Can you learn how to say no without feeling guilty? Yes, you can! Because I learned how, and so can you. It just takes practice.
There is no reason to feel guilty about saying no to people, especially when you have a lot of other things going on in your life.
As bloggers and people who work from home, there may be people in your life who think that because you are home all day that you have time to take care of their stuff. Let’s fix that.
This post was originally published August 9th, 2017 and has been updated to be current with new information. This post may contain affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Full disclosure is here.
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Learning How To Say No Instead Of Always Saying Yes
In order to stop doing all things for all people, we will have to focus on learning how to say no…and mean it.
Moms say yes all the time because they are afraid that saying no will cause a tantrum. I get that. My daughter threw a few tantrums in her day. I had to differentiate whether she was tired or cranky enough to have a fit before we went shopping.
Gotta weigh the pros and cons, right?
Sometimes we say yes because we think we can, and later discover we’re overbooked or something similar.
However, if you say “yes” a lot, but then back out at the last minute (also a lot), then there is another issue.
You might want to look at why you say yes to people when you do not want to or why you say yes and then do not follow through.
Let us look at why we say yes when we don’t really want to
People who constantly say yes, and then neglect themselves or their work, are known as people-pleasers. Yes, there’s a label for almost everything, but we have to start somewhere.
Many times, if people-pleasers do get around to doing things for themselves, they feel guilty about that too!
This type of behaviour is based in the mistaken belief that others people’s needs and wants are more important than their own.
People pleasers feel obligated to help, and this obligation overrides their innate desire to say NO. They may believe that no one will like them if they say no, and this is a mistake.
The other camp is occupied by people who say yes, and then cancel appointments or dates at the last minute.
Instead of saying “No”, and being alright about it, they say yes.
Instead of saying “No” to someone else, they say no to themselves. Then later they flip the situation, after they were counted on to attend.
I have a friend who does this all.the.time. It is annoying and frustrating and I stopped asking because…why bother? If you ask her about it, it’s all very innocent. But that is not how I felt about it when she ditched me.
I felt rejected. Like the kid who gets picked last for school sports.
And even if they know that they are not going to attend the event right after they say yes, they still wait until the last minute to cancel. Not only is that insensitive, because they may now be counting on your attendance, but it is rude.
And no one wants to be that person.
Many women do this when dating.
You may have a mistaken belief that you somehow owe your date something because he was kind enough to invite them out. You “owe him” your company until you feel that you have paid him back enough, or something equally weird.
FYI: going on dates, even if the other person pays for everything, does not obligate you to continuing to date that person.
If you have this problem, then set rules before you go on your first date, like that you will go “dutch treat”. Or go somewhere free, like a walk in a public park or free outdoor concert.
Both of these types of people are not looking at their own needs before saying yes.
So how can you learn to say no? When I got rejected by my friend for the umpteenth time, I took a hard look at myself. I wanted to know if I was the same kind of person.
Because I didn’t want to be.
I paid attention to my gut reaction when an invitation appeared. That meant, for me, deciding who I wanted to accept invitations from. Once I settled that, I felt justified saying “no” a lot more often.
But first I needed the courage to say no.
7 Great Tips To Help You Learn How To Say No To People
Practice in front of the mirror. Yes, I felt like a fool…at first. But practicing saying no was a lot easier than I thought it would be.
A good starting point is figuring out what reasons you might need to not say yes, based on your past invitations. Many workplaces have that person who is always trying to get people to do stuff. Start there.
Look into your own eyes and say the words out loud:
- No, I cannot make it.
- I have other commitments that morning/afternoon/evening/day
- That date does not work for me
- I’m not available for that
These are all quite generic responses, but they get the job done. No need to elaborate on why, just stick with basic information.It may feel strange at first, and you may want to practice when you are home alone (the cat does not count).
And while you are at it, look into your eyes and try saying “It is okay for me to say no”.
Really, get on board with that idea. You will enjoy your life more!
2. Try saying no to some simple things first, and build up your resolve.
Try to stop the habit of saying yes right away without thinking about the consequences first. This can be hard, especially if you have been conditioned, by others or yourself, but it is do-able.
It is said that you can change any bad habit in 21 days, but the key is to practice daily.
Tell the person that you need to
- Check your calendar
- That you have to think about it
- You will get back to them later.
You want to have a clear idea of what things you know you should say no to; for example, if you do not like large crowds then do not agree to go to the carnival or a concert.
3. You have the right to say no.
Being able to say no is a sign of confidence and being assertive about your needs and desires is a plus, and is in no way being selfish.
You do not even have to explain yourself!
If you feel that you must, a generic response is “I am not available for that”.
When someone invites you to something or asks you to do something, think about the impact of that on your life.
Will helping out enhance your life, or will going to the event serve you in anyway?
If it helps you to network with others, or fulfill a need in your life, you may want to say yes, even if it puts your schedule out of whack.
If it is an event that will aggravate something in your life, then say no.
You do not need to say yes just because you are capable of doing something, or helping someone.
Perhaps you can help them with something else or at another time.
