Not too long ago, I had an idea that was going to help one of my clients. I was excited about it and shared my idea with her. She was excited about it too. In fact, she was excited enough to ask me, “Can you do that? Put together a proposal and we’ll pay you for it.”

I ALMOST said, “Uh, sure.” Not the most enthusiastic “Yes” you’ve ever heard.

I was NOT excited about actually implementing my good idea. I thought about what it would take to do the project. My heart sank. My stomach churned in knots.

I did NOT want to do the project. I wanted to share the idea and then let her hire someone else to do it. But I didn’t want to be seen as someone who wasn’t a team player.

Every time you say YES to one thing, you are saying NO to something else. 

If I had said Yes to that project, I would be saying No to running my classes and working with clients in ways that I love. I wouldn’t have had time for both.

In the same way, when you say Yes to a job that you don’t want, you’re saying No to the jobs that you DO want.

When you say Yes to a job requires travel, you’re saying No to being with your kids.

Say Yes to working overtime, you’re saying No to getting to your yoga class on time, which improves your physical and mental health.

Say Yes to rearranging your schedule to get a last minute project done, you’re saying No to the importance of everything you’ve already committed to do. You’re saying No to your self-respect and the value of your time.

You’re saying No to your worth. 

Many women have a hard time saying No. We’ve been raised to be helpful, to say Yes to others and put ourselves last. If you want to see this in action, watch who volunteers to clean up at the next dinner party you attend. True enough, there are men who help. But if you’re over 35, the chances are good that the women are the ones who feel obligated to help. Even though we want to sit and chat at the table, it’s the compulsion to help, to be seen as helpful, to be supportive and build a closer relationship with the host/hostess, that prompts us to jump up and start clearing the dishes.

This general trying-to-please-others-at-the-expense-of-yourself spills over into everything you do in life. You stay late at work, rearrange your schedule to accommodate others and ask your manager to help you deliver bad news to a client because you’re not sure how to say No without becoming “the bad guy” or labeled as “difficult.”

Here’s how to create a new habit of saying Yes to what’s important to you and No to the things that are not.

The most important thing about saying No is believing in your Yes.

Your Yes is about you, your family, your physical health, or your mental well-being. Whatever your Yes is rooted in, you have to believe that you deserve it.

If your Yes is about you: You want to live a full life and you just can’t do it when you spend 80-hours a week at work. There isn’t much time for anything else. You want to do things outside of the office, but right now you’re too tired to do anything other than pour yourself a glass of wine and curl up in front of Netflix for a few hours, then tumble exhausted into bed, only to get up the next day and do it all over again. Your salary may pay for a new kitchen but you don’t have the time to enjoy it.

Your Yes is about reclaiming that full life you dream about, the one where you have time and energy to have a hobby and spend time with the people you care about.

Your family: “Your kids are only young once” is a popular saying that is true, true, true. The time goes by faster than you can believe and your kids are getting older every day, whether you’re too busy to enjoy them or not. If your Yes is about family, think about the things you want to do with them. You only get that experience of seeing them compete in the finals once. You may  not be able to be at every single practice or game, but is it important for you to be at some of them? If so, make this your Yes.

Your physical health: Sitting at your desk all day long, your to-do list never gets any shorter. You work through lunch, grab food at the vending machine or on the go and eat food that is giving you stomach aches and making you fat. More importantly, every week there is a study that comes out indicating that this behavior is increasing your chances of getting cancer and diabetes. If this is your life, make your health your Yes.

Your mental well being: When you wake up in the middle of the night, a running to do list going through your head, and you can’t get a full night’s sleep because of all the things you have to do tomorrow, then this may be your Yes.

Once you understand that your Yes is rooted in something more important than just saying No, it will give you the inner strength to move to the next step.

When you say Yes to things that you really want to say No to, you eventually get angry, bitter or resentful. 

I have a friend who, year after year, agrees to go to Thanksgiving at her mother-in-law’s house even though what she really wants is to say No. What was once her favorite holiday has now become the worst day of the year. How can she truly accept that she deserves to say No? She has to think of her Yes, to imagine her favorite holiday at her house. When she comes at the No from that place, it changes from, “I hate going to your mother’s house” to “Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year, it means so much to me and reminds me of my mom. I would love to find a way to have Thanksgiving at our house.”

The No goes from complying to cherishing. 

At work, when your co-worker waits until the last minute to ask for your help on something, you may want to say No just to punish her for being late. You want to say No because why should her emergency become your emergency? Why should you have to stay late because of her bad planning? This No can come across as you being difficult or not a team player.

Try changing, “I hate it when you bring me last minute projects, but I’ll do it. I’m mad about it and I resent you for making me rearrange my day because of your lateness” to “I’d like to help you, but I don’t have time today.”

When you’re sure that No needs to be a more fluid and intuitive response for you, it’s time to focus on how you’ll say it. Like most difficult conversations, it’s helpful to start with a script, a common way of saying No that you can draw upon in any situation.

The next step, what you say, is not a talent you’re born with.  It’s a skill that has to be learned and practiced.

Imagine looking at your boss after you’ve had the thought, “I deserve to be able to go to my kid’s baseball game at 4, like I planned.” What actually comes out of your mouth when you’re ready to say No?

STEP 1: Use a respectful softener. Show that you respect the other person and remain a “likable” person. Use respectful softeners, such as, “Thank you for thinking of me,” or “I’m glad you asked” before you deliver your No.

STEP 2: Give one reason such as, “I’m fully booked this week” or “I just don’t have the time to help with this one.”

STEP 3: Suggest another person or solution. This allows you to be seen as a helpful person, not a brick wall of No. You might say, “I’d be happy to help you figure out who else might be available” or “let’s look at what can be done in a shorter time and see if we can come up with a solution.”

Practice saying your response OUT LOUD, before it comes up. It may feel silly, but practice is the difference between a smooth delivery and an awkward response. Find wording that works for you and your personality, then practice it a couple of times.


  • I’m sorry, I’m busy.
  • Thanks for thinking of me. I wish I could do it.
  • I’d love to, but I’m already committed.
  • Unfortunately it’s not something I can do at this time.
  • No thank you.
  • I’m already booked.
  • Maybe next time.
  • I wish I could, but I just can’t.
  • I don’t think I’m the right person to help with that.
  • I’m sorry, I can’t help at this time.
  • That sounds fun but I’m not available.
  • I’d like to help, but it’s not going to work for me.

You’ll probably have to say No again. You may have to say it three times. Use the same reason, not a new one.

Your friend calls to ask you to lead a fundraiser. You say, “I’d love to help, but I’m too busy right now.” And your friend tries to convince you by tearing apart every excuse you give, one after the next, until you feel like you have to say Yes because you can’t think of any more excuses.

Use one reason and that reason alone must be repeated as many times as needed until the other person hears it and accepts it. “I understand that you really need someone, but I am too busy right now to take this on….yes, I know you need me, I am too busy to take this on…”

It takes commitment and courage to stick to your position. If your No is rooted in your values, then you’ll have a solid foundation to start from.

Bottom line: Start with your YES before saying NO. 

Nelson Mandela was for freedom, rather than against apartheid.
You are for your family, rather than against working long hours.
You are for your heath, rather than against volunteering.


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