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The People-Pleaser's Guide To Saying No

Jude Temple, R.N.
June 14, 2015
Jude Temple, R.N.
Registered Nurse
By Jude Temple, R.N.
Registered Nurse
Jude Temple, R.N. is a master certified life coach and a registered nurse.
Photo by Stocksy
June 14, 2015

Tired of spending your precious Saturday afternoons at yet another toddler's birthday party? Can't understand how you got stuck organizing the company potluck again? Annoyed you just spent $400 on an "oyster" colored dress to be bridesmaid #6 in your second cousin's third wedding? (I mean, really. Couldn't we just wear the ones from last time?)

Above all, are you sick of feeling resentful? Are you ready to spend your time and money doing what makes you happy?

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Let me reintroduce you to a magical little word: No.

It's one of the first words we learn as kids and yet so many of us can't seem to say it as adults. We don't want to be rude. We're afraid of admitting what we really want, so we stay away from the word "no" to avoid hurting others' feelings.

But that little word is the gateway to taking care of your feelings. Plus: buckets of free time, mountains of energy, and some serious inner peace. Not to mention an end to resentment and never having to buy a million absurd bridesmaids dresses.

Here's how to say "no" like you mean it (and without being mean):

1. Get the heck out of your head.

Intellectualizing our experiences can be great, and stimulating. But overthinking at a museum, and doing so when you're trying to take care of yourself are two different things.

Do any of these anxieties sound familiar?

  • He'll think I'm shirking responsibility if I say I'm busy that night.
  • She'll get mad if I don't go to the party.
  • What if they never talk to me again?
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Let's fess up: Our brains are champion storytellers. So decide now that whenever saying no is what you need, you will let it go. The anxieties will arise, but observe them and release them. You can literally make life easier on yourself!

Storytelling only creates stress and wastes energy, so just don’t do it. You can’t know what your boss, your mother-in-law or your hairdresser is thinking so don’t pretend you do. You’d be amazed how peaceful your mind becomes without all those stories.

2. Get back into your body.

Knowing when to say no is about figuring out literally how you feel. Your body knows when you're saying yes because you want to versus when you feel you have to. You know that burning sensation in the pit of your stomach when your brother-in-law asks to crash on your couch … again? Or the tension you feel in your jaw when your boss wants you to overtime? That's your body's way of telling you when it's time to say no. Listen to it!

3. Meditate on what it is that you really want.

You can say yes to as many invitations, requests and favors as you would like. Just make sure you are saying yes from a place that feels comfortable, genuine and clean to you. Ask yourself:

  • Do I actually want to do this? Why?
  • Do I feel comfortable with this request? (Check in with your body.)
  • Am I only saying yes to avoid the discomfort of saying no? Why?
  • If I'm finding it hard to say no, why? What story am I telling myself about this situation?

4. Realize the simplicity of honesty ... and be honest.

I call this, “Say what you mean and mean what you say." If you don’t have time to take on another project, say so. Don't make excuses as a way to avoid saying no, and it won't feel good (physically or emotionally). In other words, giving an excuse is basically just lying, and comes with a price.

With practice, you'll find it actually feels better to simply say no without explanation, rather than having to whip up another fake migraine or to kill off another of your beloved grandparents. That said, feel free to keep the salient details to yourself. Staying home to binge watch "House of Cards" in your pajamas is a perfectly legitimate example of "having other plans."

5. Delay and walk away.

If you are still having a hard time saying no, or if your knee-jerk reaction is to always say yes with out thinking, memorize this: “Could I get back to you on that?” This simple phrase will buy you some time and distance in order to figure what it is you actually want to do and to come up with a response that feels authentic.

6. Expect to be uncomfortable.

When you are not used to saying no it can feel awkward at first, so be prepared to feel uncomfortable. Brene Brown uses the mantra “I choose discomfort over resentment” to remind herself that rather than be angry and resentful about doing something she doesn’t want to do, she is actively choosing the smaller discomfort of saying no upfront.

7. Practice, practice, practice.

Like any new skill, saying no takes practice. Expect that you will make mistakes or slip into old patterns but these are just opportunities to hone your skills for next time. And go easy on yourself. Start with saying no to people or situations that are further away from you emotionally. For instance, practice saying no to a neighbor's barbecue before you tackle bailing on your sister's cat's birthday party.

And have fun! When you start saying no to the stuff you don’t want in your life, you're gonna have WAY more energy and time for the stuff you love! Bring on the sweet life!

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Jude Temple, R.N. author page.
Jude Temple, R.N.
Registered Nurse

Jude Temple, R.N. is a master certified life coach (certified by Martha Beck) and a registered nurse. She received her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing from the University of British Columbia. She specializes in helping perfectionists and people-pleasers learn to "open their hearts to the deliciously sloppy joy of real life." She lives in the Pacific Coast rain forest on Vancouver Island with her husband and their dog, Maggie.