The Step-by-Step Guide to Saying No

Essentialism, Part 2

Here’s a paradox. People actually respect you more if you say no to them. Well, actually they respect the fact that you know your goals and are willing to fight for the resources to accomplish them.

Loss as Opportunity

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I’m at a phase in my career when I want to cut back on clinical hours, but I want to continue helping patients and their caregivers. I want to expand my influence in a train-the-trainer sort of way, to leverage my experience beyond my hour-to-hour, appointment-to-appointment life. Clinicians and caregivers, people who take care of people in both professional and non-professional capacities, can benefit from what I’ve learned.


In that spirit, I’ve come up with these essential steps to saying no, gracefully.

  1. Find the motivation to simplify your life. Usually this happens automatically when stress and overwhelm are keeping you from doing the ONE thing you should be doing with your life.


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  2. Take time to explore, to come to some clarity about what that ONE thing is.
  3. Remember that, sometimes, clarity comes through loss, which then becomes an opportunity for learning and growth.

    Take Time to Explore

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  4. Don’t forget to laugh and have fun while you’re exploring.

    Have Fun as You Explore

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  5. Take care of basic needs, especially sleep. Your creativity and productivity depend on your being able to:
    • Take care of yourself (sharpen the saw).
    • Develop good habits and routines.

      Make Good Self-Care Choices

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  6. Remember to block out time, to create plenty of reserve in your time and energy. Having reserves makes you a calm resource when all around you are panicking.
  7. When someone asks you to do something, start with “Let me check my calendar.” Then say no, you have a conflict (especially if the conflict is with your own needs). Then move on to saying no right away. Make a practice of saying no quickly, saying yes only after thought. (It really does get easier with practice.)

    Monthly Calendar

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  8. That being said, you still need to set strong boundaries. People should be given the opportunity to solve their own problems. You shouldn’t feel compelled to deal with other people’s crises.

    Clear Boundaries

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  9. Be ready for pushback. Even when you succeed in saying no, you may not be allowed to quit right away or to decline a new project. The plus side is that you discover how much value you have to other people.


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This is what I’ve learned as I’ve applied these steps:

  • My ONE thing is developing coaching and education tools to help others cope with stress and burnout.
  • This clarity has come to me partly through the loss of my inpatient consultation practice, but it’s turning out to be an opportunity.
  • My self-care is much better than it ever has been. This is partly through lessons learned from being a cancer survivor, partly from my own discernment of what my body and soul need right now.
  • I am saying no more often. I’m occasionally getting pushback.
    • I recently tried to resign as chair of a hospital committee, but had to continue for some months until a replacement could be found.
    • I have other commitments I tried to let go of, but I was offered more money to stay in those roles.
    • This was a hard decision point for me, but the commitments carried significant value to me, since they tie in to my ONE thing, so I was grateful to continue with more compensation.

There are benefits to saying no. People actually respect you more rather than less for being sure of what you want.

Question: Do you have a tendency to say yes impulsively and then regret it? You can leave a comment below, and if you found this helpful, please share on social media.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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