The hardest thing to say…
… is also the shortest sentence in the English language.
No additional explanation needed.
Sooooo darn difficult.
How about you?
Ever get sweaty palms at the thought of disappointing someone?
Let me tell you how many times I said it last month.
Every. Single. Day.
Probably No. Just No. Hell No.
After the huge events of these last eighteen months, my deadlines were squealing. Last month I had to say No to quite a lot of things or face the wrath of my editor.
I said No to extra work commitments. To social events. To television. To visiting family. To snacking (trust me on this, the snack diversion tactic of writers is SUPERPOWER level). I said No to social media (massive guilt hangover). I even said No to my own newsletter last month. I said No to coffee out. I said No to coffee in. I said No to long walks with my dog. I said No to reading. I said No to house décor, cleaning, regular bathing, self-care routine and diary writing. I said No to my child more times than I want to consider.
The month began with the long, apologetic No, I can’t sorry, because….
As the weeks went on and the deadline got tighter, it contracted to a No, sorry I can’t. Then it became, No can do. I even Americanised it to Nope until, finally, just before I pulled a thirty-six hour editarathon, it simply became No.
I had reached the grammatically succinct and pure place of no-ness where I could hit my deadline. And I did. But it made me realise how hard it is to say No.
But why is it so hard to say No?
Well, when were you taught to actively develop your powers of No?
No? No! Did you say NO!!
How many times as a child were you pulled up sharp and hard for saying No? No as a child is the purest expression of self. No, I don’t want to do that, I want to do this instead. Just pass that big shiny parent button there and BANG goes the social conditioning backhander. You are now unable to say No to the people you love most in the world. No makes you unloveable.
My mother claims that the first word I spoke was No, and the first person I used it on was my father. It taught me that saying No will get me side-lined by my Yes Machine Big Brother. No made me less important.
Escaping your parents you teetered, utterly underdeveloped in your powers of No and overoptimistic in your independent Doc Martins, into the hands of peer pressure, where saying No to your friends made you a wimp, inferior, isolated, boring or a troublemaker. No makes you selfish.
Then, just when you needed to be able to exercise your power of No, you forayed out into the land of relationships. Add to that the pressure of gender stereotyping, with oh so much Disney conditioning imbibed from the subconscious age of childhood, and away you slid down the slippery slope of romantic gratitude or sexual expectation. Tell me, have you ever found yourself unable to say No on a romantic, emotional or physical level to an adult partner? No makes you unreasonable.
Did you know that our adult brain is set by the time we are 26? Beyond that point we have to actively deconstruct our behavioural patterns. So if by the time you hit your mid-20s, you’d been conditioned to say Yes a lot, it can be hard to find that No muscle when you need it.
And here’s the real Catch 22. You might not realise it, but the hardest person to say No to, is actually yourself. No to that thing you can’t afford, that cake you shouldn’t eat, that relationship you shouldn’t sustain, that job you hate.
Life really does come a full, messed-up circle.
But, is it actually important to be able to say No?
The power of No is really the power of Yes.
By saying No you create space in your life to choose with intention what you say Yes to.
For me this last month I had one goal I needed to hit. If I didn’t, I knew I was going to miss my publication deadline. There were so many ways in which I tried to convince myself that was ok. It would be better to be late with my book than ignore my family and friends. Better to be late with my book than sacrifice my health. Better to be late than never. But I made a commitment to a publication deadline. Not only was I accountable to myself as well as others, but it was the thing that mattered most to me.
Saying No is about knowing YOUR self-worth, YOUR goals, YOUR ideals, YOUR desires, YOUR body, YOUR mind.
But how do we learn when to say No?
A good place to start is with a Yes list. What do you habitually say Yes to? Which of those irritate you? Which make you uncomfortable to think about saying No to?
Here’s a couple of mine I’ve had to work on…
I say Yes in relationships when I want to say No.
I say Yes to added responsibilities when I need to say No.
I say Yes to social invites when I prefer to say No.
Thankfully, practice really does make perfect.
Muscles are made from repetition according to The Rock and, let’s face it, he should know!
If you want to build up to saying No to other people or on a big issue, practice with yourself. Say No to cake for a month. No to buying any more books for a month (I see you all with your overflowing TBR piles, I am you!). No to any new social engagements for a month.
Conversely, if you struggle to say No to yourself, then begin by proving you can to others. Say No to your friends, not because you have to or even want to, but simply to practice the art. Say No to your family (in the development of this particular muscle set, that counts as pre-workout!). Say No to your boss next time they ask for a favour. Convince yourself that you CAN do this.
Here’s a couple of handy tips:
Create a dreamboard of the things you want to say Yes to and ask yourself what you need to decline in order to help you get there.
Create some anchors to help you get used to the conversation. An anchor is an opening statement, rather than an apologetic explanation. An anchor begins with ‘I have a policy of not….’ or ‘I will check my diary, but I’m quite confident I can’t do that’ or ‘Thank you for asking but…’
Find an accountability partner and challenge each other to build up your No muscle.
I hope this has inspired you to harness the power of No and, because the hardest thing to change is that which you don’t want to see, take the time to share your top hardest things to say No to by emailing me at: [email protected]
Your answer could help me build a chapter in the newsletter series I’m planning for next year, all about breaking the narratives we build in our lives.