harness-power-of-noWhether you are looking to curtail or eliminate stress, a parent’s intrusions into your love life, must-attend invitations, your children taking advantage of you, a friend’s unrealistic dependence or the boss’s unrealistic expectations, the word NO is an invaluable tool for stemming the tide of favors asked of you. The power of NO can help you realign your priorities and regain control of your life.

Overscheduled? Overworked? Overwhelmed?

NO has been drummed out of us to the point where using it has negative connotations and imagined backlash. When you were a child, you were probably sent to your room for refusing to share your toys; as a teen your curfew was cut back if you disobeyed a parent’s rule. Agreeing and saying yes is ingrained, particularly in women who were raised to be nurturing and available, but you can retrain how you think. Saying NO is a learned skill, one that allows you to refuse without hurting or offending and without feeling guilty.

Begin flexing your NO muscle

In our multi-tasking, driven society, most people answer “yes” most of the time, when they really mean no. They often feel anxious, depressed or angry at the person who asked or at themselves. Mastering the no-word will transform how you think about requests—and yourself—and put an end to excessive people-pleasing.

Wanting to keep others happy at their own expense, wanting to be liked and included, women forget that they have absolute rights. Knowing—and acting on—them smoothes the path to saying no. Here are ten rights, a credo of sorts, you want to remember the next time someone asks for your time, talent, or merely your presence.

You always have a right to

  • Make your feelings and desires known
  • Keep your needs in the forefront so saying no is easier
  • Exercise your choice to say no (you always have a choice)
  • Weigh the fallout of saying no (the outcome is rarely as disastrous as you believe)
  • Request details before committing
  • Postpone your answer
  • Turn down those who flatter or attempt to con you into a yes
  • Withhold explanations
  • Suggest someone else or offer an alternative solution
  • Say no initially and change your mind later if you wish

Exercising your rights will strengthen your boundaries against the barrage of daily unwanted distractions and commitments. You’ll begin to think NO, before you blurt out, “Yes, sure, no problem; I’ll do that for you.” And, when you do, you’ll find you move closer to your goals—even if that’s just finding time to workout, eat healthier meals, or see a movie.

Stepping into NO: the basics

Keep these five basic steps in mind, adapted from The Book of NO, as you hone your ability to turn people down. Once applied, you’ll start to feel justified saying no. You won’t be able to say no to everything asked of you, nor will you want to, but you don’t have to be ever-accommodating to be loved, respected, and admired.

1. Make a list of your yeses over the period of a week
If you are an inveterate yes-person, the number will shock you. The acceptable number will be different for everyone. One request could send you into a tailspin, while it might take four or more to set off someone else. The real gauge is how pressured, tight for time, or resentful you feel. Any negative reaction—Why did I agree? What was I thinking? What am I doing? I don’t want to be available, I would rather be elsewhere—is the true measure.

2. Pay attention to how you parcel out your time.
If most of your time is monopolized assisting one friend, when will you see other friends? If family or job demands are high, what’s left over for your own enjoyment? When your time is well managed, you’ll keep some in reserve for what’s most important to you.

3. Get your priorities straight.

Who has first crack at you without your feeling burdened or anxious? A child? A boyfriend? A girlfriend? Your spouse? Your boss?

Embracing a NO mindset

4. Know your limits—start to define them if you don’t know what they are.

Your limits can be emotional or physical—or both. How much of other people’s problems can you tolerate without feeling drained? How long are you willing to put up with one-way friendships with you always on the giving end? Because you’re not a trained therapist, decide how personal you’re willing to be. Identify what requests make you uncomfortable. On the physical side, when does your stamina give out? To stay healthy your body and mind require rest to rejuvenate, and if you don’t set limits you won’t get it.

5. Give control to others to ease your responsibilities.
When you don’t trust others to be in charge or to accomplish tasks, you wind up agreeing to and doing far more than your share of what someone else could be doing. Eliminating the need to run things yourself to be sure they turn out the way you like them relieves much of the pressure you put on yourself.

When kept at the forefront of your mind, the power of NO can help you shift your life away from unnecessary stress. Think of NO as one of the most positive words in your vocabulary; you’ll be able to achieve the less chaotic, more fulfilling life that always seems out of reach.