I've always struggled to say 'no' to things. It's been that way for me for a long time, whether its family members, friends, or work colleagues. Putting my foot down is one of the most uncomfortable things to do... even though, sometimes, actually agreeing to a task leads me to guilt, regret and feeling burnt out.

There's been countless times that I've taken on work that I knew was paying me a lot less than my worth, or time I've attended events I really didn't want to be at – all because I didn't know the healthy ways to create boundaries.

You'll find a common theme in people that can't turn things down easily (even if it's for the better). They tend to justify why they can't turn it down, and almost convince themselves that their needs or desires don't matter.

For example:

I'm probably seen as the most "available" person in my family because I'm not yet married nor do I have children, and I work from home which means I'm pretty local 24/7. I enjoy helping others so if anyone needs a lift, I'm more than happy to do it. But if I have a raging work deadline that needs my utmost attention at that time, I end up feeling trapped between getting my deadline done and helping that person out.

Thankfully, it doesn't reach that point for me anymore but that's because I had to implement three ground rules / lessons.

  • Be willing to communicate how you feel to the other person
  • Stop feeling like everyone is against you
  • Pay attention to your body

#1 Willingness to Communicate 🤝

How willing are you just to tell your co-worker that you don't have the bandwidth to take on that extra project?

Working in the creative field, I've witnessed how common it is for projects to be handed out last minute, and for managers to drop the:

"Hey! I know you might have a lot on right now, but you think you have time to squeeze in this write-up before the weekend?" – on a Thursday night 😱

It can feel (rightfully) really overwhelming, but the biggest reason as to why a person would push their feelings aside and take the work on is because of straight-up fear.

"I don't want my manager to think I'm incapable of working effectively"

"I have a good reputation at work! I don't want this to ruin it.."

"My co-workers will think of me differently"

"What if they stop giving me important jobs to do because they think I can't handle it?"  

This is all fear-based thinking. It's not to say that these thoughts are wrong or inadequate – worst things have gone through my mind when turning something down! But you want to provoke more positive thoughts when you've said no for the right reasons.

It's always better for everyone if you're honest.

Don't make excuses or shove the blame onto someone else. Don't say that you have an urgent appointment if that isn't the truth. Be honest, and say, "I'd love to but I'm feeling packed in right now with the projects I have lined up".

You can even compromise and come to a middle ground by saying, "I'm happy to get that work done for you at a later date but right now just wouldn't be possible, plus I don't want to produce any work that isn't done to the best of my ability!"

Chances are, you and your time will be a lot more respected because of that willingness to communicate. Other parties are now more aware of what is manageable for you, and it tends to pave way for a much healthier working relationship.

#2 Stop Feeling Like Everyone is Against You 👹

The biggest reason why I couldn't say no to things was because I thought it would end in a big, fat list of enemies. In my younger (slightly insecure) years, my mind would think that saying "no" to someone was the same as starting a raging war with them.

I'd feel as though this person now views me as unreliable, untrustworthy, irresponsible and mean. Even though this was completely not the case in reality.

The truth is, these emotions were actually my own intrusive thoughts leading me down a dark path and creating scenarios that have not occurred. Remember, that you are well within your rights to turn something down if it doesn't align with your beliefs or priorities – you shouldn't be made to feel bad for that.

Now, don't get me wrong, unfortunately this world does consist of narcissistic humans who manipulate situations so it's super important to know who you're dealing with – but of course in this instant, we're talking about our nearest and dearest!

“We value ourselves more when we believe we’re assertive and creative, which makes others value us more in return".

#3 Pay Attention to Your Body 😮‍💨

There's a reason we all have a 'gut feeling' about things. But there's a sad truth that the majority of people tend to ignore it.

There's a ton of psychological research that emphasises the importance of being in tune with your body and really listening to it. In the past, when I took on multiple tasks at once, my body would start to slow down majorly. My eyes would become sore, the headaches would kick in and I'd feel constantly tense. It took a long time before I realised that my body was trying to speak to me and tell me to take it easy.

Paying attention to your body doesn't just mean physical pains, this can be emotional reactions, too!

If you find yourself becoming more short-tempered and impatient with things that really wouldn't bother you on a normal day, this is a big sign that your body needs rest. Not only will this prove unhealthy for yourself, it'll also start to damage the relationships with those around you.

No-one enjoys being around someone who is overly stressed, so if saying no can keep the peace – then you know what to do!

Quick Recap

Okay, so these were the three rules I embedded into my brain that helped me create healthier boundaries around myself, my time, and my priorities.

  • Willingness to Communicate: Be confident in telling others what the deal is
  • Stop Feeling Everyone is Against You: Your own thoughts can be the enemy
  • Pay Attention to Your Body: Your physical /mental wellbeing comes first

Remember that the more you value your own time, the more others will value it, too. 🗣