By Ismail M Taher..
…It’s inevitable; in our daily lives we often face those dreadful moments, those moments when we (really) want to say ‘NO!’ but we just can’t.
Those moments in which we fail to listen to our inner self and what it is trying to tell us, and often fall prey to those situations where we fee somehow obliged to say ‘Yes’ and agree to whatever thing we don’t want to agree with.
The reasons for that are numerous, and often come down to certain things like guilt, self-consciousness, or even a desire to avoid hurting others’ feelings.
But the truth really is, in spite of us always avoiding saying no for a variety of reasons, namely to avoid feeling uncomfortable or leaving a bad impression on someone else, we’re simultaneously hurting ourselves by depriving it from the ability of saying ‘No’.
In today’s article, we’ll be discussing the true value and significance of learning to say ‘No’, and the main reasons that are preventing us from doing so.
The real significance behind teaching yourself to say NO….
If you’ve ever been in the past, a victim of pain or abuse in all of its shapes or forms, then you probably already know that it might have had a lot of things to do with your inability to say ‘No’ when it was crucially needed.
After all, we’re all universally being raised and taught the virtues of saying yes, agreeing to everything, and being obedient and rule-abiding. Since a very young age, children are being programmed in a way, to always obey the rules, be attentive to their teachers’ commands, and never saying ‘No’ to anything.
So, we needn’t blame ourselves for our inability to say no, since it’s something that’s so innate and so engraved into our systematic culture of obedience, order and control.
Many of us grow up, and become independent and mature human beings while still retaining that childhood socially engineered programming preventing us from ever being to express our true feelings or desires, and always just ‘deciding’ to go with the flow.
Now, you’re probably wondering, what is the real importance of learning to say no, and what does it have to do with me or my life?
Before I go a little more in-depth, I would like to share a wonderful quote from one of the most influential and impactful human beings ever walked the face of this planet; Steve Jobs. He says:
“It’s only by saying No, you’re able to concentrate on the things that are really important”
Job’s quote perfectly summarizes in two short sentences, the true impact of learning to say no.
In very simple terms: whenever you say no to something, you’re actually saying yes to someone else.
For example, you might turn down an invite for a nice outing, because you need that time to recharge and practice a little self-care after an exhausting week.
You might turn down a job offer, because you have plans to do something else.
You might turn down a potential partner, only because you’re still not sure that they are the one.
See? In all the previous scenarios, whenever you’re saying no to something, it’s because you’re simultaneously saying yes to something else; something better, bigger, or greater.
But if you’re wondering: “How can I learn to say no when all I was taught to put everyone first and always say yes?”
That’s one of the key aspects about learning to say no. To explain it better, in our society, we’re always taught about the virtue of selflessness, putting the needs of everybody else before our own, and being compassionate and empathetic human beings.
Although that concept might look really good on the surface, it’s actually quite detrimental to your psychological health and well-being on the long-term.
The reason for that boils down to a highly powerful proverb:
“You cannot pour from an empty bucket”
This simple phrase holds an incredible amount of wisdom, because, if you actually want to be a compassionate and empathetic human being, you first have to be compassionate and empathetic towards yourself.
If you can’t love yourself well enough, you’ll never ever be able to love anyone else.
If you can’t be kind and compassionate towards your own self, you’ll never be able to provide that compassion to someone else.
If you can’t be supportive and positive towards yourself, you’ll never be able to radiate that genuine positivity towards anyone else.
In short, you’ll never be able to pour anything out a totally empty bucket; and in order to have something to pour (as in giving and helping others), you first have to fill your own bucket.
But what does that have to do with the power of saying No?
As we concluded earlier: every time you say yes to something that you wholeheartedly wanted to scream ‘No’ at, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice.
Every time you agree to do something you’re not at all comfortable about, you’re paving the way towards emotional pain and destruction in the long run, and every time you say yes to someone lest you hurt their feelings, you’re sacrificing your very own energy and inner-peace for someone else, and that’s highly toxic as it builds up over time.
And that’s where the power of saying no relates strongly to the concepts of self-confidence, self-love and self-care.
If you don’t have a high level of self-confidence or self-esteem, you’ll be much more likely to say yes to things that hurt your energy, emotions, or inner peace; purely because you don’t view yourself as being worthy enough to say no.
If you don’t love yourself strongly enough, you’ll be much more likely to say no in order to avoid hurting others while, at the same time, putting your own self under a lot of pain only because you don’t think that you’re good enough to put first.
If you don’t practice proper self-care, then you’ll be much more likely to end up in situations where you are afraid to say no, only because you do not view yourself as a first priority.
