The Easiest, Guilt-Free Way To Say No

The Easiest, Guilt-Free Way To Say No

Learning to say no will allow you to have a rich, powerful, and focused direction that doesn’t sway with guilt. While constantly saying yes will only cause:

  • guilt that subtracts from your purpose
  • wasted energy that robs you of rest, innovation, and joy

Saying "no" is one of the most difficult things to do. No one enjoys saying no to friends.

And saying no to family can be heartbreaking.

It can be difficult to turn down things that don’t energize you (even after practicing the “art of saying no”). 

From helping a friend move to turning down an undesired job, we’re going to reclaim the "art of saying no" and how to do it without feeling guilty or rude.

Let's transform a guilt-filled "no" into a focused and value-saturated "yes".

Floods and Rivers

Each day we’re presented with new opportunities, and our response to them defines who we will become. We’re a direct result of the decisions we make. And, our daily yeses and noes shape the larger decisions we make.

Tim Elmore writes about the differences between floods and rivers and how our daily energy can be categorized into either a flood or a river:

Floods are powerful forces of destruction that cause mass devastation wherever they go. They have no direction and cover hundreds if not thousands of square miles.

Rivers are focused, move in one direction, and have clear boundaries. Civilizations have been built around rivers since the beginning of humanity. And their focused energy is used to support and bring life.

You: In your everyday life, do you feel like your energy is directionless like a flood? Or is your energy defined with clear boundaries that helps you and others travel further?

Our ability to be a river or a flood is directly tied to our ability to say "yes" and "no". So many of us live our lives like a flood: we keep saying "yes" to things that don’t align with who we are. In the end, this causes us to damage ourselves and the people we encounter.

The first step to becoming focused and having clarity is to understand what our "yes" is...

Why You Keep Saying Yes

We all do it. We know that our energy will be drained if we say "yes" to something we shouldn’t do, but what if people begin to lose trust in us? Or maybe they won’t rely on us anymore or view us as less helpful.

Even deeper, this speaks to our struggle as a society to please the people we love. Because saying no makes us seem useless, selfish and unhelpful.

We keep saying "yes" to the things we don’t want to do because we don’t have a defined picture of what we value.

If we clearly understand what we deeply value, then saying "no" is easier. It allows us to recognize how directionless energy robs us of rest, innovation, and joy.

4 Easy Steps To Start Saying No

So, saying "no" shapes the person we will become. And understanding our values embolden our vision and allows new opportunities to arise.

Here are the 4 easy steps to start saying "no". These will help you have a rich, powerful, and focused direction that doesn’t sway to guilt.

  1. Understand Your Yeses (and your noes will be a breeze)
  2. Don’t Become Dualistic (so you can still be helpful when you say no)
  3. Politely Say No And Foster Communication (so you can deliver empathy and value)
  4. Reaffirm Your Direction (and the new opportunities you have)

Step 1: Understand Your Yeses

We need to understand what we value and are saying "yes" to so we know what to say "no" to.

Everyday, small yeses shape who we are and the future we want to create for ourselves. But we will always live like a flood unless we choose to clarify our direction and intent.

In our life purpose course, we teach life purpose with two overlapping circles. The left circle is everything thing that you are. The right circle is everything good that’s happening in the world.

A drawing of two circles that overlap to show life purpose and how to say no

Your life purpose is simply the intersection between who you are and what god/love/the divine is doing in the world.

And the white space outside of that intersection is what you're allowed to say no to.

So often we feel guilty because we see so much good happening in the world and we feel like we have to be involved and wonder why we experience so much grief and burnout.

The truth is that there are things that god is doing in the world that you simply don’t have any business being a part of.

Spending energy on a space that you’re not supposed to be in will only cause damage to yourself and others.

Quick Story Time:​​​​

I had to learn this lesson the hard way… I started to play guitar and sing when I was about 15. I practice the Christian faith tradition, so using what I was good at inside of a church setting seemed like the next logical step.

After all, (as the logic seemed) I was given this skillset, and I should use this to honor God.

But, after years of being involved in various churches I started to experience burnout that continually crippled my faith. The problem was, I believed that because I had a skill meant I had to use it for a cause.

