Present Over Perfect: #A-Z Challenge

“Draw close to people who honour your no, who cheer you on for telling the truth, who value your growth more than they value their own needs getting met or their own pathologies celebrated.”

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist

“No is a complete sentence. So is ‘I don’t want to.’ ” I can’t remember where I read that, but I really like it.  Of course, liking it doesn’t mean I live by the sentiment or ever have. Can you relate? Do you have difficulty saying ‘No’? If you do say the word, will people honour your no or do they try to talk you out of it? Do they succeed?

Why We Have Trouble Saying No

The reasons we have difficulty saying no aren’t rocket science. There are two–relationship and appearance. We don’t want to disappoint people or hurt their feelings, even if they’re total strangers. And/or we want to be perceived as kind, caring, competent, perhaps even superhuman.

Why Saying Yes Too Often is a Problem

After saying yes when we should say no, a sequence of events kicks in:

  • Other people’s priorities take precedence over our own;
  • We get tired, stressed and resentful;
  • Often directing most of our resentment inward, which means negative self-talk;
  • Our productivity declines, a particular problem if we’re in the workforce,
  • And, worst of all, we don’t have time for the things that are truly important to us.

I like the way that Niequist summarizes this:

“In my rampant yes-yes-yes-ing, I said no, without intending to, to rest, to peace, to groundedness, to listening, to deep and slow connection, built over years instead of moments.”

Six Ways to Say No

  1. Practice on the little requests, like the store clerk who wants your email address.
  2. Buy yourself time. Say “I’ll get back to you.”
  3. While doing #2 above, ask yourself if this is something you really want to do. If you’re really busy, ask yourself what activity you’re willing to delete in order to fit this one in.
  4. Listen to your body. If the request makes you feel tired, or if you were tired already, ‘no’ is the appropriate and self-respecting answer.
  5. Get clear about your values and priorities, then go through your daily and weekly activities looking for the ones that don’t align. Put them on a stop doing list. Execute that list.
  6. Practice with a friend or in front of a mirror. Try to get to the point where you can give a clean ‘no’ rather than a bunch of excuses.

Niequist has words of wisdom here too. She says when it comes to people who won’t honour your no, you should

“Bless them. But don’t spend too much time with them.”

How are you with the word ‘No’ –uttering it and hearing it? 



Join the tribe:


  1. Oh my goodness! The art of saying No is one that took me until my 50’s to learn. I’m a do-er and a fixer so when nobody else stepped up, I’d say OK. I’ve learned now to prioritize myself and my needs more. I can say No and only feel a little bit guilty. I’ve found that when I say Yes to something I really don’t want to do then it’s usually a fairly miserable experience, so now I choose a lot more carefully the things I say Yes to – and if it means being less liked, then I have to deal with that – after all, I like me!

    Leanne |
    P for Practice makes Perfect

    1. You’ve made such great progress in valuing and taking care of yourself, Leanne. That’s inspiring to the rest of us. Thank you for sharing your story here and, much more completely, on your blog.

  2. Funny you should mention the store clerk example, Karen. My grocery store has a new ‘rewards’ program, and I’ve had to say no every week since its inception. Last week when I said no, the cashier gave me a paper about it ‘just in case I change my mind.’ I threw it in recycling. I don’t want another program that sends me emails and I hate coupons. So I’m going to take a deep breath and hope that the few dollars I would save won’t be the difference between financial security for me and living on the street. Perhaps I can cut back my grocery buying instead of buying more to match a coupon? Great post!

    1. Now that’s thinking outside the box that the grocery store would like you to stay in, Molly! Cutting back on grocery shopping sounds like the perfect solution, although thinking of a recent post of yours, Mr. Cap’n Crunch might have something to say about what gets cut 🙂

    1. I’ve been exploring Tarot for the last few months, Beth, and will be writing a post about it soon. It will be a follow up to my post called A Curious Skeptic in the Land of Woo-Woo, which might interest you –

      As you know, awareness is half the battle. If your Tarot cards are helping you be aware of the need for self-care, that’s good. Now that you know, it’s up to you to take the next step. Rooting for you, Beth.

  3. I think I’m actually pretty good at saying no. I used to think I was just a selfish person until I realized it was actually a need for self-preservation.
    What does annoy me though is that I feel I need to defend why I’m saying no. I like the opening quote that no is a complete sentence. We shouldn’t have to justify our no and I’m often angry with myself that I think I need to.

  4. I admire you for being able to say no, Joanne. I think that ability is the sign of someone who recognizes her own value.
    I like the “No is a complete sentence” quote too. It stood out for me because of the very problem you describe. I’m experimenting right now with saying ‘no’ and stopping at that. In my head, I’m chanting “No is a complete sentence” over and over. Sort of like you singing “let it go” from Frozen 🙂

  5. Yes, I have difficulty saying No. I’m working my way toward it, though. After years of practice, I’m now pretty good at saying, “This is not a good time,” or “I don’t have time.” That’s a start! Thanks, Karen!