4. Start paying attention to what matters to you and your life.
If you constantly say yes to others, but no to yourself, this will also chip away at your self-esteem and it becomes hard to trust yourself.
I grasped this concept when I read an article a couple of years ago about people who start projects and then do not complete them. As I have been de-cluttering, I am discovering all of my unfinished projects. Sigh.
When you start a project, you probably say things to yourself, either in your head or out loud, about how great it will be for your life when it is completed.
Then, when you look at your half-finished projects, it is proof for your subconscious that you are untrustworthy.
You cannot keep promises to yourself.
Especially if you look at them every day. Bad for the self-esteem.
I collected all my half or never started projects and gave them to the thrift store. Now I actively seek out little projects that enhance who I want to be, but also that I have time to work on or complete.
5. Prioritize your time.
Decide what kind of life that you want, and then how you are going to achieve it. This goes double for people who work from home, where procrastination lives.
Set a schedule for your blogging work, and stick to it. If that leaves only one hour a day to help others, then so be it.
Their requests must fit in to your life.
There are always exceptions, such as emergencies or unforeseen events, but for the most part the people in your life will adapt to your schedule over time.
I know that since I created work and posting schedules, my life is easier.
I get up at the same time every day, and go to bed at the same time nightly, so I am properly rested (yet another thing that I had to learn!).
I allow myself to catch up on Facebook and email for 30 minutes after I get up, while having coffee. And then I get down to work.
I allow myself x-number of hours each day for work and research and the rest of my day is up to me.
As my schedule has evolved over time, I realize how much time I am actually spending on writing and researching, so I can be more flexible for other people if need be. And I am happy. My life is much simpler and I feel at peace!
6. Realize that saying no is setting healthy boundaries.
If saying yes makes you feel like a victim, resentful and burdened, then it is in your best interests to say no and release some stress.
If you know that you have a deadline in your posting schedule, and that saying yes will obligate you to several hours away from your work, then you need to decide if saying yes is the right option.
7. Say yes when you really mean it!
People will see you as dependable, and someone that they can count on to do a good job because you actually want to do it.
If your heart is not in it, then you will not be giving your best.
This is part of trusting your intuition and learning about yourself, who you want to be, and what gives your life joy and meaning.
Be courageous enough to choose YOU!
Do not agree to do things that go against your core beliefs, or if you are on a tight schedule, or if it increases your stress!
If you feel calm and at peace about a decision, then it is likely the correct one.
If you start feeling anxious or stressful after saying yes, then you probably need to look at why, and reverse your decision.
As you learn more about who you are, you will instinctively be able to say yes to events that work for you and no to those that do not serve you or your interests.
This will be a challenge for some people, but know that this will help in all areas of your life when you choose to put your needs first!
Like all advice, cherry-pick what serves you and leave the rest!
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30 thoughts on “Learn To Say NO Without Feeling Guilty”
I used to be a person that had problems saying NO, and to some extent I still have that problem. But I realized that my life’s priorities come first before that of others. Unless it is an emergency or life or death matter, I need to say no to others and focus on what I need to get done.
This is something I had struggled with in the early days of being an Ambassador at Wealthy Affiliate. I really do enjoy helping people and thus I was ranked as the top ambassador, number 3, just under Kyle and Carson for just more than a full year straight.
I had so many WA members asking me for help, advice, feedback and the like, that I was neglecting my own website businesses. So I realized that being a top ambassador was not helpful so I said NO to helping people everyday and I willingly let my rank fall to the 15 – 25 range.
If we do not focus on ourselves first then how can we be in a better position to help others, especially when they really need it? It can be hard to say NO but when you do you are actually saying YES to yourself. Thank you for a great post to read Irma.
Hello Robert and thank you for stopping by,
And thank you for your comment, which gets to the heart of why saying no is in our own best interests. Balance is the key!
Hi Irma, it seem difficult to say no because we want to make other happy. But we must do it to make our life match what we need or want. Agree to your points, we should choose and do the priority. Thanks for the tips.
Hello Melani, and thank you for stopping by
Yes, and it is not necessarily a good thing to help everyone all the time. People learn so many great life lessons if left to “sink or swim” on their own. Or at least I did 😉
Well I am not going to pretend that I have always been able to say No. I learned to say no over the years but sometimes it is still difficult to do. I recognize a lot of things you mention in the article. Your tips are simply the best. Start paying Especially the tip “attention to what matters to you and your life” is one that I recently started to apply. We need more reading material about this topic and your article has all the information. Thanks a lot for sharing it with us!
Hello Dira, and thank you for stopping by!
I am glad that you found this post helpful, and I hope you gain some free time for yourself because of it!
Fascinating article, I used to be in the first camp,but now I only say yes to those who really need it.
Hello Minhaj and thank you for stopping by,
Saying no frees up our time to say yes when it is important to say yes as well.
Hi Irma, once again a great and important post. Me personally, I already learned to say no without having any problems with that. People that know me are used to that and respect my decisions. I now get asked far less often for things to do that I don’t like in the first place. This leaves me time to say yes to help when it really helps both parties.
