How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

I say Yes a lot. I bet you do too.

I like to say Yes because I’m interested in so many things. I like people, I’m social and I want to help. Maybe sometimes I say yes out of guilt, guilty – ness ugh, or how people will view me if I say no.

I say yes out of obligation.

For these reasons I say, Yes too much. I started thinking I need to say No more, but in reality I’m saying No all the time. I say No like a boss. Wait what??? Slow down.

I realized that I say No all the time after I read this blog about this book Essentialism   The reality is, “Saying YES to any opportunity by definition requires saying NO to several others.” So, see, I am really a big no-sayer. *strutting a little. *busting a move. *trying a moon walk. *falls over

[Tweet “Then I read this quote: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say No to almost everything,” – Warren Buffett. “]

But, what about this guilty thing?

Saying NO is very complicated. I have to decide what I really want. Then once I decide on that, I have to decide when to say a real No and how to say it. Not a default No by having said Yes to something else, and not a Warren Buffett, say no to everything no. I get to decide. So do you.

So, here I am, deciding that I have to say NO. Now, how do I do that with confidence and no bad feelings (I’m looking at you guilty feeling).

Make a policy.

Check this out from the Wall Street Journal:

In one experiment, 30 women, ages 22 to 53, undertook a 10-day wellness challenge involving goals like exercising more and eating more healthily. The women were divided into three groups: One was asked to use the “I don’t” strategy, another the “I can’t” strategy, and a third (the control group) was simply told to say no. 

While only 10% of the “I can’t” group stuck with their goal, 80% of the “I don’t” group were still using the strategy successfully 10 days later.

Begin by defining a priority (sleep more), name the sources of stress that interfere (such as evening work meetings), design a personal policy around it and then let others know: “I don’t take meetings after 6 p.m.”

Here are my policies:

I don’t eat sweets during the day.

I don’t eat cake.

I don’t get less than 8 hours of sleep.

I don’t say nasty things about my body.

I don’t get it right all the time.

The last one is the only one I can really bank on.

Let’s be grown-ups and set some policies.



  1. Susan Roberts on February 6, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks for this article Ann. ‘I don’t’ is a much more positive approach than NO or ‘I can’t’. I am going to work on my list of policies – my list of things that I DON’T do and see if that helps me make some much needed changes in my life. Thanks for providing a new way to look at this!

    • Ann Garvin on February 8, 2016 at 12:16 am

      I’m so glad you found it useful, I didn’t invent it but I agree, I think it’s a good idea!!

  2. Eileen Goudge on February 12, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Saying “no” is one of the hardest things to do, especially for women I find. My favorite quote on this subject is from a man. When a colleague suggested they have lunch sometime, he responded, “I could say yes, but I’d be lying. The truth is I have so little free time to spend with my close friends and loved ones, I must choose them instead.” The guy who asked seemed a bit taken aback (per my husband who was privy to the conversation) then he broke into a grin and said, “Thanks. That was way better than lunch because you gave me permission to do the same.” I remember that story each time I say “no” to an acquaintance who wants to have lunch with me. Yes, it’s okay to say “no” even to perfectly nice people who you might wish to get to know under different circumstances. I see it as saying “yes” myself and the people I truly care about.

  3. […] To decide when a ‘no’ or ‘yes’ is right for us we have to examine your values and put them into play. Oh, and also we have to do something about that guilt that rules our lives. That’s just gotta’ go. I wrote about that here too. […]

  4. One Sentence That Set Me Free-ish - Ann Garvin on April 22, 2021 at 9:32 pm

    […] Oh, Man. I wrote about saying no here too. […]

  5. Jean Israel on April 28, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciated reading this. I have a difficult time saying NO also, but it isn’t dating or work related. I have a hard time saying no to my grown children (who don’t live at home). There is rarely anything that I can make myself say no to with them, and they’ve gotten so used to that over the years, that if I actually do say no to anything they ask…I feel like a monster, and honestly, they treat me like one when that happens…they’ve gone so far as to threaten to stop speaking to me because they dislike my boyfriend and I’m 51 years old!

    I definitely need to work on some things it seems, and you have helped me here more than you probably know!

    • Ann Garvin on June 30, 2021 at 11:48 am

      Oh Jean. This is such a hard thing. SO hard. Parenting is hard from birth to finish.
      Good luck. I do hope you can occasionally say, at least, not today.

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