How I learnt to say ‘no’

How I learnt to say ‘no’

This is a subject I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, because it’s something I’m mostly (94.6% if you’re wondering) comfortable with, after years of being a guilty people-pleaser.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and therefore caring less and less about what other people think, but basically, I’m now in a position where I’m comfortable saying ‘no’ to the things I don’t want to do. Obviously there are some exceptions. I don’t always want to go to work, put the food shopping away, or remove my make-up before I go to bed. But I have to. Otherwise I won’t get paid, my kitchen will be a mess (and inevitably a mouldy one), and I’ll wake up with gross skin that looks like it would benefit from a 30-minute wash with a scouring pad.

I’m not talking about those things, I’m talking about the invites for drinks on a Friday night, the lunch with the Negative Nancy who sucks the life out of you, or the trip to see a band that makes your ears wish they could remove themselves from your head and never come back. These are the things we don’t always want to do, but we feel obligated to.

When I’m asked to do something, I first ask myself two questions:

1). How would it make me feel?
I’m quite often invited out for drinks on a Friday evening by my team at work. I’m very lucky in that I love the people I work with, they’re a top notch bunch of humans, and there are some days when I hardly stop laughing because they’re so God damn hilarious. But after spending all week people-ing, by the time it gets to 16:30 on a Friday all I want to do is go home, slip into my pyjamas, eat fajitas (because what’s a Friday without fajitas?), and be quiet. I need time at home to re-charge my batteries, because my tank of people power is completely empty. To quote Anne Robinson, ‘Whose doughnut’s run out of jam?’ The answer: mine. My doughnut.

I know that forcing myself into a situation where I have to be chatty and interesting is going to drain me even more, and most likely lead me to feeling anxious. So I typically politely decline invitations for a Friday night. I have enough self awareness to know that I’m going to feel much happier and healthier if I allow myself Friday nights to rest. And I don’t feel like I need to come up with excuses like ‘Oh I’d love to but Uncle Roger is visiting,’ or ‘That sounds great but I have a banging headache’ – you can have those ones on me if you’re not comfortable with the truth. I simply say something along the lines of “Thank you so much for the invite, but I could do with a night in,’ or ‘Thank you, but I prefer to spend Friday nights at home, I’m always tired from working all week.’ And guess what? Nobody throws tomatoes at me. If someone did have a problem with it, I think that’d say a lot more about them than it would you.

2. If I say ‘yes’ to this, what would I be saying ‘no’ to?
I know, deep. I recently realised that every time I say ‘yes’ to something, I’m also saying ‘no’ to something else. By saying yes to that event I’m not really interested in, I’m saying no to writing. By saying yes to coffee with Negative Nancy, I’m saying no to spending time with Positive Paul. By saying yes to going out out, I’m saying no to my early morning gym session the next day. It’s all a case of prioritising. I take time management very seriously, and I’m very picky about what I spend my time doing. So if there’s something else that I think will make me healthier or happier, it’s likely I’ll opt for that instead.

Disclaimer: Negative Nancy and Positive Paul are purely fictional. So if you’re a friend of mine thinking ‘hey, you turned down coffee with me’, it’s purely coincidental, promise.


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