Notice a pattern here? The levels of your self-confidence, self-love, and self-care are often huge determinants of your ability to say no.
In other words, having the power to say no is to believe that you’re worthy enough to be your first priority.
The benefits of saying no don’t even end here; they can go all the way to changing the entire world and leaving a permanent impact on everyone on the planet.
One of the most iconic figures in the history of politics, Rosa parks, who was the very first spark that eventually changed history, only started with the simple act of saying ‘No’ when it was badly needed.
She recalls in her autobiography, commenting on her decision to refuse leaving out her bus seat for a white man:
"When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.'"
Just imagine if she had simply just said yes that day and refused to do the thing that her heart and soul obliged her to?
In an article published on Psychology Today by Judith Sills, Ph.D., she brilliantly describes the power of no as follows:
“Where negativity is an ongoing attitude, No is a moment of clear choice. It announces, however indirectly, something affirmative about you. "I will not sign"—because that is not my truth. "I will not join your committee, help with your kids, review your project"—because I am committed to some important project of my own. "Count me out"—because I'm not comfortable, not in agreement, not on the bandwagon. "No, thank you"—because you might feel hurt if I turn down your invitation, but my needs take priority.
The No that is an affirmation of self implicitly acknowledges personal responsibility. It says that while each of us interacts with others, and loves, respects, and values those relationships, we do not and cannot allow ourselves always to be influenced by them. The strength we draw from saying No is that it underscores this hard truth of maturity: The buck stops here.”
You’re now probably wondering: “Cool, I’ve learned the significance of learning to say no, but how will I actually do it?”
To preface, I have to point out that, biologically speaking, it’s really hard for human beings to say no, since not only we’re socially programmed on doing so, but because it has a real neurological basis. In the same article we’ve quoted above, Judith Sills explains:
“Neuroscience supports our hunch that No is going to register far more harshly than we may have intended. The human brain is hardwired to respond to No more quickly, more intensely, and more persistently than to a positive signal. No is stronger than Yes.
The brain's so-called negativity bias, first described by psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D., of Florida State University, explains why negative experiences have a more enduring impact on emotion than positive events of equal intensity.
The brain reacts pleasantly to positive stimuli but wildly painfully to negative stimuli. No matter how you gift wrap it, No is a negative event.
This holds true whether we are discussing financial matters (we are far more upset by losing a chunk of money than we are pleased by gaining an equal amount), interpersonal events (negative first impressions are difficult to overcome), or personal information (negative job feedback has a much more profound effect than positive information).
John Cacioppo, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Chicago actually measured the electrical output of the cerebral cortex to demonstrate that, across a variety of situations, negative information leads to a swift and outsize surge in activity. One hurt lingers longer than one compliment. Nevertheless, the ability to rapidly detect bad news and weight it so heavily, Cacioppo says, evolved for a very positive reason—to keep us out of harm's way.
And No hurts.”
So, as you just read, your inability to say no might actually be hardwired into our very own biology, but that should never be an excuse to never allow yourself to unlearn then re-learn the invaluable power of saying no.
After learning the true reasons behind your inability to say no, here are 5 tips to help you take the leap:
1- Always remind yourself that you’re saying No to the request made by a person, NOT to the person himself/herself
2- Always remind yourself that YOU are your highest priority. Your inner peace, mental health and sanity all come first when it comes to accepting or declining requests made by others
3- Understand that some people will get offended and that’s OKAY! If someone is too insecure to accept the fact that someone might not agree to their proposal, then you shouldn’t be around such a person to begin with.
4- Understand that instead of a resounding ‘no’, you can try all different methods to conceal or dilute the effect of saying no, which will spare you the dreaded awkwardness
5- Use social media such as Facebook messenger, Whats-app or even good old email to express your objection instead of having to deal with a face-to-face feud.
We’re living in what I like to call the ‘golden age’ of self-confidence and self-acceptance. More people than ever are being familiarized with the importance of loving yourself and putting it first before anything else.
Learning to say No isn’t just a valuable life skill, it also powerfully relates to your self-confidence and self-worth. By recognizing that you come first and thus saying No to each and everything that doesn’t help you grow and prosper, is inherently coming from a strong and a solid foundation of self-confidence, and lots of self-love.
Lastly, I’d like to share a nice final quote with you!
“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.”
― Josh Billings
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Previously on The Happiness Times:
How to build an unshakable self-confidence from scratch
10 Reasons you feel lost
The importance of self-acceptance
Why I can’t fit in
Why I quit positive thinking
Why you shouldn’t stay strong
What 'Trusting the process' really means
The 5-step formula to free yourself from suffering once and for all
The Power of choice
The Importance of Hope
10 Major differences between Ego and self-confidence