Try a reframe, When saying ‘no’ means saying ‘yes’

By Macaile Hutt

I recently had a conversation with a co-worker about how difficult it is for him to say “no.” He noted that even in the moments he is strong enough to say no, he ends up ruminating over the fact that he might have disappointed someone or should have just said yes in order to smooth things over. “Is it even worth it to say ‘no’ if I punish myself for days after?” he wondered aloud.
I remember reading a book years ago that talked about the notion that everything we say “yes” to actually requires saying “no” to something else. Alternatively, everything we say “no” to ultimately means we are saying “yes” to prioritizing something else rather than taking on another responsibility. This simple reframe has made it so much easier for me to say “no” without even thinking twice. When I am able to prioritize a “yes” in my life that equates to more peace, precious time, or engaging in something important to me or someone I love, it often doesn’t come with so much remorse or regret. Over time, this practice has become second nature and I find it so liberating to be able to unapologetically say, “I don’t have time for that this week” or “Thanks for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to make it” without thinking twice.
Times such as the past holidays can create so much added stress and expectation. Our normal lives often remain untouched, filled with all the same pressures, events, deadlines, and responsibilities, and somehow we are supposed to find time for dinners, gift exchanges, family functions, work events… the list goes on and on. While this can be overwhelming and often impossible to navigate, I also think it gives us a wonderful opportunity to practice setting boundaries and pause before we automatically say “yes” to adding another thing to our plate, and to ask ourselves what that “yes” says “no” to in return. It can be applied to post-holiday situations, too.
If we say no to an event, we can say yes to alone time to recharge and rest.
If we say no to adding another task at work when our bandwidth is already full, we can say yes to completing our current tasks on time and with our full attention.
If we say no to seeing an acquaintance, we can say yes to seeing someone in our inner circle.
If we say no to a financial obligation we don’t currently have the funds for, we can say yes to reaching the financial goals we’ve set more quickly and with less unnecessary roadblocks.
Noticing a trend? When you put it as I have above, it feels so much less uncomfortable. It becomes less about the person or people we might disappoint and more about the first person we should worry about disappointing – ourselves.
I have used this quick reframe so many times over the past few years and I hope it’ll be useful to you, as well. Here’s to saying yes to everything we need, even if that means saying no in order to do it.

Macaile Hutt is the Director of Occupational Therapy for Star Speech and Occupational Therapy located in Star, Idaho. Her therapy style takes a holistic and child-directed approach, with the goal of children succeeding across multiple environments. She holds a master’s degree in occupational therapy from A.T. Still University and has received continuing education as a Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional for Children and Adolescents (CCATP-CA), Handwriting Without Tears, pediatric kinesiotaping, Interactive Metronome, and Beckman Oral Motor. In her free time, she enjoys creative writing, backpacking, and traveling.

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