Learning to Say “No”

It’s hard to say “no.” 

There’s a reason alcohol and drug refusal – learning to say no assertively – is a core skill in substance use disorder treatment. It’s hard to say “no” when people are used to saying “yes.”

In our relationships with others, it’s hard to say “no” because we like to make people happy, and it feels good to give. It’s hard to say “no” when we are in the checkout line and there’s a bag of delicious-looking gummy bears, or we are walking down the aisles of Costco and there is a six-foot stuffed bear the girls claim they can’t imagine living without. It’s hard when someone asks me to be involved in a project that sounds exciting, but I’m spread too thin at the time. It’s hard to tell others, especially those we care most about, “no.” 

It’s also hard to tell myself “no.” When I’m standing in line to get coffee, a chocolate chip cookie seems like something I deserve to enjoy while working on a tedious task. It’s hard when I want to buy a new book by my favorite author, even though I have at least 27 unread books stacked on my bookshelf. It’s hard to say “no” when we are so good at convincing ourselves what we want is well deserved. 

We can learn to say “no” to ways of being that lead us back to the past. We can learn to say “no” to others so there is room for the new opportunity or the new toy because we worked to make room through our earlier “no.” We can learn to say “no” to ourselves so there is more delight and deeper appreciation in the times we say “yes” to the chocolate chip cookie or the new book. It is only through learning to say “no” to many things that we can say “yes” to the things that matter most.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.