How to Say No to Something Awesome (and Feel Good About It)

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Have you ever had a hard time saying ‘no’ in your business even when you’re already at the max of your capacity and sanity?

You know you should say no (or at least ’not right now’) because adding one more thing to your plate or going another year without taking a real vacation would probably do you in. But you worry if you don’t say ‘yes’ you’ll lose the client, lose money, accumulate a giant backlog of work, or generally miss out.

So you end up saying yes to everything which is one of the reasons you might be where you are right now—scrambling to stay on top of things, unable to define and stick with your boundaries.

The ability to say no, and more importantly, to say ‘no’ without emotional attachment is vital to your personal and professional health. What good is saying no if you end up worrying about negative fallout from such a response?

To say no with confidence and peace requires dismantling the fear and guilt that surrounds it. It also means recognizing and valuing what comes in the wake of it—the positive side of saying no.  

Banish the snakes in the grass

Semantically speaking, “no” is a negative. And since generally we strive to avoid negatives in business, it’s little wonder we are quick to attach unfavorable consequences to a no.    

  • I’ve spent so much time going after new clients, it’d be crazy to turn away new business now.

  • If I say no so I can take a break, I’m going to delay my success.

  • I’ll lose a lot of money.

  • I will never get another opportunity like this.

  • It will be really hard to build back the momentum.

  • If I say no to this client, they’ll never come to me again.

  • If I say no, they’ll be disappointed/upset.

  • There’s no one else to do the work.

  • There’s no one else who can do the work as well as I can.

  • The work will pile up while I’m away and then it will feel like double the amount to do when I get back.

Have you ever had these thoughts? I have many times. The guilt, the fear, the dread can be enough to promote sleepless nights and overwhelm the possibility that saying no might be the best thing I can do for myself.

Consider how often do the worries around saying no truly manifest? Isn’t the greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself? Once we look our concerns in the eye, we find that they are often smoke and mirrors distorting our vision.

So I’m gonna pull a Byron Katie here and challenge you take any one of these statements that hits home for you and Do The Work. Ask yourself these four questions:  

  1. Is it true?  
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react or what happens when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

The only way to lessen the anxiety around saying no is to see it for what it is, name it, and break it down.

The plus side of the negative

Once you’ve dismantled the fear, then it’s time to acknowledge what you are really saying yes to when you say no. That could be:

  • More peace

  • More space

  • Room to breathe

  • Upholding your values

  • Deeper dedication to current commitments

  • True rest and rejuvenation during a period of time off

What are these things worth?

What is the cost to you of not having them?

Your emotional bank is as important as your financial one, if not more so. I would argue that in most cases the benefits of saying no when you’re already maxed out are at least as valuable as the money you might earn if you said yes to that request or opportunity. When you can see the rewards, name them, and break them down, they become more real. That’s the complete opposite of what happens when we acknowledge the fear for what it is which makes it far less substantial.

We are conditioned to think of saying no as "anti-" as pushing something away, leaving something behind, leaving money on the table. But when we say no, what are we allowing in? Think of the opportunities and requests you experience in your business like batteries. Batteries have a positive and negative, a yes side and a no side, if you will, a push and pull. Without the two sides, they can’t conduct a steady flow of energy.

Same goes for us. Saying no enables you to find stability in your business and keep that positive energy flowing.

Learning to say no without guilt and fear about what comes after takes practice and sometimes a little leap of faith. But the more you do it and have the experience of nothing negative happening after that no (the double, er, triple negative fully intentional here), the more confident you’ll become.

You will feel peaceful about new business opportunities and requests having greater clarity about when to say yes and when to say no. You’ll be able to take time off, real time away, time that’s truly restorative and not overshadowed by concerns about everything you’ll have to do when you return. You’ll be able to attend to your current commitments with the level of quality and patience to which you always aspire. And you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful experiences that lie just outside the window that opened wide the moment you closed that other door.

Lisa Mullis