In reality, music (or anything you love to do) is just an avenue for expression. In my current stage of life, it’s an avenue for refreshment and relaxation. And taking a restful avenue and forcing it to be utilized only became dangerous for myself and the people I worked with.

Ultimately, there are good things happening in the world that you have no business touching. And that’s ok. You’re allowed to find the unique space that you fill while supporting others.

When you understand what you value and how you fit in to what’s happening in the world, then saying no to things outside of your purpose becomes easy.

And more than that, it becomes empowering because your ability to say no allows you to say yes to the things that energize you.

Step 2: Don’t Become Dualistic

People pleasing is a problem for so many of us. And it’s largely rooted in insecurity. But, people pleasing can have a truly admirable intention behind it.

Beneath people pleasing is the basic desire that we all have to be of service to others and to constantly be giving value. Nothing is more satisfying than being able to be of service to someone else when they need it, but we don’t have to give up what we value to serve someone else…

Just because you say no doesn’t mean you can’t still be incredibly helpful to someone.

The main thing you want to guard is your energy and time. Try searching for different opportunities to help the person asking you. You could send them a link to a helpful blog, send them some quick tips, or introduce them to someone who can help (Or other useful ideas here).

Next time you need to say no, don’t immediately dismiss yourself as useless or selfish. You have so many opportunities to be of service to someone else without sacrificing your time and energy.

Step 3: Politely Say No And Foster Communication

Now that you know what you value and understand how you can be of service to someone, it’s time to say the dreaded word.

Although, saying no doesn’t have to seem harsh... You might want to just say “no” depending on the circumstance, but often, it’s helpful to search for a polite alternative that's still clear.

For example, “maybe later” does not show clear intent. But, “I appreciate you coming to me for help, I can’t give any time, but can I give you a couple quick ideas on how to finish the project?” is clear, polite, and offers immediate help.

Here are 49 ways to say "no" to give you an idea of what you could say.You’ll have to be the judge of the context and of the tone you should use. Continually keep in mind that saying "yes" to something that drains your energy will cause you to say "no" to what your purpose is.

Don’t feel like you have to have a polished and formal answer. Express your disinterest in a polite way. Then, allow your response to foster empathetic and respectful communication.

Being empathetic and calm while still serving people will help them understand your reason for saying "no" much more.

In the long run, saying "no" to something that makes you feel like a flood will be more helpful than saying "yes". Otherwise, you'll cause frustration for yourself and others.

Next time you want to say no, search for a polite way to express your disinterest. Use your response to create a helpful and affirming conversation.

Step 4: Reaffirm Your Direction

Even after taking the steps above, guilt can still linger. And sometimes the person asking might be offended, even if you were polite and helpful.

And that’s ok. Other people’s response to events is not your responsibility. You are only responsible for your reaction.

Since guilt can still linger, take a couple moments to reaffirm why you said "no". Reflect on the opportunity cost that saying "yes" would have had. Would saying "yes" take away time from your family? Or would saying "yes" exhaust you financially?

Allow each instance of a "no" to allow you to reflect on everything you continually say "yes" to every day. Those yeses shape the person you’re becoming.

The 4 Easy Steps All Together

Step 1: Understand Your Yeses

We need a framework to judge our decisions against. Finding what we value eliminates the need to please people. This helps us become powerful and focused like a river.

Step 2: Don’t Become Dualistic

Don’t equate “no” with “I am useless”. Creatively search for ways you can be of service to someone even when you can’t spend your energy or resources

Step 3: Politely Say No And Foster Communication

Don’t craft a polished and formal statement. Simply express your disinterest. Then, allow your reply to foster open and vulnerable conversation

Step 4: Reaffirm Your Direction

Allow each instance of saying no to challenge you. And reflect on everything you say yes to that continually shapes who you are becoming

Just learning to say "no" is a hollow way to look at your response to questions. Rather, focus on what you continually say "yes" to so your noes become guilt-free. And, reply with noes that are still helpful and caring.

Living life like a directionless flood will only rob you of rest, innovation, and joy. But, living with a clear direction that doesn’t sway to guilt will allow you and others to flourish.

Kyle Seagraves

Author of Uncover Your Purpose


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