Why Can’t You Say ‘No’?

If you’re anything like me, you have a hard time telling people “no” when they ask you for something. You just want to try and help everyone and do everything for yourself.

The problem is, you can’t do everything. Yes, you heard it here first and from someone who has come to that realization the hard way.

Learning how to say “no” is one of the most important lessons in life you can ever learn (I’d even say it’s up there with getting potty-trained). You shouldn’t say “no” just for the sense of self-pride either, but for a lot deeper reasons.

And in the next few minutes, I want to share those reasons with you.

Image by Kevin Trotman

Why You’re Hurting Yourself

First off, you should know how removing “no” from your vocabulary can hurt you.

When you start promising things to people and saying you’re going to do something for them, it puts pressure on you. Maybe at first, it’s manageable. But over time, the less and less you tell people “no,” the more pressure you are building onto yourself.

Now that you have all of these things you need to do for others, you are short on time and high on stress. You’ll quickly find out that you can’t manage all of these things for others and still do all the things you want to.

And I think that’s the most hurtful thing — you’re creating less time for you. You’re more important than anybody else, and when you can’t even find time for yourself: that’s when you know you need to make some changes.

Why We Have a Hard Time Saying “No”

There are plenty of reasons why many of us can say it, and why so many of us can’t. Some of us feel too pressured, and don’t want to let others down. Some of us even like to help people! Why does it have to be so hard?

But the main reason, I believe, that we have a hard time saying “no” — is because of psychology.

An article on Psychology Today says:

According to North Carolina researchers, you over commit because you expect to have more time in the future than you do in the present. But then tomorrow becomes today and… yesterday’s “yes” becomes today’s “damn!” And you find yourself making excuses.

The research shows that we think we have more time than we really do, and that’s why it’s so easy for us to feel like we can do more. It’s just one of time’s many effects on the brain, and it can be difficult to train yourself to think otherwise.

But not impossible.

How to Start Saying “No” Today

Now that you know how you’re hurting yourself and why you weren’t saying this word before, it’s time to figure out how to say “no.”

And trust me, there’s more to it than just telling someone “no” every time they ask you for something.

1. Know What You Have To Do

When I write posts about staying as focused as possible, I really mean: stay as focused as possible!

Keeping to-do lists and daily planners aren’t just for keeping your organized. It’s to give you some perspective on how your time is going to be spent for the day.

If you always have an idea (even a broad one) of what you’re going to do for the day, then you will start to understand that there’s just no way you can commit to anything else.

From the same article on Psychology Today:

“People often make commitments long in advance that they would never make if the same commitments required immediate action,” say the researchers. “That is, they discount future time investments relatively steeply.”

The better you can evaluate your time and watch your thoughts, the better you can plan ahead and never make a commitment you can’t keep with ever again.

2. Don’t Get Pressured

Some people are more persuasive than others, and you have to make it clear that if you don’t believe you can handle something, that you can’t do it. There’s nothing wrong with not being able to do something, you’re not some kind of superhuman (at least not that I know of).

And you have to realize that saying “no” to people does not give off the vibe that you’re a selfish person. Being able to say “no” to something tells me:

  1. You have self-respect for yourself
  2. Your priorities are straight
  3. You have other things to do, and that’s fine

People will not hate you for telling them “no.” They won’t be mad at you (and if they are, I’d stop talking to that person for a while). So don’t ever get pressured into someone else’s business they can’t handle.

3. Always Be Confident And In Control

The less confident you are in a situation, the easier it is to get pressured (see: point #2) and basically let everyone walk all over you. The more confidence you can gain in yourself, the better handle you’ll have in any situation.


Do You Have This Problem?

I know there are others like me out there who try to do more than they should. How about you? Was there a time you can remember agreeing to something you didn’t believe you can handle at the time? How did you learn from that experience? See you in the comments!

PS: You should check out that article I mentioned from Psychology Today. It’s really a fascinating read.

About the author: Alex Mangini is an 18-year-old web designer, blogger and founder of Life Notion. He has been helping people online since the age of 14, and hopes to inspire even more through the blog. Follow him on Twitter →

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean Davis December 9, 2011 at 11:23 am

Reply

To stay on the subject psychology, I think people are scared to say know because it implies what their capabilities are.

Say you’ve taken up graphic design as a hobby but you still work a day job. Once everyone gets wind of your awesome hobby, you’ll be the first one they think of when they need a logo made for their new website or something similar.

