Learning How to Say "No"

I have a problem. I know I’m not the only one out there that has it either. I genuinely enjoy helping people out. Most of the time, I’m more than willing to lend a helping hand to a fellow human being in need. However, I’ve noticed that this tends to get me in trouble of sorts. My problem, which many of you have also, is that I have a hard time saying “No” to others.

It’s a huge problem. For whatever reason, I feel like I’m being rude to someone if I tell them I can’t do something. I don’t want to disappoint or look like bad in some way, and I end up taking on more than I can handle. Those of you who have the same problem know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. It’s incredibly stressful to live life this way. There’s the stress of the fear of disappointing others, but there’s also the stress of what happens when you can’t say “No”. You overextend yourself.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve overextended myself in the 30+ years I’ve been on this earth. Too many. And the same thing happens each time. I have some kind of breakdown. It never fails. Learning to say “No” can help you make the best of your time.

As a result, I’ve worked on developing a system of questions to work through to help myself make informed decisions before I simply respond, “Yes.”

Can I do this well?

This is probably one of the most basic questions to ask yourself when trying to decide whether or not to take on a new life adventure. If you’re already busy, you probably don’t have the time to take on another endeavor that you aren’t already proficient in. Take a minute and think about how well you can do this new task.

I’m a arts kind of guy. Music, writing, graphic arts. Those are my realm, so when I’m approached about doing something in those areas, I can usually agree to the task because it probably won’t take a significant amount of my time. I’m already adept in those areas, so I’m not going to have to spend time learning how to do it. I can knock an article out in an hour or two, so it doesn’t add much stress to my life.

Mechanics, on the other hand, is a foreign language to me. If someone were to ask for my help fixing a car engine (which would never happen in the first place), I wouldn’t have a problem saying “No” because I have no clue what I’m doing.

How important is this to me?

Different people have different interests, and some things are more important to some than to others. What are your life priorities? Everyone has a list. The items higher up on the list should be the things that you focus the majority of your time on. Faith, family, the arts are some of my top priorities, so I try as much as possible to spend my time on those things rather than other items lower on the list.

Do I enjoy doing this? How passionate am I about this?

The importance of the task will determine how much you enjoy the time you spend. If I’m spending the majority of my time doing things that are low on my importance list, then I’m also not enjoying a majority of my day. I don’t feel any sense of accomplishment or satisfaction when I feel like I’m wasting my time.

What are you passionate about? I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I finish writing a fiction scene or a new blog entry. I get a lot of enjoyment out of playing with my daughter and hearing her giggle. I love having a deep life conversation with my wife, or just being stupid and laughing with her. I don’t, however, enjoy filling out a bunch of paperwork for my job. I don’t like analyzing data. I hate doing the dishes. When I have the option, I’m going to do something that brings me satisfaction.

How much extra time is this really going to take?

I recently took on the responsibility of preaching at a small chapel service our church started a couple of months ago. As far as the other questions went, they were all affirmed. Preaching is something that I feel proficient in. It’s also an important priority in my life, and I really enjoy doing it. How much extra time was this going to take, though?

When I sat down to look at putting a sermon together, I had to understand that this was a weekly commitment that would take my time. It’s taking a few hours out of my week, which is not a deal breaker for me.

Sometimes I can agree to do something, even if it’s not important to me or enjoyable, if I know that it won’t take very long. Other times may be the opposite. It may be something that I really love doing, but I can’t do it if it requires me to schedule a large amount of time.

Time is such a fleeting resource. Budget it wisely.

Can someone else do this?

I’ve found this often to be a question that makes or breaks my decision, both for good and bad. There have been several times I’ve taken on something new because no one else could do it. I became the head coach of our cross country team this year. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, and it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. It just wasn’t as high on my importance list, and it was a large time commitment. However, there wasn’t anyone else at the school that had any experience with the sport, so I agreed.

A little secret about this question: the answer is always yes. Yes, there is always someone else that can do this. It may take more than a cursory search, and you may have to extend beyond your immediate surroundings, but there is always someone else that can do this. If everything else says “No” and this is the only thing that says “Yes”, don’t give in. More than likely, you’re going to agree for this reason alone and have a negative experience.

Ultimately, there are times when we don’t have the option. You may not like certain obligations at work, for example. It may not be important to you nor bring you any joy. It may take more time than you’d like. It’s a part of the job, though.

Dishes have to be washed. Diapers have to be changed. Laundry needs to be folded. Bills need to be paid. There are a lot of things that we don’t have control over. That’s why we should focus the time we do have control over doing things that energize to us.

Don’t be afraid to say no. Sure, it may disappoint someone or frustrate them or whatever, but it won’t last. We should focus on doing things because we want to, not because we feel obligated to.