Plate“Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.” –John C. Maxwell

“Just say no” has been a frequently used   phrase over the last couple of decades.  The slogan was widely used in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, to discourage young folks in engaging in drugs or other unhealthy activities.  Today, the art of learning to say “no” is a vital skill in stress management. Do you find yourself saying yes to people’s requests, even though you are already crunched for time or resources? This article will explore two common reasons for over commitment, as well as healthy ways to just say no.


Over Commitment Reason #1:  I’ll feel guilty if I say no. This is one of the most common reasons for over obligation. Prepare yourself for the next potential project commitment by examining two areas of your life: priorities and intent.  First, be clear about your priorities-the everyday activities are important in your life. For example, your priority may be spending time with your children in the evening. You may be less apt to commit to a long-term project that will consume several evenings per week.  Also, be clear about the motivation or intent behind making the commitment. Be sure the decision is something you clearly want to do.  If your goals match the opportunity then the decision will be apparent.

Just Say No Tip: A great response is “My schedule is full right now but thank you.”  Most people will accept this response; however, there are those who will push your limits. Simply repeat the same response, as many times as needed. This requires a little staying power on your part but remember that you are honoring your, time, health and other previous obligations with your decision to say “no.”

Over Commitment Reason #2 I’ll feel selfish if I say no. Open your calendar and look at the last week or two of your schedule. Count how many times you nurtured your needs versus the needs of others. Can you truly say you are a selfish person with your time? This is where looking at your responsibilities realistically can give perspective when feeling selfish saying no.

Just Say No Tip: Would saying yes prevent you or someone else from a new experience?  For instance, if you have served on a fundraising committee at the same capacity for five years, maybe stepping back to allow someone else to serve is a healthy option. A huge opportunity for growth can happen for you and the new committee chairperson. What would you do with your new found free time when your plate is half full?

The art of saying “no” takes practice. There may continue to be circumstances where you over obligate yourself. Be kind to yourself. Checking your intent, priorities and schedule will help you make the best decision. over 25 years in the health care profession, Lisa Birnesser has studied stress relief techniques and have helped hundreds of people reduce stress in their lives.Lisa specializes stress management coaching by helping people do what matters most every day.

7 thoughts on “Learning to Say No: The Art of Keeping Space on Your Plate”

  1. Lisa, this is the best-worded advice I have seen on this topic to date. You have accurately identified people’s reasons for not saying “no” and provided clear examples.

    “#2 I’ll feel selfish if I say no. Open your calendar and look at the last week or two of your schedule. Count how many times you nurtured your needs versus the needs of others. Can you truly say you are a selfish person with your time?”

    This approach makes the scenario real, tangible. The Tips that follow each Overcommitment Reason are specific, like a role model. You have also pointed out that saying “no” takes practice, something that is important for people to understand.

    1. Thank you, Eva! I really appreciate your feedback. Saying no does require practice and gets easier over time.

  2. Pingback: People Pleasing: When Does Helping Others Turn into a Problem? | Stress Relief Solutions| Stress Management| Stress Relief Coach

  3. Thank you for an Amazing post, Lisa! This really resonated with me, as for many years, I use to always say 'Yes' and  over commit myself just out of guilt. It was when I started to really believe, love and embrace myself and start treating myself like a priority rather then as an option that my life started to go to that next Amazing level…one of balance!

  4. Great tips Lisa! I used to always say yes because I thought my friends wouldn't like me anymore if I said no. Now I realize that they respect me more for sticking up for myself than when I give in all the time. 🙂

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