In a society where our lives are increasingly busy, there are many demands on our time. As hectic are our schedules may be, we still find it difficult to say “no” when asked to take on just one more task. If we somehow manage to find the gumption to politely decline someone’s request, we often feel obligated to give a detailed explanation for our refusal then go on to spend the remainder of our evening feeling guilty for denying a request that was simply more than we could handle right now.

Many times the requests others make of us are quite unreasonable, and we really should say no and not feel guilty for it. Other times, people genuinely need help, but we simply don’t have the time or means to assist since we have many pressing things stacked up on our own plates. Though we should always do our best to lend a hand when we are able, there is no shame in focusing on what is best for us and for our families. After all, we need down time to be able to function properly. Overscheduling leaves us feeling tired, depressed, and resentful instead of able to find the true joys in life. There has to be a way to achieve a balance when it comes to helping others and still maintaining the time we need for ourselves.

Things to Consider

At times, it is easier for us to learn to say no when we take stock of the things that are happening in our lives right now. It is okay to set boundaries when it comes to taking on additional tasks and taking the time to reflect on what we already have lined up for our week can help us realize that we really don’t have the time or energy for just “one more project.”

Here are some tips that can help you get in the right frame of mind to say no without feeling guilty for it:

Realize that you have limitations
We all have limitations. Though we like to think of ourselves as invincible, we are each given only 24 hours per day to work with. Many of us have become masters at accomplishing more in less time; however, it comes at a high price. Skipping meals, exercise, and proper rest time to get just a few more things knocked off your to do list compromises your health. Taking care of your own needs, both the emotional and the physical ones, is key to a fulfilled life. There is no valor in being busy; in fact, being too busy means you often miss out on the best things in life. You have limitations. The greatest gift you can give yourself is to acknowledge this then put boundaries in place to ensure you do not become overtasked. 

Give yourself permission to take time to recharge your batteries.

There is nothing wrong with carving out a few precious moments or even hours for some “me time;” in fact, it’s vital for your continued health. Saying no to someone else’s emergency to allow yourself the time you need to rest and recharge your batteries may in fact be just what the doctor ordered. Lack of planning on someone else’s behalf does not have to constitute an emergency on yours. You have been given one body to care for, and many people love you and count on you. You owe it to your family and to yourself to take the time that you need as often as you need it to remain well. 

Acknowledge that people have their own best interests at heart.
People become exceptionally good at manipulating your emotions to achieve their desired response. Unfortunately, we far too easily succumb to this and feel guilty if we stand our ground and insist that this time we really can’t help. Here is one vital thing that the person asking you for a favor doesn’t want you to realize: they have THEIR best interests at heart NOT YOURS. People with big hearts say yes to things they should say no to because they think if the tables were turned, that person would be there to help them. The sad reality is that 99.9 percent of the time that same person is going to say no to you when your hour of need arises. Their concern is what is best for them. Though they may care for you, they often cannot see beyond what they want done and need your help with. Don’t be so concerned with what they may think of you that you sacrifice your own needs. Because the truth is they won’t consider your feelings one bit when they happily say no to you.

Recognize that a yes to someone else means a no to something important to you.
We all have goals in life, and we need adequate time to devote to the pursuit of achieving them. When you say yes to something that you’d really rather say no to, you rob yourself of the time you had originally set aside to pursue your own dreams.

Learn to spot manipulation.

People will use a variety of techniques to get you to say yes to their request. Some will use flattery while others rely on making you feel guilty or even invoking your sympathies. A true friend will understand that you can’t say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. Learning to spot efforts at manipulation will help give you the courage to stand your ground, say a firm no, and mean it.

Value your own time.
Time is your most valuable commodity. It is the one thing that once it is lost cannot be reclaimed. It is more precious than any amount of money. So start treating it that way! View your time in terms of cost. How much is an hour of your time worth? How much is it worth in dollar figures, and how much is it worth to you? Your time is valuable. Don’t just give it away to anyone who asks for it.

Realize you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

Your time is your own, and you do not owe anyone an explanation for what you choose to do with it. Give yourself permission to say no without elaborating any further. What you choose to do with your time is no one else’s business. A no simply means no. No further details required.

Steps to Take

Once you have determined that you need to pass on a request, the hard part begins—you have to actually say no. Here are the best steps to take to say no graciously and without guilt:

Say no in a firm and assertive voice.
The tone you use when you say no will determine how well your answer is received. There is no need to be argumentative or unkind; however, a wishy washy no may leave you open to further discussion, strongarming, and even bullying. Be firm and resolute when you say you are unable to fulfill the request but leave no room for argument. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it, and the person needs to accept it. 

Don’t apologize.
Obsessive apologizing really doesn’t accomplish anything positive. Often it is an attempt to assuage your guilt, but it fails to meet the mark as the person is still annoyed that you haven’t given them the response they were looking for. You are looking for the person to absolve you of guilt, and they are looking for you to give in and do what they wanted in the first place. It’s a no win situation. It is perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m sorry, but I am not available on that day,” but it is best to limit it to that. 

Do not feel obligated to explain.
If you can’t do something, you can’t do something. You are not obliged to give an answer to anyone as to how you use your time. But bear in mind, that it’s also okay to say no to something if you don’t want to do it. Guard your free time jealously; you get so little of it that it is vitally important to use it in ways that please you most.

Saying no to the request of a friend can be very difficult, and we all struggle with it to some degree. By taking the time to consider each of the points presented in this article, you can learn to value your time and say no without feeling the need to explain or feel guilty. We are given so little free time to enjoy. Don’t waste even a minute of it!

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