The art of saying “No”

I often sit with my mom and listen to her stories from her childhood. It’s one of my favourite things to do. In these conversations, I’m struck by how simple yet fulfilling her life growing up was. When I comment on this, her answer is consistent, “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 a million distractions and demands. Keeping up with every communication channel (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, iMessage, Snapchat, Twitter, etc). Then there’s plans with friends, family, work, work events, partners, etc. It’s no wonder our generation is constantly trying to ‘find ourselves’. We’ve lost ourselves in the never-ending obligations of our distractions.

Being a former ‘people-pleaser’, I find it tough to keep up with all of these demands. I found myself committed to 6-8 plans per week (often double-booking). I was seeing everyone I wanted and needed to see but I had no time for myself and was always exhausted. The worst part of all was that I was never really present when I was with friends. My mind was constantly occupied with the piling list of things I needed to get done when I got home or the next plan that I had committed to. Unfortunately, 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 decided to take on a new strategy.

Boundaries and the art of saying “no”.

I decided to do two things:

Say no to more plans in order to free up some nights to 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 should be stronger than that. They shouldn’t be affected by me declining one plan. I’ve also come to understand that I deserve to have people respect my time just as I respect there’s.

Put boundaries around the plans I did commit to

When I made lunch 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 plans early. Now, I plan my days more precisely. This means that I carve out a set amount of hours that I’m willing to dedicate to my social plan and I stick to them. This helps to ensure that I’m focused and fully present the entire time I’m with the person. It also ensures that I don’t neglect my other personal obligations.

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

So 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. Seriously. If saying yes to drinks after work will mean that you won’t be able to apply to that job you really want, say no to drinks. 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 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 at the end of the day, isn’t it better to exceed an expectation than fail to deliver on one? So don’t commit right away. This way when you do say yes, people are even more enthusiastic about it because they weren’t expecting you to come in the first place!

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

For many of us (myself included), feeling guilty is a natural emotion when we say no to an invitation. 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.

Take it from someone who has just recently adopted this new philosophy and way of life, 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.