I Don’t Need Help Saying No: I Need to Say Yes … with Limits


Sometimes saying no is easier than learning how to say yes … with limits.




It’s January, so I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that we’re all being inundated with a list of the many (many, many, many) ways in which we can improve ourselves. There’s no shortage of “helpful” people telling us what we should eat, how we should dress, when we should work out, who we should meet, and where we should go to make this the BEST YEAR EVER!



But I’m going to level with you. I’m tired. This past year has wiped me out in ways that I didn’t know were possible — and I’ve been lucky. My work and homeschooling routine was amenable to quarantine. Still, I’m really not looking to claim this year as my best. I’ll be content — ecstatic even — just to leave it feeling a little less like I’m being crushed under an invisible anvil.


Among all the advice, I frequently see articles (especially those aimed at busy working mothers) about how to say “no.” I always chuckle a bit. I don’t need help saying no. I’m pretty good at it. I have a good sense of what is going to be worthwhile and fulfilling, and I don’t feel guilty about turning away (politely) what isn’t. The advice is everywhere, though, and I wondered how I could have escaped this particular pitfall that apparently plagued so many.


Upon some reflection, I realized that I didn’t. Not exactly. You see, it’s not hard for me to say, “no, thank you.” I’ll turn down requests and even demands without guilt or pause. However, once I’ve said “yes,” there’s a different problem.


My “yes” is a commitment.  Once I’m on the train, I tend to ride it until the very end — or it crashes.


Train on elevated track from a distance


I don’t have trouble saying no to things that I know won’t serve me well in the first place, but I definitely have trouble leaving things that no longer do. This doesn’t just extend to professional commitments. I drive cars until they fall apart. I keep hobbies I don’t much like because I feel invested. I even watch shows that I no longer enjoy because quitting mid-season feels like a broken promise of sorts. I said yes. Now I don’t get to say no.


The problem with this mentality is two-fold. The obvious problem is that I end up trapped — in a cage all my own making — in roles (and cars) that no longer work well for me. The less-obvious problem is that I often avoid saying “yes” at all because I fear the commitment that will follow. I say “no” to things that might be good just because I know I will have a hard time untangling myself if they aren’t.


I am not trying to make this the best year ever. I won’t be setting my usual lofty goals in various areas of my life. Instead, I resolve to reflect more fully on when to say “not anymore” to the things I’ve previously said “yes” to — in the hopes that I can eventually say “no” a little less often.