The Courage to Say No

The Courage to Say No

Sometimes, you have to put up the hand.

With another calendar year about to end, my attention has turned to getting everything in order to ensure that 2016 is even better than 2015.

That means getting rid of as many unhealthy habits as possible, starting with one of the habits that has plagued me since I was a little kid:


Even though I’m a recovering people-pleaser, the universe still loves to test me to see if I’ve really kicked the habit.

A few weeks ago, I had an old friend of mine from way back reach out to me on Facebook. Mind you, we haven’t communicated with each other in close to 10 years before he sent me the message.

After the obligatory niceties (“Hey, long time no talk! I see that you’re writing a blog now, it looks great!”), his message awkwardly transitioned to the real reason why he was sending me the message in the first place.

“I’m part of (multi-level marketing company’s name), and I’d love to take 30-45 minutes of your time this week to share how wonderful it is with you. I’m sure that you’ll find it valuable, and if so, I’d love for you sign up under me and share this incredible opportunity with your readers–it’s great way to make the world a more positive place!”

If I received that email three years ago, I would have sighed loudly, rolled my eyes, and worst of all (even though I don’t have the free time and I’m not interested in multi-level marketing at all), replied back by saying, “Sure, give me a call after I put the girls to bed tonight, and we can talk about it.”

The good news is that I didn’t receive his Facebook message three years ago. I received it three weeks ago.

And nowadays, I have a much more soul-nourishing answer.

The Soul-Nourishing Power of No

My response to his Facebook message was a simple one.

“No, thanks–I’m familiar with that company, and I’m not interested. I hope that you understand, and I wish you the best of luck.”

I used to be so addicted to people-pleasing that there would have been no way that I would have ever dreamed of sending an email like that a few short years ago.

But even though I’m in a much different place now, I’d be lying if I told you that my email response was easy to write and send.

Why was it so hard?

Because I pride myself on consistently being kind to others and treating them well. I hate (understatement of the year) the idea of upsetting people and disappointing them. Also, I didn’t want to feel like a hypocrite by appearing like I wasn’t a positive person.

Thankfully, all of the fears in the previous paragraph are just irrational people-pleasing myths.

Sadly, it took me most of my adult life to realize that.

If you’re in the same place, you need to hear this as much I did (and still do):

Saying “no” doesn’t make you a jerk. It doesn’t mean that you’re not a team player. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to start racking up enemies at a superhuman pace. It doesn’t mean that you’re a selfish hypocrite either.

It means that you’re choosing to honor yourself, your truth, and most importantly, your time.

There are few things on this earth that are more positive than doing that.

Saying “Yes” to Yourself

Can I make a bold statement?

You cannot have peace in your life until you learn how to say “no” to the things that do not honor you, your truth, and your time.

If there are any people-pleasers out there reading this, please believe that the previous sentence will transform your life if you have the guts to try it. One thing is for certain–if you don’t honor yourself, your truth, and your time, no one else will either.

It’s still a daily struggle for me, and sometimes I fall short, but I’m getting better each day.

When I said “no” to my Facebook friend’s request, I felt an enormous amount of peace and freedom that could have never come if I chose to sit through a 45-minute sales pitch that I had absolutely no interest in.

I am super busy these days (I’m working 50+ hours a week by day at my corporate gig, I’m a positivity blogger by night, I’m a very involved daddy/husband, etc.), and I’m only averaging 4-6 hours of sleep a night, if that. So, if I have 45 minutes to spare in my day, you can count on the fact that I’ll be spending it doing something that will add some serious value to my life. Listening to a sales pitch doesn’t come within a million miles of making the cut.

That’s why “No” is such a life-saving word.

“No” gives you your power back. “No” boldly says that your time is valuable. Most of all, “No” helps you to say “Yes” to yourself.

And it can always be done in a spirit of kindness and respect too.

For example:

  • <Knock on my office door> “Hey, do you have a few minutes? I want to run something by you.” ME: No, not now, but I have 15 minutes free at 4pm if you can come back then.
  • “I’ve always wanted to start a blog! Since you’ve already done it, can you tell me step-by-step what I need to do?” ME: No, that would take a really long time, but I can direct you to the website that helped me when I got started.
  • “Can you share my plumbing company’s website with your Facebook fans? I’d love to get some more traffic to my site.” ME: No, I’m not comfortable using my Facebook page as a place to hit up my readers with business offers. Sorry.

