For most of us, our childhood and adolescent years were built on trying to get people to tell us “yes”. As children we heard “no” a lot. While it wasn’t our favorite answer, it wasn’t a bad thing. A healthy childhood is built on hearing “no” from teachers, coaches, and parents.
“No, you can’t eat paste.”
“No, you can’t bring that stray cat into the house.”
“No, if you don’t come to practice you won’t play in the game.”
When faced with “no”, we tried harder, argued more forcefully, and became more sneaky. We were desperate to turn the “no’s” we were hearing to “yeses”.
Then all of a sudden, high school ended. You headed to college or off to a job, and there were fewer people there to tell us “no” than there were before. Your job tells you, “no, if you aren’t on time or don’t perform on your job, you might be fired”. But, there is no longer anyone there telling you that you can’t stay up until 2 a.m. We can do pretty much whatever we want to do, and many of us do. We soon learn though, that the results of over indulging on our new found freedom can have some pretty tough consequences. When life stops telling you “no” all of the time, your success depends on learning to tell yourself “no” at the right time.
More than any other skill, the ability to tell yourself “no” sets the stage for success as an adult. Adulthood reminds us that just because we can, doesn’t mean that we should. Is your inability to tell yourself “no” making your life difficult? Here are three tips that may help:
Insert a pause
There’s a time and place for making quick decisions. That time isn’t every time, and that place isn’t everywhere. Few people like telling themselves “no”, so if you act based on what you feel in the moment, you are likely to give into things that you know aren’t great for you. If, however, you can find a few minutes or hours to slow down and think things through, you are much more likely to come to an answer that best reflects your core values.
Don’t forget “future you”
It’s easy to restrict our thoughts to the here and now, to think only of what we feel now, think now, and want now. But “future you” (that’s you in 5 to 10 years) matters too. Something that doesn’t seem like a big deal now could really cause problems for future you. Take some time to imagine what you would like life to be like in 5 to 10 years. What sort of skills would you like to have developed by then? What sort of relationships would you like to have? What sort of activities will you want to be involved with? Then ask yourself if your present decisions are taking you to your preferred future.
Enlist some help
Life without the input and encouragement of others is hard. When you have people around you who value the things you value, you have an amazing resource. You can learn from their successes and their struggles. You can ask them when you aren’t sure about decisions you have to make. You are more likely to tell yourself “no” at the right time, when you are surrounded by people who will support your decision.
Telling ourselves “no” isn’t easy, but it’s an important skill for all growing adults to have. Like every other life skill that is desirable, this one gets better with practice. So, begin to tell yourself “no”. It might not be easy at first, but it will be well worth it. You and “future you” will be glad you did.