How to say no without being ‘negative’

  • Date:
    11 May 2022
  • Author:
    Rolene Strauss

There are times I have to do something that most mothers loathe to do – to spend the weekend away from my little ones.  As expected, the experience brings up both positive and negative emotions: negative because I miss being with them. On the positive side, I often spend time with my husband and I know all the grandparents get a lot of joy out of looking after our boys. There are boundaries that I have to set in order to be the kind of mother and wife that I aspire to be.

Oftentimes, I do not want to say yes to an opportunity that crosses my path. And other times, I find myself succumbing to external pressures and feeling like I have to ignore my inner voice.  

I think that most of us have experienced that sense of obligation that sometimes feels overwhelming. It’s as if we have to go into extreme multitasking mode and do a variety of things like getting the work done, running the household, attending birthday parties, going to the gym or saying yes to more work. The majority of the time, we can balance our personal needs but it is important to recognise when ‘saying yes’ becomes detrimental to our wellbeing.

Contrary to what a lot of us are taught, we cannot be helpful to others if we put ourselves and our needs last. I feel that I am the best mother to our sons when I am content, stress-free and fully engaged. When I am grumpy, hungry, tired or my brain is too cluttered and my schedule too tight – I can’t do any task justice. To be my best self and to live life to the fullest, I have learnt that I have to say no to the less important things. As the saying goes, ‘Don’t stress the small stuff.’ That means that I have to decide whether a task gives or takes energy and whether I can afford to give it space in my life. Here’s how I decide whether to say yes or no: 

1. Practicing mindfulness

One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is to listen to my thoughts as well as my body.  It seems obvious but we forget amidst the clamour of modern life. When I have a feeling of resistance to doing something, I ask myself why? Then, I listen to the answer. Often that resistance comes up when I am doing something that doesn’t align with my core values or that isn’t meaningful. I find it helpful to observe my feelings and then just acknowledge them without judgement.

2.  Does doing this task feed my ego or my soul?

When I feel like I have to do something to please someone else – it is often because I am trying to feed my ego.  I might get invited to a very prestigious and glamorous event that will be attended by various influential individuals. Am I going because I really want to, or because I feel that I will be judged if I am not seen at the event? If I feel like I am making decisions based on getting approval, then it would be better to rather practice self-care and take the time to nurture my soul. 

3.  Assess: Will this matter in the future?

In order to help me prioritise, I sometimes need to ask myself whether the outcome will be long term or short-lived.  Will saying no cause lasting damage or will it not matter in a couple of weeks?  An example would be: if I go to this networking event, will it likely be inspiring and open up new career opportunities or is it just a distraction from the studying I should be doing at home? Which decision will aid my long term goals? 

4.  Accept that people will be uncomfortable with my no’s

Saying no to invitations, opportunities or help is uncomfortable, especially in the beginning.  You might doubt yourself or feel guilt and people might resent you for it.  The reality is that you are making decisions for a better, healthier you and in time,  your positive energy will resonate stronger with your true friends, family and colleagues who only want the best for you. 

Saying no does not have to be negative, it can truly be the complete opposite experience. When we choose to make decisions that nurture and restore us – the relief is often almost immediate. Take baby steps by trying this out in the next few weeks and see how much it allows you to focus on living life in a more authentic, engaged and energised way!

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