I’ve recently got back from a very long road trip with my daughters and as usual we had some very interesting conversations, one was about how hard it can often be to say no. To be honest, this is not an unusual problem and I would say that almost without exception I have similar conversations with my clients who similarly find it hard to say no to family, friends and work colleagues.
Whilst this may not be the most pressing issue of the day, it can impinge on how much we enjoy our lives on a day to day basis. When we say yes when we want to say no, we end up taking on things that we don’t want to, we feel pressured, stressed, we may feel cornered or stuck, taken for granted – a whole host of different feelings that make us feel bad.
So why do we do it, it’s quite a simple word to say, so why do we have such hard time saying it?
In the main, the reason we don’t is that we don’t want to upset the other person, we don’t want to let them down or make their life harder, maybe even we want to avoid conflict with them or even we want them to like us and we are scared that if we say no, they won’t. In essence what we do is we create a reason why saying no isn’t an option for us.
So how can we say no more often and not find ourselves in a position where we are convincing ourselves that saying yes is the right thing to do?
The first step is to notice what your gut reaction is immediately upon being asked, you know that feeling that you get when you know something is right or wrong? We all have it and often we all override it at some point in our lives, interestingly when I ask clients about this they can usually point to a situation where when they’ve gone against their gut feeling and it’s not turned out as good as they thought it might have done!
The second step is to notice what happens next. More often than not we start creating a reason why we should say yes and not go with our gut feeling of saying no.
The third step is to get really curious about the reason we have created. Often we convince ourselves that we are dealing with fact – we know how someone is going to react, we know that they will be upset, we know that they will feel let down. However, the reality is is that we don’t know these things, we suspect them and that is a completely different matter! We can’t possibly know what is going to happen in the future, we don’t know what someone is thinking or feeling, all we really know is the story that we are telling ourselves about it. A story that, at the end of the day, will ultimately make us feel bad. When we start to recognise the stories that we are telling ourselves we start to become quieter in our mind because they no longer have the persuasiveness that they had before.
Finally, when we become quieter, we can start to really tune into that gut feeling again and allow this to guide us to what we feel is the right thing to do, in my experience when we are responding from this place rather than a place where we are creating ‘what if’ stories, those around us are usually more accepting of our position, and if they’re not, we are in a better place to respond.
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