Like many others, you’ve probably been in that situation where you hear yourself say ‘yes’ when the inner you is screaming ‘no’. You regret it as soon as that little word has left your lips – you’d do anything to turn the clock back a few seconds and have another go. A surprisingly large proportion of people have difficulty saying ‘no’, and the fact is that this can have serious consequences for your health and well-being. If you spend all your time trying to adapt to your surroundings, you lose yourself, who you are and what you stand for. It creates an inner stress and a feeling of inadequacy, a frustration that you’re not getting your own needs met and, in the long run, you may start to avoid people and occasions so as not to end up in situations where you know you’ll have difficulty saying ‘no’. Ask yourself what you are afraid of – saying ‘no’ isn’t so bad! 

Most people want to accommodate others, not cause problems, and come across as ‘nice’; they imagine that they have to say ‘yes’ to everything to be a part of the community and fit in. Or else those around them will get fed up, think that they’re boring and unreasonable, and never ask them again. Sometimes it’s a case of your being so used to not thinking about what YOU want deep down that you say ‘yes’ as a matter of course. You don’t take the time to stop and connect with your gut feeling, that inner voice that points you in the right direction most of the time, if you’ll just dare to start listening and acting on it.

Saying ‘yes’ sometimes, although you should have said ‘no’, isn’t the end of the world, but there are people who end up in this situation more often than not. It’s as though the fear of ending up in a conflict situation, hurting someone, regretting things or for a whole lot of other reasons, means they never say ‘no’. But, as I said, saying ‘no’ isn’t so bad. On the contrary – it is necessary to learn to set boundaries in order to develop healthy self-esteem.

Tips on the way to becoming a ‘naysayer’

✅ The first thing to do is to figure out the underlying reason why you say ‘YES’ when you want to say ‘NO’. Are you even aware that you do that, or do you go around with a gnawing feeling that you’re being taken advantage of, being railroaded or having a whole lot of repressed frustration inside you, the source of which escapes you? Reflect on situations you’ve been in and recognise the feeling and thoughts that usually come up. What do they tell you?

✅ Dare to stop and take stock. You don’t have to respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ right away. Ask to be able to get back to the person.

✅ Only YOU can show those around you where your boundaries are. You can’t blame others for taking advantage of you if you don’t ever say ‘no’ and stop them yourself. Maybe other people think you like doing certain things, since you always say ‘yes’, or your boss hasn’t realised that your workload is excessive when you go the extra mile every time, getting jobs done but at a cost to your health.

✅ People who are clear about what they believe, think and will put up with earn other people’s respect. Provided you do this in an open and pleasant manner. Don’t come up with excuses, prevaricate or start long expositions as to the reason why. All you need to say, briefly and succinctly, is: ‘I’m afraid I have to say “no”’ or ‘I can’t this time’, depending on what the matter is about, obviously. When it comes to choices or taking a position, try and think along the same lines – that you don’t need to start an altercation or a debate. You just need to express: ‘I believe, intend or want to do the following’. Every time you do this it will make you stronger. It’ll get easier every time, and in the end it’ll come naturally.

✅ Practise, practise, practise – as in everything we do, we get better at what we practise. Start in the context of people you feel safe and confident with. Maybe at home with your partner. You can pick simple things like what you want to eat for supper, what TV programme the pair of you should watch or what you should do at the weekend. Instead of just saying: ‘it doesn’t matter – I don’t mind’ or asking what your partner wants to do, figure it out for yourself and dare to make a proactive decision.

Remember that people who have opinions, say what they think and don’t just ‘do everything for absolutely everybody’ are actually attractive. Obviously, care, consideration and empathy for others are excellent qualities, but the most important person you should be treating with those qualities is yourself. Everything always starts with YOU.