Say NO Without the Guilt



“When you say “YES” to others, make sure you are not saying “NO” to yourself.”  Paulo Coehlo

I was the mother of two toddlers.  I am currently the mother of a teenager (and a tween).  As you can imagine, I hear the word NO on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.  And, my teenager says it with such power, such confidence, with no apology or explanation.  I cringe and am proud at the same time.

When did we lose our ability to say NO?  When did other people’s needs and wants become more important than our own?  Saying NO is such a powerful practice, yet one that most of us have chosen to neglect.

A client once told me she would rather have a root canal without the anesthesia than say NO and disappoint someone.  IKES!  No wonder her life was spinning out of control!  That was a powerful message she was sending to herself and those around her.  The message she was telling herself was, “saying NO is way too painful so avoid it at all costs.”  The message she was sending to those around her was, “she never says NO so keep on asking!”

For the next several weeks she worked on saying NO powerfully and without apology or explanation (although with more grace than perhaps, a teenager!).  It was tough at first, but as she exercised her NO muscle it began to strengthen and, eventually, saying no became easier and more natural.  As a result she began to take back control of her time, energy, commitments and goals.

Here are some strategies to help you say NO without the guilt.


Ask yourself, how will taking on this task/project/meeting/etc. affect my day/month/year/life?


Consider these questions.  Is this project in alignment with my vision and goals?  Will it advance me towards what I want to achieve or will it detract me and take me off course?


Try this exercise.

By saying YES to ________ I’m say NO to _________.

And, you can also turn it around.

By saying NO to  _________ I’m saying YES to _________.

This is how it may look.  “By saying YES to attending the networking dinner, I’m saying NO to my commitment to be home for nightly dinner with my family.”  OR “By saying NO to attending the last minute meeting, I’m saying YES to being at my son’s soccer game.”


Give yourself some time.  Yes, this means curbing your knee-jerk reaction to saying “YES” automatically.  Give yourself the time and space you need to consider what you really want to do.  I encourage clients to give themselves 24 hours before committing either way.  I know that isn’t always possible, but even giving yourself 1 hour to reflect is better than nothing.


Give alternatives.  Rather than saying YES immediately, negotiate other options.  For instance, maybe you are willing to do the project, but can’t start until you’ve finished your current priorities.  Or, maybe you will attend the networking event, but you can only stay for 1 hour, not for dinner as your boss has requested.

There are many ways you can say NO.  I have found that the best way to approach it is with honesty.  People appreciate honest, authentic responses.  And, by being truthful about why you are saying NO, you are modeling healthy and effective boundaries to those around you.

Believe it or not, saying NO does become easier, and it does take practice.

Take one of these strategies and play with saying NO for a week.  Even if you end up saying YES you’ll know you are doing so powerfully and from a place of strength, because you’ve given it thoughtful consideration.

And, if you find that you need some extra accountability, give me a call!  I would love to talk with you about how coaching can support you in finding your way with ease and grace.

Have an amazing week and enjoy your learnings!


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