Do you ever find yourself say “yes” to things that don’t serve your best interest?
Or maybe you constantly try to please others?
Or tend to stretch yourself too thin?
In the daily rush of life, it might feel like everyone around you is making demands and expectations of your time and energy, even if you don’t have the capacity to fulfill them.
Declining these requests can seem almost impossible or not worth the risk of disappointing someone. Nevertheless, saying “yes” to someone else often means prioritizing their well-being over our own. That is why understanding the power of saying no and learning how to set healthy boundaries are some of the most important life skills you can develop.
If you tend to say “yes” to almost everything, struggle with guilt, apologize when declining requests, and feel tense, exhausted, or frustrated after agreeing to something you didn’t want to do, chances are you are a people-pleaser.
While it’s nice to help your coworkers, friends, or loved ones, overextending yourself and minimizing the importance of your own needs is a totally different situation.
People-pleasing comes from a mix of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and an overwhelming fear of disappointing others and being rejected as a result. In an attempt to avoid that, it’s common for people-pleasers to sacrifice their own well-being and push themselves beyond their limits.
If that sounds familiar, remember that putting the needs of others above your own sooner or later can negatively affect your mental and physical health, leading to:
- Built-up resentment,
- Further abandonment issues.
The desire to please other people is normal, yet sometimes the best thing you can do for your loved ones is to say no. Declining someone’s request for your time and energy is a challenge that often comes with discomfort and guilt, yet setting this healthy boundary has so many benefits, both short and long-term:
Do you associate saying “no” to another person with disappointing them?
If so, think of it this way: each time you agree to something you don’t want to do, you ignore your happiness and treat yourself with disrespect, pushing your needs to the back burner.
Saying “no” without feeling guilty is possible and tangible. This journey starts with giving yourself permission to prioritize your well-being. Cultivating authenticity, assertiveness, and compassion is the very core of self-care.
While at first declining your friend’s request might feel uncomfortable, with time, it will have a transformative effect, helping you:
- Cultivate honesty and authenticity,
- Feel empowered & in charge of your life,
- Maintain healthy relationships free from resentment or frustration,
- Decrease levels of stress or anxiety,
- Become more mindful of your needs.
In case of a plane crash or pressure dropping down on your flight, you are first supposed to put your mask on, and only after that are you allowed to help other passengers – otherwise, your action would be totally inefficient.
Treat this metaphor as a reminder that taking good care of yourself also means supporting others better. Just because theoretically you could help someone, it doesn’t mean you should immediately say “yes” and jump into action hot-headed. Stretching yourself too thin for others will deplete your own resources, leaving you with no energy or motivation to spend on your own goals.
A huge part of increasing productivity lies in understanding how and when to say no. By doing so, you:
- Avoid wasting time,
- Preserve your resources,
- Make space for rest (without which you cannot be productive)
- Avoid developing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or insomnia
- Provide balance in your life by respecting your limits.
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Boundary setting plays an essential part in defining your identity and grasping the importance of saying no. Healthy boundaries come from recognizing your limits and respecting them.
Research shows how growing up in familial environments with healthy boundaries supports well-being, increases self-control, and boosts self-esteem.
When your boundaries are too rigid, they’re like a nearly impenetrable wall, keeping other people at a distance and preventing close relationships from taking place. On the other hand, loose boundaries provide almost no protection, allowing others to invade your space and disrespect your needs.
Lastly, healthy boundaries fall somewhere between these two sides of the spectrum. They could be compared to putting up a fence with a gate that keeps you safe, protects your well-being, helps you be more autonomous, and allows a balanced exchange with others. Additionally, having healthy boundaries means:
- Feeling safe, calm, and relaxed when spending time together
- Being aware of your needs and respecting them
- Valuing your opinions and feeling free to speak your mind
- Accepting when others decline your requests
- Knowing that your friend will accept when you say “no”
If you’re struggling with setting healthy boundaries or feel lost, here are 3 tips to get you started:
Sometimes it’s difficult to decide whether we want to agree to someone’s request or not. In these moments of hesitation, healthy boundaries come to the rescue. Their purpose is to:
- support your well-being,
- help you stay close to your goals, values, and purpose in life.
Remember that just because you have some free time on a Sunday afternoon, it doesn’t mean you should instantly fill it up by agreeing to a last-minute request of your coworker regarding their project due by Monday.
If you find yourself in such a situation, start by asking yourself: “Is this really how I want to spend the end of my weekend?”. If it’s your career that is the most important to you, then helping your friend out makes a lot of sense. If it’s work-life balance, relaxation, or family, saying “yes” to your coworker means spending less time doing what matters the most to you.
Understanding your priorities enables you to make a well-informed decision next time someone requests something or asks you a favor. So take a mindful moment to reflect on what really matters to you and save your answer on your phone or write it down in a journal.
Do you feel like you’re always busy putting out fires and falling behind on your work? Does helping others takes up a big chunk of your time?
Understanding the power of saying no is tightly connected to understanding the value of your time. In our fast-paced society, it’s relatively easy to feel the pressure to hustle and always be productive. Daily, we are busy with our never-ending to-do lists, professional commitments, and family responsibilities, and finding time to unwind and relax can feel nearly impossible.
That is why being honest with yourself and others about how much you can take on your plate and not overloading your schedule are imperative to lead a balanced, healthy life.
