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Trouble saying no? Ask yourself these five questions

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Saying no can be difficult, because no one likes to disappoint others. We all want to be a good, helping friend, colleague, partner or parent. But sometimes we have to ask ourselves: how about me, am I helping me too?

You long for more me-time and more space in your agenda, but when someone asks you to get together, or to help them at work, you’ve answered ‘sure’ before you know it. This way, the list of to-do’s will never end, you feel yourself getting more and more tired. Yet saying no is difficult. After all, we don’t want to disappoint anyone. But if we keep saying ‘sure’ forever, we’ll disappoint ourselves in the end. 

In his ‘Dankboek’ (‘Book of gratitude’), Dutch writer Ernst-Jan Pfauth notes five questions. You can ask yourself these questions every time you’ve said yes when you wanted to say no (or when you’re on the verge of saying yes). Every time someone asks you to substitute at your children’s soccer club, or to do your colleague’s task for them, be sure to think of the five questions first. They can help you to make a well-considered decision and answer them wholeheartedly. 

Am I too easy to reach? 

If the question doesn’t reach you, you can’t answer it. According to Pfauth, it can be helpful to turn off notifications in your phone. This keeps others from distracting you. 

Did I take some time to think?

Request or invitation popping up? Take some time to think about it. Many people tend to answer requests quickly – not allowing themselves the time to really think it through. Pfauth says it’s wise to ask for some time to think. But what if they are pushing you? Pfauth: ‘Then they should have gotten in touch earlier.’ 

Do I feel like it’s my duty to do this? 

Family or high school reunions. Your aunt’s birthday. Drinks with colleagues. People get lots of invitations in a lifetime. Many of these get positive answers because the person answering feels they have to. But do you really have to? What is best for you: chitchatting with colleagues or having quality time with your family? Visiting your aunt or finally spending some time alone? 

Hell yeah, or hell no? 

And then there’s the requests that seem like small things, but take quite a lot of time after all. Having coffee with a student who’s interested in your field of work. Checking your cousin’s thesis. Filling out someone’s research form. All these things probably make you think ‘oh, it only takes an hour’, but if you add up all the hours, you’ve easily spent a whole day. That’s why Pfauth says it’s important to be picky when it comes to what you spend your time on. He refers to a mnemonic created by American music entrepreneur and author Derek Sivers. He says: only say yes to requests when your reaction is ‘hell yeah!’. If you’re not enthusiastic about it, it’s a no. 

Would I do it if I had to do it today? 

If the request is for something in the future, we’re more likely to say yes. After all, our diaries are still empty a few weeks from now. But diaries tend to fill up quickly, and by the time it’s the day of the appointment, it may not be that convenient at all. That’s why Pfauth always considers: ‘what if the appointment would be today, would I want to do it too?’ If you wouldn’t, the answer to the request is no.  

Photo: Analise Benevides