Saying yes often seems like the easy thing to do… until you eventually burn out from taking on too much at once.
And while saying no can be difficult for several reasons, it ultimately helps you set healthy boundaries that protect your independence, values, and time. It’s one of the best things you can do for your relationships and mental health.
If you’re a people pleaser who struggles with saying no, it’s never too late to learn. Practicing setting boundaries now will make it easier to set them in the future—and let’s face it, your time is precious. You don’t want to regret giving up so much of it.
Keep reading for tips on how to say no in a way that feels good for you while also being respectful of the person you’re turning down.
But why is saying no so hard?
Yes is the happy word, the sunshine-and-flowers word. It’s an automatic response we all learn early on.
No is the serious word, the responsible word. It’s the wet blanket, the party pooper, the killjoy.
Even when you’re confident you’ve made the right decision, here’s why it can be tough to say no (and stick to it).
It takes more effort to say no than to say yes
When you agree to do something, there’s no tension. You’re easygoing! You can go with the flow! You’re telling the other person what they want to hear.
But when you say no, you have to put up a bit of a fight.
There have been many times when my simple “no” wasn’t enough. Some people continue to ask over and over again, trying to change my mind. And even when I give them the same response, they’ll ask, “Are you sure?”
I know people generally mean well. But it’s exhausting standing your ground. This is why many of us feel pressured to say yes, even if it’s at the expense of our own boundaries. As important as it is to learn to say no, it’s just as important to accept someone’s “no.”
It goes against our social programming
We’ve been taught to be polite and accommodating from a young age. We were taught the importance of being kind and going out of our way to help others. And for good reason—the world needs a little more kindness.
Not all of us were taught that it’s okay to say no sometimes. And because of that, some of us default to yes, even when we want to say no.
When used appropriately, saying no can be a great form of self-care. Not only does it protect personal time and energy, but it also gives the space to step away from the busyness of the world. It’s okay to take some time for yourself. Being kind to others and being kind to yourself are not mutually exclusive.
We’re afraid of disappointing others
We worry that if we turn someone down, they’ll think less of us.
I’m the biggest people pleaser. Disappointing people stresses me out like nothing else. Sometimes my friends or roommates ask me to go out for dinner, go climbing, or workout, but I’m mentally and physically exhausted.
The people pleaser in me has said yes anyway, even though I should have said no. The times I’ve said yes (out of fear of letting them down) are when I’ve felt the most overwhelmed and exhausted.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started listening to my body and saying no to people when I need time alone to rest. The moments before and after I say no are always the hardest. I’m afraid they’ll be upset with me or that I’ll ruin their plans for the evening. But once I say no, all I feel is relief. Plus, there’s always next time.
Saying no can be a challenge, but it’s important to remember that it’s okay to put your own needs first. Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person. Take a deep breath and let those two little letters flow from your mouth. Trust me, it’ll feel great.
The benefits of learning to say no
Saying no can be helpful in many different situations.
For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with work or school, declining social invitations can give you the time you need to focus on your priorities.
I get it, nobody wants to turn down a fun event with friends just to sit at home and do work. Where’s the fun in that? But this kind of no can be essential to help you make that deadline or prepare for that upcoming test.
Sometimes the no’s are hard not because you don’t want to disappoint someone but because you don’t want to miss out.
Saying no can help you avoid stressful or unpleasant situations. For example:
✅ If you’re invited to an event that you expect to be full of drama, it can be better just to stay home.
✅ Declining a new job offer might lead to a better opportunity down the road.
✅ Turning down a friend’s request for a loan could help to preserve your friendship if they’re unable or unwilling to repay the money.
Learning to say no can simplify your life and make room for what’s truly important.
How to get comfortable with saying no
For us people pleasers, the thought of disappointing someone fills us with dread. But here’s the thing: you can’t make everyone happy all the time, and that’s okay! In fact, it’s more than okay—it’s necessary. Because if you don’t take care of your own needs, you’ll never be truly happy. So how do you get comfortable with saying no?
How to say no without coming across as rude or uncooperative
Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a “no” knows it doesn’t feel great. Whether you’re being turned down for a date or a promotion, rejection never feels good. However, there are ways to say no without coming across as rude or uncooperative.
Thank the person for asking you.This shows that you appreciate their interest in involving you.
Be as clear and concise as possible. If you’re feeling hemmed in by a request, it can be tempting to give a vague answer in the hopes that the other person will get the hint and back off. However, this usually just ends up creating confusion and frustration. It’s always better to just bite the bullet and say no outright.
Offer an alternative solution. If you can’t do what the person is asking, maybe you know someone who can. This shows that you’re still interested in helping out, even if you can’t do it yourself. Or, you can suggest a different time if it’s more of a flexible opportunity.
Avoid making excuses. It’s natural to want to soften the blow of rejection, but giving a long-winded explanation will only make the other person feel worse. Sometimes, the best thing is to simply say no. If they ask for a reason, here are a few quick examples of what you can say:
“Thank you for thinking of me, but I just have too much on my plate at the moment.”
“Thanks for the invitation! I won’t be able to make it. Maybe next time!
“I appreciate you reaching out, but I have another commitment.”
End on a positive note. This could be another quick thank you or wishing them luck. This will leave the person with a good impression, despite your refusal of their request.
Saying no is hard, but it’s worth it
Once you gain confidence and ease saying it, you tap into a powerful source of energy and peace. The next time you feel overwhelmed or like you don’t have enough time to take on another project, try saying no.
It might feel difficult at first, but with a bit of practice, it gets easier. And who knows? You just might start seeing more of what you want in life because you took the time to set those boundaries.