Choose to be honest and authentic with your loved ones, friends, or colleagues whenever possible. Chances are they wouldn’t want you to overwork yourself for their sake. Moreover, I bet they would appreciate your transparency rather than hearing a white lie on why you won’t help them.
If you want to learn how to say no without feeling guilty, try your best to clarify the objective of someone’s request and check whether you have the inner capacity to provide help.
Instead of jumping into action hot-headed and bending over backward for someone else, take a moment to pause and check in with yourself. Name your limits and make sure to tend to your emotions and gut feeling. Ask yourself:
- Does this request make me uncomfortable?
- Is this person stressing me out?
- What am I willing to accept? What crosses my boundaries?
Perhaps your limit is as simple as the amount of time you’re willing to spend or something a bit more complex, like topics you don’t want to discuss with that person.
Knowing how to say no politely allows us to take charge of our existence and lead a more spacious, happy life. It can be challenging, yet mastering this essential life skill is unarguably worth putting effort into.
If setting boundaries seems impossible and makes you feel overwhelmed or anxious, here are 5 tips that can help you learn how to say no:
The most common obstacle when learning the power of saying no are our unhelpful beliefs. Take a moment to connect with your thoughts and feelings around saying “no”.
Perhaps you think that saying “no” means being rude, egoistic, or devoid of empathy? Maybe you feel like saying “no” will lead to disappointing others and being abandoned by them?
While challenging or even painful, this exercise can help you:
- take a closer look at those beliefs
- Understand where they come from, i.e., your childhood experiences, low self-esteem
- decide whether they serve or sabotage your happiness
- Let go of these unhelpful beliefs and replace them with new, positive ones
Remember that the boundaries you set for yourself and others are an expression of self-love and self-respect. They can prove that you’re brave enough to prioritize your own well-being over pleasing the expectations of others, even when struggling with uncomfortable emotions like guilt or fear.
Remember that it’s always okay to say “no”. After all, you don’t owe anything to anyone. Simply ask yourself how you’d like to be treated and act accordingly.
Whenever you want to decline someone’s request or offer, try saying “no” without sugar-coating it or apologizing. It’s totally okay to say no, and in many cases, it’s very healthy to do so.
Keeping your “no” short & sweet means being direct, firm, and unapologetic. While it might seem a bit extreme, it’s crucial to realize that:
- This attitude tells other people that you expect to be treated with respect,
- You don’t owe any apologies or explanations or favors to anyone,
- You are not responsible for solving the issues of others,
- You can handle uncomfortable situations gracefully and politely without being overly nice.
Let’s say your friend pressures you into answering an intimate question you want to keep to yourself. You’d like to avoid that topic, and maybe you’re even wondering how to say no without saying no. Rather than telling a white lie, you can choose to be honest and say: “Thank you for asking, but I don’t feel comfortable discussing this topic with you. Why don’t you tell me more about XYZ (your passion)?”
Knowing how to say no to a friend or partner appropriately can help you avoid ugly fights and escalating conflict.
Whenever you want to express your disagreement, try to pick a time when both parties are calm and open rather than angry or upset, as this sets the wrong tone for the conversation. Additionally, if you want to give feedback to the other person, avoid exaggerating your statements and saying “you”. Instead, focus on your feelings and needs.
Let’s say you had a hectic and stressful day at work and just returned home. Your partner comes to greet you and asks you if you can cook dinner tonight. You are feeling exhausted, and standing in the kitchen is the last thing you want to do. Instead of getting irritated and saying: “Why are you always like this? Why can’t you help for once?” try using “I” statements:
I feel XYZ when XYZ happens because XYZ. What I need is XYZ. Could you XYZ?
For example, “I feel exhausted, and a bit sad when you ask me to make dinner right after I come back home because I had a very busy day at work and I’m tired. What I need is to rest and unwind. Could you make dinner tonight? Are you okay with this?”
Another piece of advice, often underrated, when learning how to say no is to give yourself some space by delaying your response. Sometimes all we need is a bit of time and distance to look at someone’s request from a new perspective.
In the heat of the moment, you can feel like you have to answer right now, and there’s no other choice. However, in reality, you can take some time to check in with your schedule and get back to the other person once you’re ready.
Saying: “I’ll get back to you on that within (time frame)” or “I need a bit more time to decide” is absolutely fine. It’s a small change, but it can help reduce the pressure and urgency of your decision.
Last but not least – practice makes perfect, so practice saying “no” as much as possible.
Write a note with your top priorities and create an anchor phrase so that saying “no” doesn’t feel so personal or rude. Repetition is the mother of learning, so the more you prepare yourself, the easier and more effortless setting your boundaries will feel.
Remember: you have every right to use the power of saying no to prioritize your mental well-being, needs, and wishes. You do not have to suffer in silence or agree to something that doesn’t sit right with you.
Rather than avoiding confrontation, choose to communicate with the people in your life. Now that you know how to do it respectfully and effectively, nothing stops you anymore. All you have left to do is use the theory in practice!
 Bowlby, J. (1977). The making and breaking of affectional bonds: I. Aetiology and psychopathology in the light of attachment theory. The British journal of psychiatry, 130(3), 201-210. DOI: 10.1192/bjp.130.3.201.
 Erdem, G., Safi, O. A. (2018). The Cultural Lens Approach to Bowen Family Systems Theory: Contributions of Family Change Theory. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 10(2), 469-483. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12258.