How To Say No When You Always Say Yes

Chances are, if you were alive in the 1980’s in America, you’ve heard the phrase, “Just say no” at least once. While the phrase was originally coined to keep kids from doing drugs, I am a firm believer in reviving the “Just say no” mantra for the sake of our sanity (busyness) as well as our bank accounts.

I used to be a crazy person. Crazy-busy, that is. Every single time anyone asked me to babysit, fill in at work, pitch in for a gift, attend a sales party, go out to eat, or help organize an event; I would automatically say “yes”. The thought never even occurred to me to say “no”. I thought I should help others. All of the time. Even if I really wanted to do something (or nothing) else.

How I learned to say no without being rude. So I could say "yes" to what really matters.

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What’s worse, I started saying “yes” on my husband’s behalf. Whenever someone would approach me asking if he could do something for them, I would blurt out “yes” before I even checked with him! Needless to say, this bad habit led to more arguments than I care to admit.

I also couldn’t say no to great deals, product upgrades, or sales parties. As a result, I would end up spending money which, in hindsight, I should have been saving.

Not long after my third son was born, I realized something had to give. I could no longer keep saying “yes” to everything that was being asked of me. I had my hands full with homeschooling my two older sons, caring for a new baby, and trying to squeeze in quality time with my husband.

It was then that I finally reached my breaking point. I was going crazy trying to please everyone. My inability to say “no” was hemorrhaging our bank account.

I realized I needed to…

Learn to say “no” instead of always saying “yes”.

Let’s just get something right out in the open. I love saying “yes”. It brings me great joy to help others. I have the “disease to please”. Yep, by nature, I am a “people pleaser”. Not in the sense that I say “yes” to everything because I am afraid of conflict, rather, I truly like to make people happy.

However, saying “yes” all of the time can quickly get out of hand. When we say yes to something we would rather not do, we are needlessly adding to our already-full schedules. In addition, saying “yes” to every suggestion made to us can lead to an unhealthy and deficient bank account.

If you are anything like I used to be, the word “no” doesn’t exist in your vocabulary. You find yourself incapable of saying “no”. Even when it means you end up doing something that wastes not only your time but your money as well.

How to Say No When You Always Say Yes

Why do we always say “yes” when we should say “no”?

Have you ever thought about why we have such a hard time saying “no”? Well, I have.

Think about it, from the time we learned to speak, the word “no” came naturally. For a lot of us, “no” was the very first word to come out of our mouths. As toddler’s, much of our vocabulary revolved around the word “no”. When we were children, the word “no” gave us a modicum of power over our surroundings. Even if we didn’t always get our way.

That “power” was quickly taken from us. Soon, our parents grew tired of hearing us say “no” and they began teaching us to say “yes” instead. I grew up in the South, where children are taught to say “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir”, as a sign of respect towards your elders. When mom, dad, grandma or grandpa told you to do something, you simply did not say “no”. Unless that is, you actually enjoyed getting paddled.

Then we went to school, where if you told the teacher “no” you were sent to the principal’s office or put in time out in a corner (or in my case, a closet).

Eventually, we grew up and entered the “real world” which for most of us, meant getting a job. It’s because of this job that we became bonafide yes-men (and women). “Yes, I will cover for Joe”. “Of course, I’ll stay late…again”. “Pick up an extra project? Sure!” Ever tried to tell a boss “no”? I’ll warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart!

 Give yourself permission to say no.

So how did I break my addiction to “yes” and (occasionally) replace it with “no”? First, I had to give myself permission to say no. As a person who, for years, had been telling others “yes” (to my own detriment), this was huge. I had to realize that by telling someone “no” I was not being lazy, selfish, or unkind. Because the last thing I wanted to do was be mean. I like making other people happy, remember?

How to Say No When You Always Say Yes

4 ways to break the “yes” cycle 

Here are 4 habits to cultivate so you can (happily) start saying “no”.

  • Take a “yes” sabbatical. Research shows it can take anywhere from 21-66 days to form a new habit. Once I (finally) gave myself permission to say “no”, I went to the extreme of declining every request, sale, invitation, etc. presented to me over a period of two months.  The only way I could stop “yes” from automatically coming out of my mouth was to replace it with “no”. 
  • Let go of the guilt. When I first began to say “no”, I was overtaken by feelings of guilt. Often, the guilt I felt was a result of not wanting to offend the person who was asking something of me. In time, I discovered, the more I reminded myself of my own valid reasons for saying “no”, the less guilty I felt. Click here for 10 guilt-free ways to say “no”.
  • Know your priorities. Your priorities are your reasons for saying “no”.  My reasons for saying “no” are 1.) my family, 2.) my prior commitments, 3.) my sanity, and 4.) my finances. When something is asked of me, I consider how saying “yes” will affect these four things. If the effect is minimal, I say “yes”. If it negatively interferes with my priorities, I politely decline.
  • Don’t be wishy-washy. The Bible says, to “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’, and ‘no’, ‘no’.” Only commit to something if it is worthwhile, aligns with your values, and coincides with your priorities. When you say “yes” be sure to give the task your full attention. Likewise, when you say “no”, you do not need to give a dissertation on your reasons. A simple, “Sorry, I can’t.” will suffice.


 “No”, the one little word that saved my sanity and my bank account.

I seriously do not know where I (or my bank account) would be right now if I hadn’t learned to say “no”. Most likely, I would be pulled in multiple directions, haphazardly trying to please everyone, while only managing to disappoint myself and my loved ones. The balance of my bank account would certainly be suffering from all of the sales I would have given in to. I would probably find myself avoiding certain people for fear they might ask me to do something that I couldn’t say no to.

Thankfully, I did learn to say “no” and by doing so, my “yesses” mean so much more! Now, I am free to say “yes” to the things that are important to me such as teaching Children’s Church, helping a friend declutter, and spending quality time with my husband and kids.

And, for the record, now, when I am asked whether my husband is available to help with something, I say, “Ask him!”

How to Say "No" When you Always Say "Yes"

How to Say "No" When you Always Say "Yes"

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About Cheryl Lemily

A wife, mom of 3 boys & 2 dogs. A minimalist raising a minimalist(ish) family. Living a small, slow, simple life. Helping others declutter & simplify.

2 comments on “How To Say No When You Always Say Yes

  1. Great post. I agree that reminding yourself of your “why” for saying no is important. I have to remind myself the reasons I am prioritizing. Trying to slow down your life is so hard when you feel guilty saying no but it does get easier with practice. I have gotten much better and it sounds like you have too! Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you! Saying “no” is so important so we can say “yes” to the really important things in life. I’m glad you have gotten better at it. I have gotten especially good at saying “no” to my kids 🙂

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