To help others is very important but to give everybody the feeling they do not have to help them selfs is a bad lesson.
Hi Stefan, and thank you for stopping by
I totally agree. I used to worry that people would not like me for saying no, but nothing bad ever happened 🙂
Great Information! I needed to hear this! I’ve recently begun saying no to things and this article was really validating. You made a great point about scheduling things more precisely, and sticking to it. That’s where I could use some work. I think I’ll go pack up some half finished projects to donate, and get them off my back!!
Hi Janet, and thank you for stopping by
It is freeing, giving things away to people who will use them when we cannot. And a lesson about why we purchase things to start with lol.
Irma, great post! We all have bad habits, and I believe trying to please others so often is a bad one at that. Yes, we do want to help others and we still can even if we say no from time to time. I definitely could connect with your post.
Love the idea of practicing in front of a mirror. I never thought how that could help, but I see how it could. Really great tips here. I will definitely be coming back to see what else you have to say!
Hello Robert, and thank you for stopping by!
I have found that practicing in front of a mirror has helped me with some other self esteem issues as well. And practicing being kind to myself helps me to be kinder to others.
Irma, this is a well written article… i can easily relate to one of the personality types discussed above. I am now motivated to start corrective measures. I want to thank you for putting out the information in such an attractive way and I cant wait to read the other pieces you have written,
Hello Kevin and thank you for stopping by!
You are very welcome, and I am glad that I can be of help. I used to be a combination of both, but now I actively work on being honest with myself 😉
Hello, your post is so timely. We should learn or train ourselves to say no at times because being a people pleaser just will not do. We need to invest our time wisely and not spend it on things that will not benefit us. I hope that more persons come across your post because what you are sharing here is really great information and it is so helpful. Thanks for sharing this awesome post.
Hi Norman, and thank you for saying such awesome things!
You are very kind and I am grateful that you think that what I am doing here is worthwhile; that means a lot to me 🙂
Wow, this hit home for me. I rarely say NO to people because of feeling guilty. Guess what happens because I cannot say no? I always end up doing things that I don’t want to do or really cannot afford to do. Because of this, I tend to have very little time for myself…which does wonders for my “bad mood”. I will certainly practice saying no for sure. Great post!
Hello Kay and thank you for stopping by,
I had to really watch what I was saying yes to as well. Sometimes you end up drained if it is a stressful situation with stressful people. It can be a trick to balance, but worth the effort of getting your life back.
Love the advice and your page. This is something I’ve had to consciously work at over the last several years and happy to say I’ve come a long way. People don’t always like it but it sure helps life! Appreciate you sharing.
Hi Mat and thank you for stopping by!
That is excellent! We need to take care of our needs too 🙂
The thing I loved about this article is just how simple you got your points across. Personally, I had both bad experience for being always saying No or Yes.
I like best the #4 “Start paying attention to what matters to you and your life”. I totally agree with this point. I definitely it try out this one.
Thanks for sharing. Plan to check in and see where you go next.
Hi Maun and thanks for stopping by!
Since I started thinking more about what I really want for myself, I have been getting great ideas and everything in my life has improved. And I find that I am attracting into my life more of the things that I want to say yes to!
I love your blog about saying no to people. I have had the experience of being a people pleaser to a point where it took from me of my free time, family time and even did some late nights. I eventually had the confidence to say that I was not available or to ask someone else that had the time to help them. I am a computer engineer and fixing computers for friends is like a hobby. Once a friend starts to depend on you and then they have computer problems then they call you again for help. If I do a great job, they talk to other friends and then their friends would want help too. I have had my friends pay me but I do not get much out of it. I have a full time job as well as my own business; so, there comes a point on when I have to draw the line and do what I can physically do without stressing myself. Health and life are 2 precious things that you cannot sacrifice. Being able to say No frees yourself and your state of mind.
Hello Sam and thanks for dropping by,
I love that feeling of being free of some of the negatives in my life as well. To me, it feels like flying, and being happy is so much better than being unhappy!
I seriously can’t say no to anyone and my parents can’t say no to anyone either. We actually talked about it, however, I did not realize that after I say no it sets healthy boundaries. I just assumed that it was just a boundary. I hope this perspective will make it easier for me.
Hi Furkan, and thank you for stopping by today 🙂
I had the same problem and then I would find people dropping by and bringing me all sorts of junk that they “thought I might need”. I finally had to start saying no, and these folks were not impressed because now they had to take their stuff home or find another person to give it to. But it worked, and they stopped. Yay!
OMG! I needed to hear this! I feel guilty so often when I need to say no. Sometimes I will say yes so that I will not feel guilty. I will try implementing these tools. Thank you so much!
Hi Angela, and thank you for stopping by 🙂
It is tragic to feel bad doing something that you do not want to do, but not knowing how to make it stop. I lived like that for years, and it is a huge shock for the people in your life when you take charge and stop the habit. People get used to it, and as an added blessing they come to realize that when you say yes, you mean it! Best of luck!