The art of saying no.

I am the first to admit that I’m terrible at saying no. I like to feel needed. Busy. Important.

So when someone asks me if I’m free on Wednesday, and my diary has a blank spot, I say yes. Well I am. I’ve got lots of things that I need to get done or down time that needs to be had but that’s not the point. I have nothing scheduled for then so therefore I am technically free, and have no excuse to get out of this new thing.

At uni, I had three part time jobs, multiple volunteer roles, and played two sports. On weekends, I would go out with friends on Friday nights, begin work at the local bakery at 6am, play netball after my shift, have parties that night, volunteer for children’s church Sunday morning, home for family lunch, play a soccer match and then be back for the youth evening service. Readings and assignments fit in around this. I didn’t see anything wrong with these commitments. I liked being busy and had lots of interests. I always ran late because I would over schedule.

When my hubby and I first started dating, I told him I was free Thursday nights and Saturdays. I was quite serious! Every other time slot was full. Needless to say, I began making more time for him but was just as busy with my competing interests.

Since having a baby last year, I continued to be busy. I was exhausted and sleep deprived (still am!) but couldn’t say no. I had play dates, swimming lessons, baby massage, mum’s groups, medical appointments. I would arrive home in a heap, my baby wouldn’t sleep unless I held him and would burst into tears when hubby got home. Dinner wasn’t cooked and the house was trashed because I was too busy going out. People had told me to make sure I go out at least once a day. ‘It’s good to get out of the house, have adult conversation.’ Yes I was free to go out every day but that didn’t mean I could cope with it.

My hubby did a course during his counselling degree at uni years ago about self-care, and it has stuck with him. He’s good at saying no. He doesn’t over commit and takes time to respond before saying yes to an invite. Now and then I ask him what they taught him because I want to be like that! Hopefully someone might find these ideas useful too.

No one needs to know your timetable. If you are invited somewhere and have too much on, or simply don’t want to go, it’s okay to say no. You can say, ‘sorry – I have an appointment.’ It doesn’t matter if you don’t have an actual appointment or not – the appointment could be staying home to put on a load of washing, or curling up with a good book. No one needs to know.

Schedule in down time. You are in charge of your time and calendar. Look at your diary before things book up and decide how you want to spend your time. How many nights out a week can you manage? When would you like to be home relaxing or getting things done on the weekend? Now I actually block out spots for ‘home day’ or ‘stay at home’ night. I schedule in time to do the washing, cleaning and grocery shopping.

Practice saying no. It doesn’t matter if you do it in front of the mirror or with someone you trust. Make the word part of your vocabulary if it wasn’t before. At the top of each week in your diary or calendar, write something like, ‘you can say no!’ Believe it or not, this can help when you get a call asking to do an extra shift (that you really can’t do), or another appointment (those nails can always wait) or the family birthday get together (that you honestly don’t have energy for).

Being such an honest person, I struggled with this at first. It felt like lying! But do you know, the more I stop and think before saying yes, the easier it becomes. Saying no is freeing and self-empowering. It puts you back in control of your life, rather than at everyone’s beck and call.

I’m still a work in progress. I’ve got a long way to go.

But it no longer freaks me out when I see blank spots in my diary.

I challenge you to say no to one thing this week. Decide on your priorities – work, partner, children, family, friends and figure out what is most important. Everyone is vying for your time and energy but you can’t be there for everyone.

I’m slowly learning to do less things and do them well. I can promise you that I’m no expert. I put off saying no to an invite for days and it was bothering me. I needed to respond. I mentioned this last night to my hubby. ‘I just don’t know how to say no!’ I complained. Once verbalizing this, I realised that I’d already made up my mind that I couldn’t go. I just had to RSVP no and get it over with. I wasn’t letting anyone down and it wasn’t the big deal I’d built up in my head.

We can’t do it all, and we don’t have to.

Let’s try to say no a little more. 

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