  6. No isn’t too difficult for me anymore – part of finding my voice — but the inability to say no devoured me for years. I do understand the desire to justify — but I think I’ve overcome that for the most part. One of the most difficult steps is — being self-employed — realizing that I can say no to a potential paying customer. I remember well — just over a year ago — the first time I ‘fired’ a client. Having the financial means and the guts to do that felt amazing. I no longer run after every opportunity. I consider first if I want it, then if I need it, not vice versa. If the opportunity rubs me the wrong way I remind myself and work to trust that another will come along.

    1. What a great position to be in, Janet – truly the captain of your own ship. Learning to think first ‘want’ and then ‘need’ must have been life-changing.

  7. I had to learn how to not say, “I’ll do it!” Things always sound like an adventure to me. Unfortunately, all of those adventures can add up to one overwhelmed mama. It has helped me to instead think about how much I think I can reasonably fit into my schedule, and then remove one more thing. We always think we can do more than we really should be doing. Unexpected things pop up. It’s best to recognize that too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing. This is an excellent post! Facing Cancer with Grace

    1. Thanks, Heather. Your idea of thinking about what’s reasonable and then still removing one more thing is a good one. Those of us who love the adventure of the ‘yes’ also tend to overestimate our ability to accomplish everything we’ve got on the list.

    1. A common problem for people who work from home, like writers. Do you find, like Joanne, that you feel you have to justify your no’s or can you just stop with the word? If so, how did you manage that?

  8. I need to practice saying NO more often Karen, as we have discussed before I am and always have been a people pleaser. As a result, my schedule is full, full, full! Yeesh, I recently got a huge compliment from our worship leader at church. He told me he really appreciates my help both on the soundboard and with the laptop as it takes a huge weight off his shoulders. He actually said there were no words for how much he appreciates what I do. He built in a relief valve of sorts – said I just had to say when I need a break and he will see that I get it. 😀 He also went over the website I am building for the church with me and was full of praise for everything I did there too. I tell you, sometimes saying Yes is necessary as long as the person or people you are saying Yes to appreciate your efforts and tell you so.

  9. Ah…the huge compliments. The ones you got from your worship leader were obviously sincere and they made a big impact on you. But as a fellow people pleaser I’ve come to recognize that, for me at least, big compliments are my Kryptonite. They suck the ability to say ‘no’ right out of my body, leaving me weak and defenceless. They probably wouldn’t do that if I had the ability to “say when I need a break” but I find that along with the people pleasing, comes a desire to be superwoman so that people are not only pleased but wowed. I hope that last part isn’t true for you, and that you get the break you’ve been talking about needing in your post comments.

    1. I hear what you are saying Karen, about the compliments. The ones I got from my worship leader were totally sincere and I have already had one break. One Sunday ( the one before last) I just sat in a pew and enjoyed a service – no soundboard, no laptop…just me. 😀 I can’t begin to tell you what that meant. I have no problem asking for another break when I need one. It is nice to know that the contributions I make there are valued and not just expected. As for the desire to be a superwoman, I am satisfied with what I am doing now without needing to wow anyone. I think I wow them enough just by doing what I am doing, consistently and with the skills I have now. If that ever changes I will definitely be saying something – Dave (the worship leader) has made it so that he is totally approachable if I have any concerns, need a break or any problems come up (like no longer wanting to do something.)

  10. As I’ve gotten older I find I have no problem saying no. When I was younger, the need to please other people seemed so important – but like Barbie dolls and tantrums, I finally outgrew it.

  11. I made a rule when I retired – I would not join a committee, or board, or anything with that sort of responsibility. I’ve had enough of that kind of thing. Five years on, while I can’t say I have been inundated with requests, there have been a few and I have always said no. So I think I must be quite good at it! I have always felt the need to explain, but I think people understand my reasoning which makes a refusal less blunt.

    1. I made the same rule, Anabel. I think doing that might have broken the trend of agreeing to everything that was the case during work life. Good self-care decision by both of us!
      And good point about an explanation softening the refusal. Thanks.

  12. I’m learning to say no. And I adore the “no is a complete sentence” thought. Usually I feel I need to justify why I’m saying no. But a couple of times this past year I just came out and said no (end of sentence), and it was “OK” in response. Apparently OK is a complete sentence too. I am also one who when I get compliments will continue to do things… but I’m also learning to think through if doing them is right for me as well. (Like my foodie club – I get a lot of personal pleasure from it and they always thank me for doing all the coordinating!) These days I’m putting me first a whole lot more… and not caring if it seems “selfish”.

  13. Like so many woman, I’m a pleaser. Practicing saying no to the small things is very helpful. Now I need to get over saying yes to something I don’t really want to do because I’m flattered that I was asked!

  14. I saw a picture someplace showing a massive wave coming toward a woman with the caption: when you say yes too often. I don’t have a problem saying no in general, but some family members know how to pile on the guilt. That I’m still working on. It’s always those close to us, to paraphrase a saying, who can hurt us the most. Extracting a yes at any cost can hurt.

    1. It sounds like Niequest’s final words have special meaning for you, Silvia. Although it’s difficult to avoid family. The proverbial between a rock and a hard place. Good luck.

  15. Oh goodness, I can relate to everything about this post! The reasons for not wanting to say no, the reasons that I should say no.

