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Stop Saying Yes When You Want To Say No

Stop Saying Yes When You

How often do we find ourselves caught in a situation when we explicitly want to say “no” but end up saying “yes”? Have you ever wondered why we say a Yes when you actually want to say a No? In this article, we are exploring the science that the brain follows, the after-effects, and the ways to get out of this vicious circle.

Understanding the Science Behind Saying “Yes”

Let’s begin with understanding the science behind the phenomenon of saying “yes” when you want to say “no”.  There are countless reasons why we make ourselves readily available for things we don’t want to do. We want to be liked tops the list of reasons along with reasons like we don’t want to appear selfish, we don’t want to disappoint anyone, the fear of missing out hits us..and the list goes on. However, it is important to be aware of the deep-rooted reasons behind these over-the-surface excuses.

According to Molly Cain, the three major motives that push us into agreeing to a request we really don’t want are guilt, fear, and survival (Cain, 2012). It is essential to reflect on our personal motives to understand ourselves better, only then we can actually get out of the cycle. The guilt motive could be identified by questioning whether we are emotionally obliged to say yes. Often guilt is misallocated, so we need to get to the root cause of why we feel guilty and test if there are actual grounds for feeling that way. Fear when used to the further good of the situation, is often a good motivator.

There would be times when the discomfort caused by saying yes could be justified: we have to choose wisely. During an uncalled and unexpected crisis, we have to agree to do stuff that we don’t want to. When it comes to survival, humans are compelled to follow the survival of the fittest theory. It is important to remember that challenging times like these are short-lived and we have to learn to play well with the cards we deal with.

Moving further to what will happen if you keep saying yes to things you don’t want to do, the following quote by James Altucher rightly answers: “Every time you say yes to something you don’t want to do, this will happen: you will resent people, you will do a bad job, you will have less energy for the things you were doing a good job on, you will make less money, and yet another small percentage of your life will be burned up.”

The ultimate truth is you could lie to anybody in the world but you cannot lie to yourself and if you start living in the denial zone you would end up nothing but fooling yourself. Often humans forget that the biggest battle they have to fight is with their own mind. We often see a lot of people have said yes to the wrong people, and wrong opportunities, and they have become disengaged and empty as a result. There are other multiple reasons why you need to say no more often.

Tips for Saying “No” Without Guilt

Here are some thoughts to consider:

  1. You don’t owe anything to anyone i.e. you are not responsible for anyone else’s reaction: Think about how many times have you said yesses and regretted it the moment after. It’s always better to be uncomfortable temporarily rather than being resentful.
  2. You’re accountable for creating your healthy boundaries: Boundaries need to be created they don’t emerge naturally in your relationships. If you end up feeling like you are giving in all the time and feel drained, this is the time you work on drawing boundaries for your well-being.

As they say, things don’t change – you change! So if you feel you really want to get out of this trap you have to act on it as only action and your efforts will define and delineate you. Enlisting the ten tips below could be a good start to saying no without any guilt:

  1. Be firm and clear when saying “no” and remember “no” in itself is an answer, you don’t have to give explanations for saying “no”.
  2. Start working on the “anchor phrase.” Examples might be “I have a policy …” or “I’d rather say no to you now rather than disappoint you later” or “I only volunteer in connection with a particular cause.” Once you have your anchor phrase, you can practice it. As a result of being proactive and prepared, you may be able to say no more confidently so you can say yes to things that are truly important to you (Ury, 2007).
  3. Indulge in the practice of asking yourself questions. You could start with asking “Do I really want to do this?” Take a thorough time to answer.
  4. Start by saying no to little things. The more you practice declining things that you don’t want to pursue, the better you will be equipped to decline the bigger propositions in life.
  5. Visualize yourself in situations where you have no choice but to do so and keep your answers ready. It’s not always possible to prepare in hand so remember in times like these be honest.
  6. Be polite and maintain grace while saying no.
  7. Increase your clarity of thoughts because the more clear you will the better your focus and peace will be.
  8. Start doing things that you enjoy and work on your self-esteem (we could do another blog on this topic)
  9. Most importantly, understand the reasons behind why you say yes when you want to say no and start eliminating those on the grassroots level.
  10. Keep in mind it’s impossible to be liked by everyone and if you start keeping everyone else happy you will end up disappointing the most important person and that is yourself.

The next time you feel caught between wanting to make someone else happy and wanting to make yourself happy, just remember: Saying “no” to whatever they are asking of you is just another way of saying “yes” to what you truly want to commit yourself to.


Cain, M., 2012. Why You Keep Saying “Yes” To Stuff You Don’t Want To Do. [Online]
Available at:

Ury, W., 2007. In: The Power of a Positive No: Save the Deal, Save the Relationship – and Still Say No. New York: s.n.

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