How to Say No More Often: The Cost of Being a “Yes-Man”

How to Say No More Often

I’ve spent most of my life afraid to disappoint people. This has caused me to put myself after everyone and everything else, especially work. Work first, play last, I’d think to myself. I would take on projects or serve on committees even when my schedule was already full. The new crafts I’ve been dying to do would be put off, and that time would be given to something else. I truly always wanted to help people, and I believed I was being helpful by always saying ‘yes.’ What I’ve realized, though, is that no one really wins when you take on too much. So, I’ve learned how to say no more often, and in today’s post, I cover how you can too.

The Cost of Being a “Yes-Man”

It’s important to realize the cost of being a “Yes-(Wo)man.” While you should strive to be selfless, it is also absolutely OK to have selfish moments. When you commit to everyone and every task, you leave little room for rest, both physically and mentally. But, more importantly, you leave little room for yourself. In fact, Psychology Today advises to actually schedule time for solitude, in this 2012 article by Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy. D.

Solitude, she writes, “helps to improve concentration and increase productivity.” The more you are able to concentrate, the more productive you will find yourself to be. Wasted time can be reduced or completely eliminated through this process.

For me personally, I found myself to always be thinking about the next thing I had to do, instead of just dedicating all my attention to the task at hand. It caused feelings of resentment as well. Granted, at this point in my life, I was also working a full-time job, started two side businesses, and was the Marketing Chair of more than one committee plus served as a board member for my local arts council. As you can see, the word “no” was essentially non-existent. But, I dove into all these side projects because I truly believed in them and enjoy being part of a greater cause. So, how do you know what to say no to? How do you do this without offending anyone?

How to Say No More Often

It is definitely possible to still be helpful while also staying true and mindful to yourself. Here are my suggestions:


When choosing what to take off your commitment list, begin by prioritizing. What is causing you more harm than good? Is there anything that you are not fully connected to or feel you are failing to meet expectations due to lack of time (or energy)? What are absolute musts that you cannot get rid of?

Prioritizing is not just job or community-related; it also refers to friends and family. Do you over-extend yourself to certain people who may not return the favor in your own times of need? Learn to let go of those feelings of obligation for people who cause more stress and pain in your life. It may be time to make some cuts for your health.

Ask Who (or What) You’re Serving

If you serve as a volunteer on a committee, do you believe in the cause? Or, is it that you just agreed to sign up because you were asked and did not want to say no? When using your free time to donate to others, consider why you chose to do so. Commitments in your life that just take up free space in your mind without meaning may need to get pushed aside until you have fewer responsibilities.

Actually Saying the Word No

The hardest part is surely actually saying no, but don’t overthink it.  Once you know how to say no, you’ll see more people understand than what you originally thought. If work is the main culprit, you can also let your employer know when you are unable or unrealistically able to take on more work. Be respectful, of course. Approach your boss in a professional way, showing him or her your present workload. Be sure to explain your concerns about productivity and discuss alternative solutions. Together, you may find other efficient ways to complete the work. This recently happened to a friend of mine, and he was able to show his employer that he needed more help in his department in order to continue with business growth.

You might find that as you begin turning down projects and people more, some individuals may be left disappointed. However, their disappointment (if existent) will quickly dissipate and your mental health will improve. Be honest with not only the people involved but also yourself. Let people know how busy you are right now but thank them for thinking of you. Another way to say it would be informing them you, unfortunately, cannot commit and worry you would not be about to put forth 100% energy to their request, even if it is just a party invitation. How much time can you actually give to extracurricular activities?

When you transform from being on board to everything to picking and choosing, you’ll notice the quality of your current commitments will be better than ever. This process of practicing how to say no creates a healthy relationship with being helpful…and yourself.

Are you a “Yes-(Wo)man?” What challenges have you or do you notice in your own life?

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