.”

If you feel guilty about saying “no”, then you might want to journal about your feelings. You may also find it helpful to write a list of the pros and cons of saying “no”, to help you make a good decision for you.

Focus on What’s Important

It’s easier to say “no” when you’ve got a clear focus on what’s truly important in your life. That could be:

  • Your family
  • Your career
  • Your health

It could also be a specific goal, like getting out of debt, or writing a book.

When you have a key area of life or an important goal in mind, it’s easier to say “no” and feel justified. After all, isn’t spending time with your kids more important than chairing meetings of that local community group?

Learn Ways to Say No

Some people won’t take no for an answer. Others may get a little huffy or annoyed about being told “no” – especially if they’re used to you helping them out constantly.

Some good ways to say “no” are:

  • Being direct. Say “No, I can’t do that” and keep saying it.
  • Offering a compromise. If a straight “no” really isn’t going to work, how about “I’m afraid I can’t take that on, but I could help you out with …”
  • Explaining your priorities. “I’m afraid I don’t have time to help, because I’m in the middle of a career change.”
  • Writing down your “no”. If you get easily intimidated in conversations – and end up backing down from your position – then you might try responding by email or even in a written letter instead. This gives you more time to formulate responses.

Stay flexible, and use different methods depending on the situation. If you find a particular way of saying “no” that works well for you, try using it again in future.

Ultimately, you only have one life to live – and you want to make the most of it. If your life is full of unwanted commitments, or if you dread being phoned by that particular person who always wants something from you, then learn to say “no”, today.


Do you struggle to say “no”? Share your experiences in the comments – let us know what you find hard, and what’s worked for you.

Photo credit: ‘Mountains‘ by Big Stock


18 Responses to Why You Need to Say “No” More Often (And How to Do Just That)

  1. Farouk says:

    great post
    this is a very important topic because lack of assertiveness can always put us in situations that we didn’t want to be in
    thank you 

  2. Great post Ali!

    I personally tried investigating this only because I came to realize, just as you said, that instead becoming less and less busy in the months to come, I was making myself my own clutter just by allowing other people lives to interfere with mine. I was also having less time for the things that I liked, and indeed considered important.

    With a clear focus as you point out, there is a better chance that we will be saying NO when we feel like it. So we must set our priorities than, but alas, we tend to realize that rather later in life. 
    I love your idea of writing your NO. That way we will spend less time worrying about the instant reaction we get back, and our decision will indeed look more firm.

    As for me, I try dealing with this problem (because it is indeed a problem if we are serious about self-improvement) by prioritizing, and trying to be a person of more integrity.

  3. Chu Nam says:

    Don’t worry about other people. When we success, we can help other more.

  4. Awesome tips. Saying no is so important, but really it’s about having more STRENGTH, rather than just knowing that you should do it and some ways that you can. Be a fighter, and diligently protect your time and your resources for your future and your family.

  5. Missgaonmymind says:

    I’ve learned how to be honest and say no more often to. Lost a recent friendship behind me saying no, but it made everything more clear about the depth of our friendship anyway. 

  6. Great advice … I also think it’s okay to buy yourself some time. There’s nothing wrong with telling someone your need to check your commitments, or that you’ll get back to them. That prevents regret from missing out on something you might actually want to do but are just feeling pressured at the time.

  7. Lea says:

    This is good Ali. Often people don’t realize how thin they spread themselves which results in their priorities being neglected. There’s nothing wrong with putting yourself first, we all should. That’s how we’re able to help others.

  8. Lea says:

    This is good Ali. Often people don’t realize how thin they spread themselves which results in their priorities being neglected. There’s nothing wrong with putting yourself first, we all should. That’s how we’re able to help others.

  9. Some people have been people pleasers their whole life. It may be a role they were pushed into in their families. Learning to be polite but assertive is a skill that wasn’t taught to them. So it becomes just one more communication skill that they need to develop as an adult. And doing so involves overcoming all the fears that saying no can bring up for someone who wasn’t allowed to say no at some point in their life when they were vulnerable.

  10. This is a good post on how to be assertive. Would like to another view point and that is the difference between ASSERTIVE and AGGRESSIVE. There are many people whom I have encountered are not able to draw the line and become aggressive bullies. Let me share my personal experience. I used to work with an ex-colleague very closely on a project. Yes, she is firm at saying ‘no’. But what made her aggressive was that she would speak loudly during meetings, Intimidates others with expressions when there are objections against her. Also, she would values self more than others and reach goals but hurts others in the process. Hence, my point is that being assertive doesn’t mean being a bully. It is about expressing your rights while earning the respect of others :)

  11. Glori Surban says:

    Another great post Ali!

    Introverts are particularly susceptible to the “always say yes” syndrome, even when we don’t really want to. It’s the introvert guilt at work. 

    One cool trick I learned from one of my favorite authors is to give myself Permission Slips. 

    Like, “I give myself permission to only sty for 15 minutes at that party, ” “I give myself permission to rest,” “I give myself permission to spend time alone to read.”

    It works great for me! :)

  12. Suzanne says:

    When you set boundaries, that is, a firm meaningful ‘No’, or ‘Sorry, but my time doesn’t allow it’, you gain respect rather than condemnation. Rather than the alternative where your participation becomes an expectation. I decided this a long time ago and it has only helped me in the end.

  13. Ksessions says:

    In as much as it is hard to say “no,’ at times it has made me feel better knowing that I am able to let something go, and the world still goes on!! So I am glad to have read this article knowing that it is okay to say “NO.”

  14. Shanta Howard says:

    Hello. My name is Shanta Howard and I am a UMA Student. I really learned a lot reading this article. It described me and my daily actions. I try sayin ” NO” to people but it never works. I find myself not having enough time for myself nor my family and that is often frustrating to me. I will practice saying ” NO” more often. I am glad I read this article because it gave me some positive ways to create more time for myself by simply saying ” NO”.

  15. Geet Qizalbash says:

    I really wanted to learn the ways how to say NO .And this helped me out. Thanks writer :)
    Thank You

  16. I have been through the whole content of this blog which is
    very informative and knowledgeable stuff, so I would like to visit again.

  17. I am a nice person and I love to help people.  This is a great quality that I don’t want to ever lose, but sometimes I feel like I put someone else’s “kind of important” task over my own “very important” task.  This leads to me not getting the really important stuff done that keeps me functional and happy, which ends up hurting me as I am then unable to help others as I would like.  What I need to learn is to say no to things that aren’t THAT important so I can consistently be in a position to help those that really need the help. Thanks for the thoughts and ideas!

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