    I will say that over the past few years, particularly the past two to five years, I’ve been settling in more comfortably with no… for a few reasons:

    1. While I never felt aware that I was stressed, my subconscious was shouting it out loud and clear, by suppressing my immune system. It took going to acupuncture to learn that better balance was necessary for health. My acupuncturist was the first person to recognize how much I was carrying on my shoulders… he saw right through the easy-going demeanor.

    2. Yes to something that was not intuitively a priority for me, just to help someone else manage their needs, never felt good.

    3. Thinking back, I’ve never regretted saying “No.” I love a good “YES” to embrace life and experiences, but “NO” can feel just as powerful, if not more so.

    I still struggle, but I’m getting better about judiciously deciding where I want to invest my time, and where I don’t, and honoring that.

    Great post!!

    1. It’s fascinating how much information our bodies will give us, if we just listen. And it’s sad that it takes our bodies going into crisis before many of us can ignore childhood and societal conditioning and claim time for ourselves.
      But it is also heartening that our bodies do send the message, and that we do eventually listen and honour what we hear. I appreciate you talking in points 2 and 3 about how your body feels when you say a reluctant yes and a powerful no. Our bodies are our best guidance system on a moment-to-moment basis. I forget that a lot.

  16. Hi Karen, late to the party due to work commitments for this week….I am getting better at saying no since my transformation into the Widow Badass, but I could do better still. With practice, it comes much easier. And I have found that when people start hearing no from me, they become more respectful about asking or better yet, don’t ask at all. Yay! Great post!

  17. Hi, Karen – When I am going to say ‘no’ (which I do much more often in retirement), I say it as positively, but firmly, as I can (e.g. “Thank you for thinking of me, I am over-committed at this time and must decline.”) I don’t tend to go with a maybe (unless it truly is). This often saves me an extra conversation. Thank you for another great post in this series.

    1. That’s a really good tip, Donna. The positive no lets people down gently, and the unconditional nature of the no means not only saving time but also not having to give all kinds of excuses and rationalizations. Thanks!

  18. Hi Karen, I’m still learning about saying ‘no’ and I’m 60. I have improved but that feeling of wanting to please others can be very strong. I love the Niequist ‘s summary: “In my rampant yes-yes-yes-ing, I said no, without intending to, to rest, to peace, to groundedness, to listening, to deep and slow connection, built over years instead of moments.” This is so true. A great post and thanks, Karen.

    1. Maybe remembering Niequist’s quote – all of the things we’re saying no to when we say yes – will help all of us. Here’s hoping because whether we’re 58 soon to be 59, or 60, it sure is time to reclaim our lives! Thanks for commenting, Sue.

  19. Another resonating post, Karen. Like many, I have a hard time saying “no” and I envy the people who can do so. Your reasons for why saying no is difficult are totally recognizable, and so are the problems that arise when saying “yes”.

    Where I’m struggling right now is when it comes to helping other writers out. I do want to help, but this means my writing will take second place. I like your first tip about starting small, yet, each time Mark says “no” when a store clerk asks for his phone number, it sounds rude in my ears. Yet, I wouldn’t want to give my number either (if I would have one). I think we are conditioned to always want to help and please and that’s difficult to change.

    1. It is for sure difficult to change the conditioned patterns of a lifetime, Liesbet, and saying ‘no’ is one of the big ones for many of us.
      As for requests from other writers, I sure understand that problem. Maybe you could achieve what you need without saying no? Something along the lines of “I’m going to have to devote all of my time and attention over the next ______ (whatever period of time and make it more than you think) to getting my memoir edited and out the door. As soon as that’s finished, I would be delighted to help you out.” If it’s a quid pro quo situation where they’re reading your manuscript while you read theirs, I strongly encourage you to get out of it and get readers who aren’t currently writing a book. There’s only so much mental/creative energy available and you need to spend yours on your own baby.

  20. I’m getting better at saying “no”, although I still need practice. A favourite saying of mine is: Stress is when your mouth says yes and your stomach says no.

  21. I said a big “no” as in no more work when I made the decision to retire. In certain career positions such as the one I was in, the possibity of saying “no” to tasks, projects, or problems often was quite limited. They were my responsibility to complete or oversee. Theoretically, every single time I had the option of refusing to do something, but the consequences of doing so could be unfair (e.g., offloading an undesirable task on someone else who was already overloaded), or negative (loss of funding for the department), or extreme (a safety issue about to spin out of control). I agree with you that we need to listen to our emotions and to our bodies and not overload ourselves, yet sometimes we must do things that we would rather say “no” to, because it is our job, or someone needs our help, or it is our turn. Saying “no” is not always that simple when we are integrated into a workplace, family, or community. It can be part of social reciprocity: I’m there for you because I know you’ll be there for me.


    1. Hi Jude,
      Agreed that there are times when we can’t say no, or shouldn’t say no. But for me, at least, there were many, many times in my career when I could have said no, but I wanted to be everyone’s go-to person, the one they admired as able to not only take on everything but excel at everything.
      I agree it’s quite the tightrope to walk.

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