Article by Paula Quinsee

Paula Quinsee is a Relationship Expert speaker and author of the self-help guide Embracing Conflict. Paula works with individuals and organisations to cultivate healthy relationships in both personal and professional arenas by focusing on personal growth and development. Go to for more info.

So often, we dread the drawing near of the D day – the day where we are meant to be at the engagement we’ve committed to or deliver on a task we said we would do.
We find ourselves leaving things to the absolute last minute, trying to avoid it in every way possible only to end up feeling stressed or running around like a headless chicken.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Usually it is because we have a fear of letting people down or disappointing them, when in fact it is ourselves we end up letting down for not standing firm and speaking our truth.
We take on every request that comes our way whether its work related, to do with our kids or even family situations, ending up with more than we have time for. Then we get stressed and frustrated because we’re not getting to all things we’ve said yes to, and we drive ourselves ragged trying to cope with the pressure we’ve placed on ourselves to meet everyone else’s needs except our own….

Does this sound familiar?

If you’re nodding, you are a ‘yes man’, a people pleaser.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being the nice guy and wanting to help others but when it comes at your own expense, you’re going to end up in trouble sooner or later.
Running yourself ragged is only going to lead to a wave of emotions ranging from frustration, anger, resentment, unhappiness to possibly even illness as your body tries to cope with the pressure of it all.

How to say no

1.   First of all you need to take in a deep breath. Breathing helps to regulate the central nervous system and calms us down.
2.   Next, get a piece of paper and write down all the tasks or commitments you need to complete and by when.
3.   Now prioritise them according to importance (0-low – 10-high), date needed by and what resource you need to help you complete the tasks (e.g. your bookkeeper needs to help you complete your tax return).
4.   Now, go make yourself a cup of tea and take a walk around the garden for at least 10 minutes, then come back to your list.
Often when we are under pressure we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start, leaving us with a sense of inadequacy or procrastinating putting ourselves under more pressure and so the cycle continues.
Right now that you’ve had your tea and cleared your mind, let’s tackle the list one by one.
5.   Look at the tasks that you have prioritised as a high priority (anything above a 6) and review them. Are they really a 6 and above or can some actually be ranked a lower priority?
6.  Of those tasks you are confident need to be ranked high, what resources do you need in order to complete the tasks, what needs to happen for you to get the resources you need and by when? Create an action list for these tasks.
7.   Anything ranked a 3 – 6 is considered a low priority. This is usually something we want to do yet the motivation to do it is low, so we need to ask ourselves how badly do we want to do this task? More often than not the answer involves a ‘should, must or have to’. A should, must or have to’ is born from expectations we perceive others have of us when in actual fact it is the expectations we have placed on ourselves.
8.  Anything below a 3 is stuff that has been on your list for so long that it no longer warrants your attention. Delete it. Take it off the list. Do it now.
9.  Time for another tea break and a walk around the garden for another 10 minutes.
If you’re not used to tackling tasks like this you may be feeling a little guilty, maybe even starting to doubt the ranking you have given some of the tasks on your list and want to go change them. Take in another deep breath and let it go. Know that all is well in this moment.
10.  Now go back to the items ranked a 3 – 6. Look at them again, Are there any items here that you can say no to? In other words it’s those items you feel you should but deep down if you are completely honest with yourself, you know you don’t want to do them. Got any like that? Right – say no to them and cross them off your list. Do it. Now.
11. Once you have done that, focus on completing the tasks you have ranked 6 and above by acquiring the resources you need in order to complete the tasks within the required timeframe.
12. Congratulations! You’ve officially broken free of the shackles that have been wearing you down. Now you just need to keep the momentum going and not fall back into the same trap again.
Learning to say no is a liberating exercise; it gives you a sense of being control of your life vs. your life running away with you.
The more you listen to your gut as to whether you really want to commit to a task or engagement, the more you will be speaking your truth and living your real essence.
The hardest part about learning to say no is the first time you do it. Once you’ve done it gets easier.
It also allows new opportunities to come into your space because you have cleared out all the baggage that was standing in the way before.
Go forth and go free to be you and to do the things you want to do in your life and not what you think everyone else wants from you.

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