This past weekend, I watched in amazement as my 3-year-old nephew spat out the word no with relative ease and affirmation.  Whether it was about picking up his toys or eating his veggies — the reply was a swift, definitive no. NO  As I watched him, albeit frustratedly, I also started to wonder when did it become so hard for me to say no.  After all, if a toddler could do it so could I, right?  One of the reasons I think it can be difficult to say no as an adult is because we learn different social behaviors, which makes it difficult to say no when someone asks us to do something.  I think most people can attest to having a difficult time saying no, and it doesn’t matter if it’s personal or professional.

The key to breaking out of the vicious cycle of taking on too much because you can’t say no begins with acknowledging that you are the problem and the solution.  I’ve already started to put into practice the art of saying no sans the toddler attitude, and I’ve already begun to see a change in my own life (For starters, I’m not so stressed).  Here are some of the tips that I’ve implemented in my own life that I hope may help you as well:

  • It takes a bit of introspective work to figure out why you can’t seem to utter the word no.  Are you a people-pleaser?  Are you afraid that if you say no to an assignment you won’t ever hear from that client again?  Or is it that your family has dubbed you the “official” go-to person for planning family events (How could you say no after all those years of planning baby showers and buying pinatas for kiddie birthday parties?)
    • Examine your feelings next time you’re asked to do something.  Taking the time to evaluate your emotions can be quite telling when you find yourself in a compromising situation.  And it can be the start toward taking control of you life and doing the things that you choose to do, not the things you feel obligated to do.
  • Really understand and revisit your personal and professional goals. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle of your everyday routine.  And before you know it you’re off-course and that vacation you were planning to take went poof and vanished into thin air all because you bit more than you could chew.
    • Establish boundaries with people in your professional and personal life.  If it’s a family function that you can attend, but don’t have time to bake your famous chocolate cake — just say no (and by no means should you offer to bake brownies instead because you’re feeling guilty).  On a professional note, let’s say you’re working on several projects, and an editor you’ve been meaning to work with again contacts you for an assignment.  The only problem is your deadline is really tight, and you have a lot of other obligations.  So, what do you do?  You say no.  Nope, you didn’t read that sentence incorrectly.  It’s okay to say no to a client.  And if they dump you for saying no then you don’t need to work for a company like that anyway.  But if they value your work then you’ll hear from them again.
  • Practice makes perfect!  If you’ve gone into many situations before with the intention of saying no only to find yourself uttering yes then you need to practice.
    • Tap into the inner assertive you and practice saying no in front of the mirror.  Ask your family and friends to help you practice by acting out situations that you know you don’t want to do or don’t have time for.  Learn to keep it simple, no is only a two-letter word.  Yet, people tend to feel that they need to go into a long-winded explanation as to why they are unable to do something.  I’ve learned that a simple: “No, I’m unavailable”, is quite sufficient.  And leave out the “I’m sorry” part.  Because if you’re busy or have other obligations then you simply can’t do what’s being asked of you.

So take heart and begin the journey of saying no to the things you’re unable to do or the things that aren’t a good fit for your personal and professional aspirations. And you’ll begin to see  that you have more time for the things that truly matter to you.