It’s Okay To Say No

How often do you say yes without even considering no?

It is so culturally ingrained to give an automatic yes that we often do not even notice when we DON’T WANT to do the thing at all.

Noticing what happens in my body when yes is really no has helped me find the no: a sinking feeling in my chest, an anxious jump in my solar plexus when I imagine actually doing the thing. After I experience those physical sensations, I have even pulled the plug a few times. I can count that de facto no on one hand.

What’s the big deal about doing things for other people that might benefit them so much so more than it will bother you?

I’ll tell you. When we ignore our inner voice, we silence the part of us that knows what we want and need. Not just, I prefer herbal tea over coffee. Critical stuff like this relationship isn’t right for me or this is unwanted touch or this stranger is dangerous. Access to this innate information is deeply important to our wellbeing. When we ignore that voice about the little stuff, it doesn’t speak up anymore about the big stuff.

Saying no is a way to take mental, physical, and emotional care of ourselves.

I speak from experience on the perils of ignoring that inner voice. Throughout my life, I dismissed the whispered directions to my true path. To this day I am realizing things about myself that I paid no attention to for decades. Tapping into that inborn wisdom is the only way to have a WHOLE and happy life.

If you also have difficulty saying no, there is no need to beat yourself up about it. That part of you has been working incredibly hard to do everything for everyone all the time. This is our cultural training and it runs DEEP. The only thing the relentless worker inside you needs is gratitude for all that labor and to be allowed to rest.* There is no rush to heal. You don’t have to be perfect at that too.

So, how do we do it? Since I struggle with this as well, I look to the pros. When someone asks Martha Beck, Oprah’s Life Coach (and the one who trained me), to do something, her answer is, “let me check.” She isn’t consulting a calendar. I mean, afterwards she probably does, but initially she is checking in with herself. Does the idea of saying yes create a feeling of expansion or contraction? Expansion is a yes. Contraction is a no. The body has access to so much more information than our verbal mind. Pro and con lists don’t begin to cover it.  

Once a friend of Martha’s got upset with her when she did this. She asked why. The friend said, “because you had to check.” The only folks who have a problem with you setting healthy boundaries for yourself are the ones who have benefited from you having none. I heard that somewhere and it’s definitely been true for me. If people truly value YOU, they would want you to take care of yourself, right? 

And speaking of Oprah, she considered it a revelation that she could decide for herself how she spent her time and energy. She didn’t learn how to say no until the age of 42! Unlearning an automatic yes began when she asked herself what her intention was behind her yes. If it was I don’t want this person to be mad at me, she said no. A genuine YES came from her heart. And it changed her life.**

And speaking of life-changing, Tricia Hersey, author of Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto, teaches the importance of pushing back against Grind Culture: “I say no to 90% of what is asked of me. I don’t overbook my calendar. If I do that it would not allow space for mystery, curiosity and for the sacredness of what COULD happen in those spaces. I want to say yes to things I really feel a YES about.”

Resting and taking time out—there is information for us in those spaces. To slow down is to allow the portal inside to open to create a better world for everyone. Running ourselves ragged prevents us from realizing our true potential.

So. When a friend says no, try honoring that no. There is a good chance it was extremely difficult for her to say it in the first place.

And P.S. if you feel resentful receiving a no, ask yourself this. Who are you really mad at? Could it be you for not having the courage to say no when you didn’t want to do a thing? Your friend didn’t break the code when she refused your request. She took care of herself because if she doesn’t, no one else will. To say no, especially as a woman in this culture, is a radical act.

So try saying yes only when you feel it in your heart. You will like your life a whole lot better and make space for others to do the same.

When you honor your real needs by listening to your inner voice, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.



WRITING PROMPT: What happens to your body when you say yes when it’s really a no? How do you feel about yourself when you say no? Who do you say yes to more often, other people or yourself? Does saying no effect your self-esteem?

*The 10/13/22 podcast We Can Do Hard Things covers the violent history of Grind Culture and how critical it is to our collective liberation to allow ourselves to rest. Check it out. It is revolutionary.

**Oprah has a daily reminder sitting right on her desk to honor her own no.

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