How To Master The Art Of Saying No

You know the term FOMO, "Fear of Missing Out"?

It’s a thing. We live in a do-all, see-all, be-all world nowadays. Even as new research is proving that hyperstimulation and overcommitting disrupt our cognitive abilities and stress our bodies out, it’s hard to say no to the myriad things that compete for our time and attention. After all, we’ll be an ace at work if we take on that extra project, right? And we’d hate to miss out on the four birthday parties happening this weekend—already RSVP'd! And what kind of friend would we be if we didn’t help our dear friend move out of her sixth-floor walk-up apartment? So we try to jam it all into our calendars, and before we know it we’re exhausted, depleted, and maybe even sick.

Indeed, the road to burnout syndrome is often paved with good intentions. But consider this: When you operate from a state of mind from which you say yes indiscriminately to every request that comes your way, it’s impossible to show up fully present to any of them—to your job, to your family, friends, to your dreams, or even to yourself. It's like trying to spread a single spoonful of jam across 10 pieces of toast; there’s just not enough of you to go around.

So, what would happen if you started paring down your commitments? Imagine a world in which you said yes only to the things that really mattered, based on your own set of golden priorities. The secret to this shift lies in your ability to say no. There is a fine art to this, and learning exactly how to do it is a downright game-changer.

1. Think of saying no as true self-love.

We don’t often think of it this way, but saying no is a radical act of self-care. I put it up there with brushing teeth, getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well. Self-care means doing things that make you feel good, things that nourish you and energize you so you can show up stronger in the rest of your life. If you can’t remember the last time you took yourself on a "self-care" date or took a mental health day, consider revisiting your stacked schedule. Are you booked solid for weekends to come? It might be time to dust off the word "no" and start using it.

2. Consider this full permission to say no.

You have full permission to give a big, glorious no to the following things: unreasonable favors, work you’re not being paid for, activities you don’t want to do, people who drain you, situations that make you uncomfortable, and anything that negatively affects your health and mental well-being. You can cancel a plan, take time for yourself, and steer clear of certain people without feeling any sense of guilt or obligation. Women especially are often socialized to be people-pleasing caregivers, so using "no" as a complete sentence isn’t something most of us are used to. One of my heroes, Kris Carr, has the following fabulous mantra: "If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a heck no." Words to live by!

Photo: Amy Kurtz

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3. Put on a "yes" filter.

Saying no isn’t always easy. Our powerful brains might resist a "no" with a hundred justifications: "But what if...?" or "I really should..." or "I already said…" This is where FOMO can strike! If you’re still having trouble determining what to prioritize in your schedule, consider adopting a "yes" filter. Say yes only to things that inspire, people who nurture, and plans that support your dreams and your wellness. Consider writing down a list of these things. Mine includes cultural activities, time in nature, creative endeavors, and anything that includes aromatherapy and candles. Everyone is different. What do you say yes to? Say yes to more of these things! Pause for a moment before the "yes" or the "no" and really ask yourself, "Will this bring me joy? Will this be good for me?" Say yes to things that feed your soul.

4. Become a ninja of "no."

Once you’ve got a clear road map of your priorities, it’s time to get masterfully good at turning down the ones that do not cut the mustard. Below are some practical ways to say no, especially in sticky situations where you face pressure, guilt, if your nature is to please, or you’re just not sure.

"I've already got plans."

Time is not amorphous—it can be measured and doled out! Book all of your self-care in your calendar. If Friday afternoon already has a block of time that says "two-hour hike in the woods," it’s much easier to tell your boss that you can’t work late. You’re already booked—with something that brings you joy.

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Related Class

Say "no" ahead of time.

Visualize the future and anticipate the outcome of saying yes or no. If you happen to have a crystal ball lying around, grab it and ask yourself, "How will I feel if I say yes/no to this?" and answer honestly. This takes the pressure off saying yes in the moment and regretting it later.

"I'd love to, but I'm overcommitted at the moment."

Honor your boundaries. We tend to think that if we say no to people in the now, we run the risk of disappointing them—or worse, they’ll be angry or lose interest in us. The truth is, most people get it. A simple "I’d love to, but I’m a little overcommitted at the moment" or just plain "I’m feeling tired and I’m not up for it" is perfectly fine.

Practice "no, nope, no thank you, not now," etc.

It sounds weird, but practice makes perfect! This is especially important if you’re dealing with difficult people or situations of perceived obligation. For true friends, your honesty and compassion are enough. If they continue to pressure you, that might be telling you something too.

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"Let's do something else."

Offer a beautiful compromise. You want to spend time with your friend, but rock climbing terrifies you. Please say no to that date and don’t suffer through it! Take the initiative and offer a compromise that suits both of you, so you get the quality hang-time you both want without risking vertigo. Even better, suggest an option that you've been excited about!

Power to you!

Time is a finite, precious resource—the most valuable one we have. How we choose to spend it determines the quality of life we have, how happy we are, and what dreams we bring to fruition. There is nothing more empowering than having the insight to say yes to what really matters to you and the tools to say no to what doesn’t. When you practice these principles, place self-care at the top of your list, and gracefully weed out the things that don’t serve you, you’re showing up strong and inspiring to a life that reflects your best self. That's when no leads to YES!

Here's exactly why saying no is essential to a healthy life and how to avoid getting manipulated into saying yes.

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