What comes up for you when you think about setting healthy boundaries or SAYING “NO” TO SOMEONE? Anxiety? Guilt? Fear?
Boundaries are a challenge for many of us, especially during the holidays when immediate and extended family, friends, work colleagues and others may have heightened expectations for your presence, energies, and time.
Now first, what do we mean by boundaries?
A boundary is a setting a line around your time, energy, relationships, body, space and resources.
It protects your personal power and gives you space for rest, pleasure and new experiences.
A boundary keeps you from being overwhelmed by people, places, and things that drain your energy.
And what does setting a boundary look like? It often means saying “no”.
The Power of “NO”
“No” is a powerful word that will protect your precious time and help you set healthy boundaries that keep you safe. Research conducted at the University of California in San Francisco showed that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression.
Learn to use no, and it will lift your mood as well as your productivity.
Healthy Boundaries with Family and Friends
It is not easy to say no to friends and family who come to you asking for help or who invite you to an event, such as a holiday gathering. You enjoy contributing to their success and participating in the fun. Plus there are a ton of familial and societal expectations around our obligation to be present for significant holidays and events.
However, there are times that it is for YOUR highest good to choose not to participate. In some cases you need to commit to your business goals and remain focused on a particular project or spend time with your children.
Sometimes you need to give yourself a kick in the pants to stop choosing to give away your time and energy when it’s not what you want to do or it doesn’t benefit you. Be aware of people that cause a severe drain on your energy and your time.
Sometimes you simply need to let other people’s problems or their events be exactly that—theirs. It’s ok not to take them on – just do so with kindness and clarity. Here are some ideas to help you do just that.
My Top Tools for Saying “NO”
It is much easier to say “no” if we have a concrete reason and plan ahead. This means that we need to process and determine the reason for saying “no” before we need it. A really powerful reason for saying “no” is that saying “yes” in that situation does not support you on your path to creating the authentic life you want. The more clear you are about what you want, the more able you are to set rules around that and the easier it becomes to make that hard decision.
Part of being preemptive is blocking out time in your calendar for things that you want to accomplish (personally and professionally). This way you have a concrete reason to say “no”—”I already have plans that day!”
The 5-Step Formula for Saying “No” Gracefully
Having a graceful formula for saying “no” in any situation can help you feel more confident and comfortable, as well as give you a way to set healthy boundaries.
- Start with a compliment if one fits the situation. “You’re always such a great hostess.”
- Give your answer. “Unfortunately, I’ve already got a commitment that day.”
- Say thank you. “Thank you for including me on your guest list.”
- Encourage the person. “I’m sure your party is going to be spectacular.”
- Change the subject or excuse yourself. “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask if you’ve seen the next season of ‘Emily in Paris’?”
All the way through from step one to five … keep your demeanor light and, of course, smile. A smile says “No hard feelings.”
Should I Say “No”?
When you’re not sure whether you should say “no” or “yes,” ask yourself a simple question, such as:
- Do I want to do this thing, or is it that I feel I “should”?
- Will saying “yes” bring me joy or meaning? Or will I feel dread or regret when this particular event or task rolls around?
- If you’re still unclear, it’s ok to say, “I’m not sure yet. Let me get back to you”.
How to Deal with People Who Won’t Take “No” for an Answer
Despite your best efforts, some people will continue to ask even after you’ve told them you can’t help. This kind of behavior is inappropriate, disrespectful and a distinct disregard for you having set healthy boundaries. You shouldn’t feel bad about countering these continued requests with a firm resolve. The person asking needs to know that you’re not going to change your mind, and they’re likely still asking you because 1) they feel desperate and 2) they believe they can wear down your defenses until you’ll finally just say “yes.”
To stop this, simply let the person know you understand what they want and why they want it but that you’ve told them “no” and that your answer is not going to change. For example:
“(Name of person), I know you really want us there for the holidays but I’ve already told you that we can’t be there, and I’m not going to change my mind. Please stop asking.”
You can also repeat the reason you gave in the first place for saying “no.” Example: “Daniel and I agreed that we’re committing to spending time at home during the holidays this year, and our time is already spoken for. I make sure I keep my commitments to our family, and I trust that you will respect that.” (After all, sometimes we need to create our own traditions and memories around the holidays!)
If necessary in truly problematic situations where someone refuses to honor your answer, you may even need to remove yourself or avoid further conversations. Sometimes it takes drawing hard lines to set healthy boundaries. The good news is that once you do this, the people in your life learn that they cannot break you and so they stop trying!
The Importance of Sticking to Your Decisions
Research suggests that when we make a decision in a way that allows us to change our minds later, we tend to be a lot less happy with the decisions that we make. So, once we decline an invitation, we need to make an effort to focus on the good that will come from saying no, not the regret or guilt we feel about turning down an offer.
Most importantly, we must not change our minds due to pressure or guilt. Not only does this set a bad precedent with others that we can be “worn down” to eventually say yes, but it also makes us lose trust in ourselves and our ability to make a decision that honors us and stick to it.
Get Support in Boundary-Setting
If you want support as you learn to set healthy boundaries and practice keeping them solid, consider working with a certified transformation coach or attending a women’s transformational retreat. Sometimes an outside eye (and a firm nudge) is just what you need to find the strength to stand up for yourself- with elegance and grace- in challenging areas of life.
Wishing you a beautiful holiday season, and the power to gracefully say “No” so you can embrace more of what matters to you.