When they come and ask you to create the logo, you have two choices (so you think):

1. Agree to make the logo because you ARE a graphic designer… and you think you have to prove it

2. You say “no” and run the risk of being viewed as the graphic designer that doesn’t (can’t) design graphics

If you go with #2, how can you ever call yourself a graphic designer at work again? You say that you do it… but you didn’t do it when asked. So, when do you do it?

People can’t say “no” because saying no is too closely tied to saying “I don’t have the ability to” in their minds. It’s kind of like worrying too much about other people’s opinions and not being comfortable in your own skin.

Like the article you mentioned, you should say “yes” or “no” based on more logical reasons: time, resources, abilities, priorities, payment (if that’s an issue), etc. NEVER say “yes” to prove that you are who you said you are. If you can’t do it, well dammit you can’t do it!
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Alex Mangini December 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm

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Haha, great example man! I have that problem as a web designer, and am generally the first person my friends talk to if they have any questions, or want a website made.

I sometimes have to decide why I am saying no. I know that if I made a website for everyone who asked — I’d never leave my computer! It sometimes takes a lot of effort to explain why I can’t do it without trying to be mean, and some people can’t understand like others…

Sean Davis December 9, 2011 at 9:48 pm

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Wow… I butchered that first sentence. Was I still sleepy that late in the morning? :P
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Ray December 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm

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Great insight Alex. As for me I tend to figure things out by making simple (or not so simple) analogies. And when it comes to saying no, I tend to look at the act of “saying no” as my “verbal white blood cells”. It’s my natural defense against unwanted attacks on my time, money or in some cases sanity. I’ve gotten to a point where I trust my instincts and if my initial thought is to say no…I usually do. With that being said, most times I’m more than happy to help someone if I can. Anyway, I don’t know if that made any sense to you, but hey, you asked for a comment, and I just couldn’t say no :)

Alex Mangini December 9, 2011 at 9:06 pm

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Hah, I get you man. That’s an awesome way to look at it, I might want to try and come up with a cool analogy as well to help. :-D

Jonathan Gaurano December 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm

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Hi Alex,

You know what’s funny – I wrote something similar to this a couple of days ago. However, yours delves into a very serious psycho analysis of why we can’t say No (mine is a little more off the wall). But, you’re right – we can’t do everything – though we want to please EVERYONE. I think one of the things to take away from this article is to understand that you need to have control of your life – before accepting any favor:

For example, when the plan is crashing do you put the oxygen mask on your face first – or the other persons? Exactly. Your face first.
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Alex Mangini December 9, 2011 at 9:08 pm

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Hey Jonathan, welcome to Life Notion!

I just checked your blog and saw the post. Pretty unique perspective and examples haha, I liked it man.

Thanks for sharing your comment here, and I hope to see you around more. :-D

Fred Tracy December 9, 2011 at 3:24 pm

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Oddly enough, this is one area where I definitely excel. I value my free time probably higher than anything else in my life. And so I am very careful to not let anyone intrude on it!

Although I probably used to be pretty bad at it, these days I get a real kick out of saying no. I realize that sounds a little mean, but it IS my free time, after all. :-)
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Alex Mangini December 9, 2011 at 9:11 pm

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That’s actually a great thing man, and you definitely have your priorities straight there. I wish more people would understand that their own well-being is the most important thing to them and should be above others.

Thomas Frank December 9, 2011 at 7:17 pm

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Oddly enough, my girlfriend was complaining about this today. Saying no is something I’ve always had trouble with.

However, I’ve come a long way from how I used to be. I’ve quit a lot of commitments and, once this semester is over, I’ll focused only on school and my own projects.
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Alex Mangini December 13, 2011 at 9:29 am

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Good stuff bro, let me know how that works out for you. You me and Derek need to get together sometime, haha.

Derek Jensen December 9, 2011 at 7:42 pm

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You know this was my biggest problem. Just like helping out people, but I’ve learned the hard way that you need to do something for yourself by kindly saying no.

Alex Mangini December 13, 2011 at 9:30 am

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Oh yes sir I do haha. How are you dealing with it today?

Derek Jensen December 14, 2011 at 3:23 am

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For one I’ve become way more independent and the people that I want in my life respect my choice for that. Just focused on Resimplify and when not working on that I write. Done and done. Tomorrow’s another day.

