Self-Compassion and The Power of No

Our History with Yes

From a young age, we are rewarded for answering in the affirmative.  The yes please, the pretty please, and the pretty please with cherries on top won us a kind regard, food, the opportunity to watch a favorite cartoon, clothes, car rides, and we imagine deep down inside our parents’ and other favored adults’ approval.  Forget all of the subtleties of approval.  We pretty much assume it is love.  If you have been tracking this information on your life calculator, you have all likely come up with the same sum: saying yes gets you love, well love and cartoons. 

While this math seems accurate, it has a fatal flaw.  You only have so much time, so you cannot feasibly say yes to every demand.  So saying yes, at some point, to others means saying no to yourself in a way that affects your general well-being.  To make matters worse, on some level others know this, and actually take you for granted when you say yes all of the time.  I like to think of this as our natural self-compassion corrector.  Listen, if saying yes all the time always equaled love, you would do it until you were dead, which is not ideal.  Consequently, it helps that not even others will appreciate your complete committal to all things them after some time.

Our Reason for No

This can only mean one thing.  We must learn to say no.  At this point, you are either shaking your head at the impossible task I have set before us or because you are relating too much to saying no.  The former, I can help.  The latter, you need to make room to say yes once in a while, otherwise you will become the consummate party of one.  Serving bitter party of one.  Bitter party of one?  But, I digress.

Eventually, we want to give educated no’s, the kind of no’s that support our core values.  However, before you can draw on considerable power to divvy out spine tinglingly accurate no’s, you must have the ability to say no to less important things.  Think of it as learning to say hard no’s by slowly elevating the difficulty of your no’s.  Difficulty of the no is dependent on the audience, and the importance of what you are saying no to.  It is a fact that saying no to cheese is a far easier task than saying no to your friend’s charity party for Rubella.  I read that in the No almanac, so I know it is true.

Practicing No

Find places where you can practice saying no.  Cheese is a good example.  It comes on most sandwiches and salads.  Go to a restaurant and order something.  Ask for no cheese.  No you cannot order a sandwich without cheese.  That’s cheating!  Once you have had success with an easy no, try a more difficult no.  A more difficult no might be saying no to a study group or an invitation to the movies by a friend you see regularly.  Now, the hard part.  I know, it is all hard.  Now to the harder part!  Trying saying no to something difficult.  For instance, a very close friend, partner, or family member invites you out for a special dinner, but you have work to do or simply need to rest.  Hold strong.  Just. Say. No.

I know that this practice is difficult.  We are undoing an entire life full of saying yes’s.  If you read an earlier entry on the neurophysiology of behavior, you might remember that we are indeed trying to create a whole new neural network (new consistent responses over time) that your brain will go to before an old neural network (old consistent responses over time).  If you are remembering this discussion in its totality, you will key into the fact that if we want no to be our automatic response we need to do it more than we said yes.  That’s a lot of no’s!  Fortunately, we do not need it to be our automatic response.  We just need it to be an available one.

Saying No is Doable

Just because it is difficult does not mean it is not doable.  Learning to say no is very doable.  It is also a necessity.  See our early discussion of your resources.  You simply do not have enough to say yes all the time.  What’s more is that to live a life with the greatest meaning and ease possible, you must develop the ability to say no to offerings that do not bring you well-being or greater meaning.  My grandmother says this skill took her a lifetime, but she finds it very satisfying.  She says no to everything.  It’s a hoot!  The good news is that you do not have to wait until you are eighty like my grandmother to acquire this skill.  You simply have to practice saying no now, and slowly elevate the difficulty so you can say no when it counts.

When you are young, they respect you and admonish you for saying yes.  When you are an adult, they show you the same respect for saying no.  Don’t you want to be one of those people that others say really knows what they want?  Of course, you do.  So make it easy on yourself, be honest about the resources you have available and what you really need from life.  Decide what you can say yes to, and what you can say no to.  You want to develop the skill of saying no, but you do not want to say no to everything.  Remember, our goal is to become self-compassionate, not obnoxious!

The Right Time For No

Every time I work with someone new on this skill, I get asked the same question, “But how will I know when it is the right time to say no?”  Listen to your body and your mind.  If it tenses, and your mind begins to ruminate, it is time to say no.  If your body becomes enlivened by energy or relaxed, and your thoughts are filled with excitement or ease, it is time to say yes. 

The most important part of this practice is that you do it.  The only people who do things perfectly are the delusional ones.  Give yourself permission to do this practice imperfectly.  Do not force yourself to rapid fire several consecutive no’s like one of those machines that shoots out baseballs.  Take it one no at a time.  Reward yourself for saying no, and surround yourself with others that will support this practice.

Solidifying Your No Practice

If you are already a no machine, share the wealth.  Help others learn to say no.  If you are on the path to saying no, it is important that you know one thing about meditation and self-compassion practice.  The greatest goal is to get to beginner’s mind, a mindset in which you come to the practice without preconceived notions or arrogance. 

Beginner’s mind is a mindset that urges you to make mistakes, so that you can practice often and, in so doing, increase your depth and well-being.  I wish for you the ability to say no when it counts, for the preservation of your very valuable energy, and in view of the very admirable goal of living a meaningful life with ease.

365 Days of Kindness.  Self-Compassion.  Day 82.  In the Books.