How to feel more confident saying 'no' to things

Do you find yourself agreeing to everything?

It’s hardly surprising considering how selfish and guilty we can feel when we say ‘no’ to people – whether it’s our family, friends or work colleagues.

Mentor Natalie Trice tells Metro.co.uk: ‘”No” is such a tiny word, but it can be really hard to say.

‘People like to be seen as capable, kind and able to help others and, by saying “no”, they worry it can make them seem unhelpful, rude and unable to juggle.’

The reality is that we all need to harness the power of saying ‘no’ a little more – especially when it comes to putting our own needs first (something that people pleasers often struggle with).

So where do you begin? And how do you ensure you maintain important relationships in the process?

Experts share how to feel more confident in doing exactly that.

Acknowledge your personal struggle

Firstly, a good place to start is to simply acknowledge that this isn’t your area of expertise. This way, you’ll be more conscious of it going forward. 

Dr Becky Spelman, a psychologist at the Private Therapy Clinic, says: ‘If you struggle to say “no” to things, it’s a sign that you are a people pleaser.

‘The first thing is to be aware of this and the fear of letting people down.

‘So be aware that you have a need to be liked by other people, and this need is actually excessive and that you struggle to put yourself first.’

Try not to overthink it

Saying ‘no’ to things is an everyday part of life – so try not to dwell on decisions or situations where you’ve had to do it.

Natalie says: ‘The reality is we simply cannot do everything that is asked of us, and if we try to take on everything it’s likely that we will feel anxious and overstretched – and spinning all those plates won’t be possible.’

Instead try and think of examples when people have said ‘no’ to you – it might make you feel less guilty about doing so yourself.  

Consider how to respond

If you’re worried about turning something down, Natalie suggests taking some time to think about how you can say it in a polite way.

She says: ‘The next time your boss asks you to do an extra report on Friday afternoon, or your bestie begs you to go out for drinks, just stop and ask yourself not only “can I do this?” but “do I want to do this?”

‘It’s very likely your intuition will kick and scream ‘no’, but your mouth may instantly say ‘yes’ because you don’t want to let them down, or be seen an incompetent and then passed up for a promotion. 

‘Being put on the spot isn’t easy, so, as a starting point, ask if you can go back to them as this will give you some breathing space. With this in place, you can access the situation and go back to them accordingly – maybe saying “I can do that report, but it won’t be until Monday and that way I can ensure it’s comprehensive and up to date”, or, “I really need to take tonight off and get some rest and relaxation, but let’s meet up for lunch next week.”‘

It’s also important to remember that you don’t expect someone to say ‘yes’ every time you ask them to do something for you, so don’t put the same pressure on yourself.

Natalie adds: ‘Of course, if you are sure that the request isn’t something you want to do, a simple, “I am sorry but I can’t do that”, is totally fine. It’ll empower you and show you have clear boundaries – and that’s good.’

Try and change your mindset

The most important thing to remember is that you should always be putting yourself first – before you try and please others. 

Dr Becky says: ‘It’s like if a plane is going to crash, you’re going to put on your oxygen mask first, before you try and help others. 

‘So if you look after yourself and your needs you’re going to be the healthiest, happiest version of yourself with loads of energy to give to others. 

‘If you don’t look after your own needs, you’re going to suffer from burnout and going to resent other people for the fact you’ve done so much for them and that you’re running out of steam yourself.’

Dr Becky explains that there’s a common concept called ‘compulsive caregiving’ which is when people compulsively care for others due to low self esteem. This means they look after other people’s needs and they feel guilty if they don’t. 

She says: ‘While it might look like a very helpful, nice and kind behaviour it actually leads to more problems than good.’

It’s not uncommon to be a people pleaser – but Dr Becky says to be aware of the behaviour and realise that it’s not the healthiest way of living your life. 

She adds: ‘If you are a kind and caring soul, of course you’re always going to get something out of doing things for other people.

‘But you can only be satisfied in the caring that you give if you also feel like you’re being cared for yourself – so that means caring for yourself and looking after your needs first, so you’ll have that energy to help other people.’

Practice makes perfect

Often the struggle with saying “no” is the guilt you feel after asserting your own needs.

But it’s important to commit to it regardless – and remember, it will get easier.

‘The more you practice saying “no”, the less guilty you’ll start to feel,’ says Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.

‘It can help to remind yourself that we tend to overestimate the negative reaction we’ll receive when we say “no”. You might find yourself surprised that people usually value this kind of honesty.’

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