Regardless of what the people-pleasing side of your brain may be telling you, the world won’t come to an end if you say “No.” If anything, a whole new world can begin when you do.

Like I said, it took me a while to get here, and even though it may look simple to some people, I can safely say that as a lifelong people-pleaser, it has been one of the hardest lessons (but, not the hardest lesson) that I’ve ever had to learn in my life.

Will some people get annoyed with you? Yep, count on it. There will be people out there who aren’t used to hearing your “no,” and they may be put off by the new self-sustaining boundary that you created. That’s okay–accept that you will be misunderstood when you choose to put your self-care needs at the front of the line, instead of the back of the line.

Just know that failing to learn this lesson comes with severe consequences: Constant resentment, feeling stressed/overwhelmed/used, and experiencing an unshakable lack of peace in your life…and that’s only a few.

Good thing that we don’t have to go down that road.

Using “No” to Protect Your “Yes”

The best part of practicing the positive power of “No,” is that it adds so much more value to your “Yes.”

Instead of “Yes” being your default setting, now you’re able to say “Yes” because you sincerely mean it and you’re fully engaged in what you’re agreeing to do.

That alone makes your “Yes” infinitely more meaningful and valuable.

I’m not naive. Of course, there are times where we have to say “Yes” whether we want to or not. But if we’re going to be honest, I’m sure that many of us have allowed guilt or a feeling of obligation to make us say “Yes” when we just as easily could have said “No.”

And it happens way too often.

That’s what I want us to avoid.

The goal is to confidently and authentically own our “No’s” as much as we own our “Yes’s” from this point forward.

Will it be easy?

Probably not–but as a guy who is currently on the path, let me tell you that the soul-nourishing feeling of consistently honoring yourself is definitely worth the struggle.

Don’t say “No” to that feeling.

Your Turn

Do you struggle with saying “No”? When is the last time that you said “No” to someone? Jump into the comments and make your voice heard!



Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.

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  1. Shola, You have posted on this topic before, and I really appreciated it, as this was a struggle for a long time. I’m glad to read it again, it’s a great reminder to stay focused on MY goals and intentions, and not get hijacked by someone else’s agenda. There a lot of reasons we fall into people-pleasing, and it’s been a long road to re-learn the ways I think, relate to others, having self-esteem. I have to say what really helped me get over this hump was having the confidence to develop goals and plans for my own life, and have the self-esteem to give my purposes a high priority in my own life. It is harder to get side-tracked into things I don’t want to do, when I have placed a high value on my and my family’s well-being and future, and feel fiercely devoted and ENTITLED to those principles. And just to digress the teeniest bit, but it is sort of on topic, can we all reject the notion of “Networking”, which is really a fake way of staying in touch with people you’re not remotely interested in, just in case you need something from them one day. Please everyone, say “NO” to anyone asking you to do anything, if they were just “networking” with you for the last 3 years, and were never a real friend or colleague. Sorry Shola, a pet peeve just slipped out! =-) Have a great Monday and week.

  2. WOW! This came at a really good time as we all get so busy, we forget to protect our time and interests. Most important lesson of the blog–
    If you do not protect your time, boundaries, interests in the name of self respect, no one else will. That is the bottom line isn’t it!! Respectful acquaintances, work colleagues and true friends will respect you and your “no” without any fall out. ANd they will show appreciation when you can say yes to their requests. Respect and appreciation are truely actions that make the world a positive place:)

  3. Great article Shola, thank you for this timely reminder to reflect on our how we value ourselves and our time. It also shows respect to others by being honest with them, even if it is not what they want to hear. Saying no can be a powerful affirmation of our own integrity. Thank you again!

  4. Thank you for all you do, Shola! And for keeping us accountable! Merry , Merry Christmas and Happy, happy New Year to you and your family!

  5. Amen! I have a hard time saying no, and a hard time hearing no! But I totally get the value of it, and appreciate the reminder from you to protect my ‘yes!’

    I am also trying to teach my kids this lesson. My youngest likes to say yes to every request and it breaks her heart to say no. As a result, she is constantly over-extended. I am hoping she learns this lesson a lot sooner than I did! 🙂

    I hope you are taking some time off for the holidays, Shola! We all need to recharge and refresh with friends and family!

  6. I struggle to say no to help someone spiritually that is asking for that type of help. I give an impulsive, immediate yes sometimes regardless.

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