It happens to all of us on occasion. A friend calls and needs a favor; your next-door neighbor invites you to a sales-oriented “party,” or your local charity leader pressures you to take over a volunteer project. Each of these requests has merit, and while you don’t want to let anyone down, you also need to consider how taxing these intrusions are on your overall schedule and health.

Learning to say no takes practice, and you don’t have to turn down every offer that comes your way, but you should try to put your own needs and those of your family higher on the list before accepting. Since you may be inclined to say yes just to please others, here are a few easy ways to say no more often while still feeling good about yourself.

  1. Drop the Guilt – One of the reasons people say yes to everything stems from needing to please others. But where does it say that your job involves satisfying everyone else’s needs? If you’re feeling guilty about saying no, ask yourself why. Are you afraid of losing a friendship or an opportunity down the line? Real friends understand that you have responsibilities and won’t pressure you into fulfilling their request.
  2. Don’t Answer Immediately – This one’s a life saver. If someone invites you to an event that doesn’t really tickle your fancy, you can always delay answering by saying you need to check with your spouse or your calendar. You’ll buy yourself some time to decide how to say no in a tactful way.
  3. Create Clear Boundaries – In Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” two neighbors meet yearly to repair the wall between their land. The neighbor says, “Good fences make good neighbors,” and while you may not entirely agree with the idea, you certainly understand that boundaries can benefit you greatly. For example, you may want to ensure that your weekends are free for spending time with your family, working out, or catching up on some much-needed sleep. If you set Saturday aside for “me time,” then develop a habit of turning down requests that would interfere with that. Ultimately, you’ll be happier, and saying no will come more easily.
  4. Learn to Reject Things Graciously – If you’re already in the habit of saying “please” and “thank you,” then this may be your ticket to exiting a situation gracefully. When faced with an offer that doesn’t suit your needs, try thanking the person while turning him or her down. This could be as simple as saying, “That’s so generous of you to think of me, but my schedule is already full.” The key here is to stop short of saying, “Maybe next time,” … especially if you’re truly uninterested in a repeat request. Be firm but polite and hold your ground.

While every situation must be considered individually, keeping your own needs and priorities in line will help make saying no easier. And if you give yourself permission to pick and choose what you say yes to, you’ll discover that future requests won’t raise your blood pressure nearly as much.

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