During my childhood, I was a ridiculous fan of musicals. I still love them. I used to watch all kinds of them over and over again whenever they were on. My sister and I learned all the words to almost every song.
One of my favorite musicals was Oklahoma. The songs are vibrant and ferocious and the dancing… My heart would soar with every step and I could never hold myself back from leaping off the couch and imitating every musical number. Oklahoma had some great ones. I remember one song in particular that I loved was called, I Cain’t Say NO. This was sung by a woman in reference to her response to men trying to court her (see video below), but I know too many women who could sing this song about all the requests in their lives from work, family, friends and sometimes even strangers.
Now, I have met one or two men who have confessed this as a problem for them, but the majority of people that I know who struggle with this are women. We’ve engaged in conversations about the various reasons: socialization, culture, upbringing, sibling order, sexism and some other things that all resonate with the women I’ve had these conversations with.
While there have been some people who have managed to break themselves free from this dangerous habit… Yes dangerous… the kinds of inner conflicts, physical consequences (stress, disease) and time management conflicts (less family time, limited social life and overworking) leads to life-altering negative consequences.
Over the years, I’ve offered individual help, but today I’d like to reach as many people as possible with what I’ve learned about freeing yourself from this.
Locate your Why and make peace with it.
That’s right, make peace with it. Part of what happens when you start to search for why you can’t say no is it brings up all kinds of feelings and none of them tend to be good. Guilt, sadness, anger and judgement tend to keep you from diving more deeply in to why and that only keeps you from developing an understanding of where and how you learned it and what triggers it.
Making peace simply means that you understand that we are all a collection and reflection of what we have been taught and internalized and sooner or later it all needs to be faced. We can at that point choose what we want or need to do with this information, but it needs to be done when we are truly ready.
Take time to examine, feel and sit in your feelings.
Feelings are always going to surface, they always do. Fear is one of the biggest ones. Understanding what you are afraid of and asking yourself to face what is real and what is possibly imagined is an important exercise in learning to say NO. When the thoughts pop up that saying no will make you look incompetent or make you disliked, question it with… is that really true? What are you basing that on? The one time it actually happened? I mean after all, if you have been saying yes to everything all these years, how do you really no that the consequences you fear in your head will really happen?
Once you’ve examined, then sit in the fear or whatever feelings you experience and honestly FEEL. Guess what? You can feel it and get through it all the way to NO.
Ask yourself… what do you really want to say?
Check in with your spirit, your gut. If you are going to say NO more often, you are going to have to learn to trust them. Then answer the question of what you really want to say. Settle down that imagination about all the terrible things that will happen if you say it. Learn to trust in you.
Practice saying NO.
Make up a song about it, I don’t care. Actually, songs work well. They stay in our brains. Ever had a song you just couldn’t get out of your head? But if that’s not your thing, stand in front of the mirror and practice it. Make it a daily affirmation. Get in the habit of forming the words in your mouth. Your mouth is not used to saying it, it needs the practice like learning a difficult word in another language.
Believe me, you need this because your habit of saying yes kicks in before your mouth catches up. I have a close friend who I can see her in her mind wanting to say NO, but her mouth, even after hesitation, always says yes. I often have to tell her that it is perfectly fine to say NO and then talk her off the ledge so that she can say it. PRACTICE HELPS!
Make your answer to the next 10 requests, “I have to think about this.”
Seriously, try it even if you sincerely want to say yes. You need the practice of giving yourself time to do the first 3 things I shared here before you respond. It takes time, confidence, unlearning and practice, but I have every confidence that (I’m singing now)…
YOU CAN SAY NO!!!
AND… for your enjoyment… Check out the song from Oklahoma below. 🙂