Growing the “NO” muscle – musings from a recovering people-pleaser
You have a right to say no. Most of us have very weak and flaccid ‘no’ muscles. We feel guilty for saying no. We get ostracized and challenged for saying no, so we forget it’s our choice. Your ‘no’ muscle has to be built up to get to a place where you can say, ‘I don’t care if that’s what you want. I don’t want that. No.’ – Iyanla Vanzant
For the longest time I used to struggle with saying “NO”, and I would accommodate things I never really wanted to do because I wanted to please everyone and be in the good books of everyone… Until I realised that there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying NO. “No, I will not be coming”. “No, I am not interested”. “No, I won’t make it” or just “NO”. No is a full sentence. It has been one of my most liberating adult AHA moments and journeys of self-discovery.
We do a lot to accommodate people we do not want to be around; meetings we are not interested in, and engaging in small-talk that we have no fervour for – all because we want to be seen and accepted as nice and we want to please everyone. This comes at the expensive price of no free, leisurely time and a full diary of nothingness. It also comes at the cost of your own rest and self-care.
I’d often ask myself why my plate is so full and overloaded and if I really want to do x or y or z. Begrudgingly, I would drag myself because a) besengivumile (I had already agreed); b) I don’t want to lie and make up a stupid excuse and c) “what will the other person think” – these were all things which put me as second priority because the consideration of the other came before considering myself. That is people-pleasing and being overly accommodating. It’s not noble and it comes back to bite the people-pleaser in the butt. Stop that!
You’re not an evil person
Saying NO is healthy, and it denotes healthy boundaries and the ability to prioritise and to be realistic. These are boundaries that protect you, and also protect your time and your emotions. To be fair, there will always be that guilt or that pang that will come naturally when you first start to acquaint yourself with the practice of saying “NO” especially when you have been a YES and accommodating a person. “NO” will shock people around you because you had never been firm to set boundaries and to teach them that you will not always be up for it or be interested in whatever it is that you are being requested. That is the cost of taking back a power which you had previously relinquished.
Taking back your time and power
What is the one thing that you are afraid to say “NO” to because your fear the guilt or turmoil that will come from saying no? Do you often feel that you must provide lengthy explanation and excuses when you simply do not want to do something? What is the root cause of that?
So here are some of my suggestions on how you can begin to take back your schedule and your power with saying “NO”:
- Saying NO to social gatherings that will drain you or place you in the company of people you don’t want to engage with
- Saying NO to taking on more tasks when your plate is already full
- Saying NO to fruitless conversations in life and on digital platforms to people you really do not want to talk to
- Not answering that phone call that is going to drain you
- Simply saying “NO” so that you can sleep in and catch up on much deserved rest
Life is too short for the accommodation of things and people we would be happier without. It’s only through the development of healthy boundaries that we can get back to a place of running our lives and our schedules, and be happier people. There is power in the “no-muscle”!
Here is a short clip from Iyanla Vanzant on building up your no muscle: