Think about the last time you said “no” to an opportunity or plan, whether it was an extra assignment for class, a chance to join a club, or even just going out to dinner with a friend. Most people struggle to remember when that was. While some opportunities are certainly important for furthering your education or career, there are many that can be easily passed up with no consequences. This is not to say that you should reject every offer that comes your way, but rather to remind you not to bite off more than you can chew.
But how can you learn to say “no” when every part of you is screaming “yes”? How can you overcome that constant urge to accept every task, plan or opportunity that comes your way, even when you know you lack the time, energy and mental capacity to do it? As much as people want to do everything, the reality is, they can’t. They’re humans, not robots, and the human brain and body require time to rest in order to function at their highest potential.
Know When to Say No
In order to avoid spreading yourself too thin, you must be able to recognize the signs that your body and mind need a break. According to Healthline, these signs may include restlessness, insomnia, changes in appetite, inability to focus, loss of motivation and fatigue. It’s essential to be able to identify these symptoms and to take a break if you experience them to avoid burnout. This means saying no to extraneous opportunities, requests and plans that come your way.
Be Polite But Straightforward
Saying no is difficult for a variety of reasons, but the key is to do it maturely and directly. You do not need to seek approval, and you don’t need to explain your every decision. Being polite is obviously still important, and maintaining professionality is essential for career-related matters, but avoid being wishy-washy. You will likely find it’s much easier to do this via email or text rather than face-to-face, and that’s perfectly okay. Practicing through virtual communication is a great start. Once you become more comfortable with saying no, you will find it’s easier to start doing it in face-to-face interactions.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Preparing ahead of time will help to ease your nerves and/or concerns. Creating templates to use in conversation is a great strategy. For example, “Thanks so much for the invite. I really appreciate it, but I, unfortunately, can’t make it.” You can jot them down in a journal or type them into your phone and then reference them when needed. Different occasions warrant different responses and/or tones; for example, you may have one template for social matters and a different template for academic or career-related matters. It’s important to be honest, and if you have too much on your plate, you can always just say that.
Keep it Simple
Avoid overcomplicating it! You don’t always need to explain your rationale. Offering alternatives to what the person is asking can be beneficial to reduce tension between you and them, but don’t feel pressured to. Remember that “no” is just a reflection of your current circumstances, and it’s nothing to feel guilty about. So yes, it’s more than okay to say “no”—it’s healthy.