Anna Geary's life hacks: No is the new yes

It’s easy to feel stressed when you’re always saying yes, says lifestyle coach Anna Geary.

Do you know how to say ‘no’? It’s such a small word but often one of the most difficult to say.

In today’s world of limitless choices, the pressure to give in and say ‘yes’ grows greater every day, producing overload and overwork, expanding emails, and eroding the courage to decline.

According to William Ury, author of The Power of a Positive No, the word no has never been more needed.

He believes a positive no has the power to profoundly transform our lives, by enabling us to say yes to what counts: Our own needs, values, and priorities.

So, it seems that no is the new yes. But why then is it so hard to say this two-letter word?

Many people and I include myself, can often fall into the trap of feeling guilty for saying no. Apparently, this is a symptom of ‘the disease to please’. Does this sound familiar to you? It’s not just the guilt, it is a part of human nature to want to help others.

Last week I talked about perception; how the world sees you. We often confuse perceived good behaviours with perceived negative ones.

It seems refusing to do something can be viewed as rude and selfish, while accepting to do so is an act of kindness, generosity, and empathy.

However, if you are not selfish with your time to a certain extent, you’re not honouring your existing commitments in work, relationships, and life, and are possibly not devoting the required quality time to them. Also, by constantly saying yes, it may lead to burnout.

When I started working for myself a few years ago, I was invited to attend many different events. I didn’t want to let anyone down, so I used to take on more than I should.

I felt that by saying no, they would think ill of me and wouldn’t offer me other opportunities in the future. If I’m honest, it was also to do with a fear of rejection.

I’ve spoken before about my incessant need to be liked and I didn’t want relationships to suffer as a result of saying no.

The irony was, I was so worried about pleasing strangers and their requests that my existing relationships with friends and family suffered, as I didn’t see them as often as I would have liked.

I realised that by saying yes to everyone all the time, I was allowing other people’s priorities to take precedence over my own.

I wasn’t getting enough time for rest and recovery, so I was becoming increasingly stressed and frustrated when I had little free time. I was also passing up the chance to say yes to other important things.

When is it OK to say no? Sometimes it’s tough to determine which activities deserve your time and attention. Here are some strategies to use to evaluate opportunities that come your way.

Focus on what matters the most.

Examine your current obligations and priorities before making new commitments. Ask yourself if the commitment is important to you. If it’s something you feel passionate about make the time and do it. If not, politely decline and move on.

Weigh up the ‘yes-to-stress’ ratio.

Is the new activity you’re considering a short- or long-term commitment?

For example, making a cake for a community bake sale will take far less time than chairing the community fundraising committee. Don’t say yes if it will mean added stress. Instead, offer other ways to help so you can still feel involved.

When it comes to saying no, be polite but be definite.

"I don’t think I can make it” or “I’m not sure if I’m free” are not the same thing as saying no.

These can be interpreted to mean that you might say yes later. This leaves the door open for further correspondence and subsequent pressure to agree to something you don’t want to do.

On the art of saying no, a Harvard Business Review article advises you not to put it off. If you know no is the answer, say it immediately.

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For example, when our email inboxes pile up with unanswered messages, often it’s because they are full of emails that require a no response — ones that we can’t bring ourselves to write, so we procrastinate and prolong the agony (and guilt).

To make the process easier, create a few different email templates, with polite no messages for different circumstances — for example:

‘Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m only taking on a certain type of work right now’. These templates help to remove the burden of summing up the courage and energy to say no.

Saying no isn’t easy, especially if you are used to saying yes all the time. But learning to say no is an important part of simplifying your life and managing your stress.


Sleep on it

Even if you feel you are being coaxed into saying ‘yes’ (and certainly if you’re having doubts), ask for a day to think about it before providing an answer. It’s going to bemuch easier to say ‘no’ once you’ve had time to consider all your commitments and whether the item in question is a realistic addition to your schedule.

Deliver a positive sandwich

Putting a ‘no’ between two positives is a technique which I recommend when people struggle to say ‘no’. It’s also a great way to maintain relationships.

For example, if your friend asks you to go out at the weekend, but you have family commitments, explain the importance of this commitment to your friend (the first ‘yes’), but how that it prevents you from going out with them (the ‘no’), then finish by reminding them of your investment in the friendship by making future plans with them (the final ‘yes’).

It eases the blow for them and eases the guilt for you.

Practice saying ‘no’

When we are stressed and tired, we tend to act habitually. So, knowing this, you can train your brain to habitually say ‘no’ rather than ‘yes’ to certain requests by rehearsing a go-to response when people ask you for favours.

Research shows that when we make a specific plan before we are confronted with a request, we are far more likely to act in a way that’s consistent with our original intentions. So you won’t be forced into saying ‘yes’ when you are thinking ‘no’.

Preparation is key

Say ‘yes’ only if the invitation or opportunity meets a short set of criteria which you need to create for yourself. For example, when deciding on speaking engagements,

I try to combine possible business development (securing future work); professional development (improving skills and knowledge); personal development (personal growth and gaining experience); and networking (meeting new people).

I look to attend events that promise value in at least two out of the four.

Write down your own criteria and stick them on your laptop screen or put them in your phone or diary.

Soon, you’ll be saying ‘yes’ to only those opportunities that meet the criteria staring back at you.

Apparently the more you say ‘no’, the easier it gets. Try it. Ah go on, go on!

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