The art of saying “No”

Have you ever sat with an older relative - a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle - and asked them about their childhood? In these conversations, I’m struck by how simple yet fulfilling their lives growing up were. I have these types of conversations with my mom all the time. When I comment on the simplicity of her childhood, her answer is always along the lines of, “We never had all of the distractions you guys have. We just had our imaginations but that was enough. We were happy.”

Our lives today are filled with so many distractions and demands. Keeping up with every communication channel (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, iMessage, Snapchat, Twitter, etc). On top of plans with friends, family, work, partners, partner’s families etc. It’s no wonder our generation is constantly trying to ‘find ourselves’. We’ve lost ourselves in never-ending obligations.

There was a point in my life where I’d find myself committed to 6-8 plans per week (often double-booking). I was seeing everyone I wanted to see but I had no time for myself and was always exhausted. The worst part was that I was never really present when I was out with these people. My mind was constantly occupied with getting to the next plan or getting home so I could tackle my piling list of to do’s. The first thing to be sacrificed in this situation is peace of mind, then sleep and ultimately, happiness. It was all starting to feel too overwhelming. So I started working on a new strategy.

Boundaries and the art of saying “no”.

I decided to start doing two things:

Saying ‘no’ to more plans in order to free up more time for myself

This was difficult for me. Saying no to an invite felt rude. I immediately feel guilty, as if I was letting that person down. But I’m learning to understand that relationships are usually (when they’re healthy) stronger than that. They shouldn’t be affected by me declining one plan.

Put boundaries around the plans I did commit to
When I made plans with a friend in the past, it would normally take up my whole afternoon because I wouldn’t want to be rude and end the plan early. Now, I plan my days more precisely and I vocalize when I need to wrap up and if I feel there’s more that we need to catch up on - I set another date with the person. This allows me to maximize the time I’m with the person without sacrificing my own personal time. Ironically, it also forces the other person to respect my time.

The result has been more engaging and fulfilling relationships with my friends and family. My days have started to feel more intentional which have provided me with a newfound feeling of purpose. I’m respecting my time and, in return, other people have learnt to respect my boundaries.

how do you start?

Plan your days.

Each night, before you go to bed, reflect and jot down the main things you want to accomplish the next day. Consult these items in the morning and make sure they all happen. If saying yes to a plan after work will mean that you won’t be able to apply to that job you really want, say no to the plan. You can always reschedule for a time that makes more sense to you.

Don’t over-commit.

Saying no to a plan and then realizing later that you can actually make it is much better than saying yes to everything and then having to cancel. We’ve all been guilty of having to cancel on a plan. But this actually tarnishes our reputations more than saying ‘no’ does. Saying yes and cancelling allows people lose faith in your word. So don’t commit right away. Figure out if the plan works for you first.

Don’t feel guilty. Your time is allowed to be yours.

For many of us (especially us women), feeling guilty is far too common of an emotion. But if you can’t make it, you can’t make it. People say no all the time. It’s okay to say no if you have other, more pressing, things to do. Your friends and family will learn to adjust to the new boundaries you’ve established. In fact, they’ll respect you more for them.

You will slowly start to feel more confident and in control. There may be moments where you slip back into your old ways and that’s okay, in fact, it’s natural. Reflect on what made you slip and resolve to be more confident and decisive with your next plan. So go on, lead that self-directed life and watch the opportunities that come with having more time open up for you.