Mark Kubiak December 9, 2011 at 11:40 pm

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I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

Alex Mangini December 13, 2011 at 9:30 am

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Thanks Mark, you should drop by some more! ;-D

VeehCirra December 10, 2011 at 4:23 am

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Alex this is so true. It’s so hard for me too, to say no sometimes I love the concept you have brought out here about time! Come to think about it, it does make so much sense thinking we have more time than we really do, then everything catches up with us, when we should deliver on our promises!!

Alex Mangini December 13, 2011 at 9:32 am

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Exactly! Some people can’t stop saying “no” because they feel like they can do everything! If only there was more time during the day to do these things, right?

Thanks for the comment VeehCira. :-D

Deeone December 10, 2011 at 8:57 am

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Hey Alex,

I used to be a total “Yes man”; I would allow other people to control whatever it was they wanted that I wasn’t doing, in the first place. I think I always said, “yes” or “sure, I can add one more thing to my overloaded plate”, because I was a total people pleaser.

The thing with being a people pleaser though is that they usually set themselves up for getting disappointed, even more so than they are in pleasing the people they’re trying to impress. Now, I know “impress” might be to strong of a word here, but I’m sure from looking at the awesome tips you’ve listed here – you understand what I mean by that.

Oddly enough, for as long as I was a total pushover, the years have shown me that nowadays I’ve gotten totally better at saying “no” when I need too, and “yes” only when I mean it.

Great post man, and thanks for the juice! :)

I totally would’ve commented sooner, but we’re on vacation; I’m actually not even suppose to have the laptop open… couldn’t help it though. I’m signing off now. :D
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Alex Mangini December 13, 2011 at 9:36 am

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Did you ever feel like they were trying to take advantage of you? Like, if they saw something you were good at – did they try and ‘use’ you for your talents?

And I know what you mean for sure! It’s like, you end up hurting everyone else because you told them you’d do something and end up not doing it. Can hurt your reputation and trust with other people.

So, have you gotten better at saying ‘no’? :-D I like to think I am, but sometimes it all just comes back to me and I can’t stop.

And no problem man, I love linking out to other people in my posts! Hope you had a good time on vacation!

Deeone December 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm

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Some people I did… There are some folks that just aren’t good at hiding their feelings and emotions. They say one thing and their actions do something completely left field. I would still do what was asked of me though. With no questions asked… usually.

Whenever I did start questioning people’s intentions, their body language and vocal patterns usually showed me the “real” on them. It became overly apparent that I was simply being used. I would simply and kindly take a break from those individuals.

I have very little problem with saying no now. Especially if I really think I can’t do what is asked of me. No matter what… our character is all we have to stand on. If we don’t protect that then we’re screwed… royally!

BTW, one of the best vacations ever. Thanks for the well wishes. :)
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Adrienne December 10, 2011 at 7:53 pm

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Hey Alex,

Looks like this topic hit home with quite a few people. I would have to say that I don’t have any problems telling people no.

I was in the secretarial field for over 30 years and I learned how to prioritize my work. I remember being sent to a time management seminar with another secretary in our company. We were the top two and although my boss knew I didn’t need it, he didn’t want her going alone.

She told me that she just couldn’t say no because she wanted to please everyone. I told her that she’s only hurting herself and running herself into the ground because she’s staying late and coming in early in order to get everything accomplished that she committed to. As for me, I know what I need to get done so I would put them in the order or importance. I did my best to help everyone out, but I had no problem telling you that I just didn’t have the time.

If you are building your own business online, you have to put your foot down. You are just one person so delegate or outsource if you need to. Just don’t wear yourself out trying to accomplish everything. You’ll soon learn that your passion is fading if you try and keep up with it all.
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Alex Mangini December 13, 2011 at 9:39 am

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Thanks for the comment Adrienne!

I might need to go to one of those time management seminars haha…it’s been rough lately. But, that’s great you had a job that taught you how to prioritize better.

Did your coworker ever take your advice by the way?

And on outsourcing – I’m like a control freak. I like to have a say in everything I make online. It’s a good and bad thing, but I have to learn that hiring other people to help me in my business is smart and will only get me farther. I’m glad you brought that up, as it’s something I really need to consider.

See you around. :-D

Naveen Kulkarni January 24, 2012 at 12:59 am

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Hi Alex,
Awesome article.

This reminded me of my post which I wrote for UnLockTheDoor.net

Sorry for leaving this link (but it could actually extend the conversation).

http://unlockthedoor.net/benefits-say-no/
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