How to Learn to Say No With Confidence

Inside: We know the busy life isn’t for us, but saying “no” isn’t as simple as it sounds. Here you’ll find how I learned to say no with confidence.


From across the room I was giving my husband that look. You know, the look you give when you’ve answered your phone, but wish you hadn’t. I found myself on a phone call, being asked to do something I really did not want to do.

At that time I had been working really hard to ditch the busy life and avoid overcommitting myself to things, but I had yet to master the art of saying, “NO.” Avoidance seemed like my only option. I found myself stuck between knowing what was best for me and finding a strategic method for executing it.

While wrapping up the conversation, I proceeded to do my usual dance of dodging an answer, saying maybe, promising to check my schedule and reply soon. I tossed my phone down ready to vent to my husband when he spoke up first. He said,

“You know, when you don’t just say no, you’re being unkind.”

Wait, what? Me? Unkind? I had never thought about it like that. In my effort to not hurt this person’s feelings, I was inevitably doing just that by stringing them along.

The Unkind Act of Saying Maybe

When confronted with a potential commitment, instead of just saying yes or no, I’d gotten into the habit of saying “Maybe.” I’d say something like, “Let me check my calendar.” Or, “Let me talk with Paul and I’ll get back with you.” All in an effort to buy myself more time to figure out how to Houdini my way out of this ask.

Deep down I think I was hoping for an easy out. Perhaps there would be a a national crisis, zombie attack or more likely, a puking kid that would give me “permission” to say no. In the mean time, the decision would weigh on me, and add so much unnecessary stress to my already overwhelming mental load.

Avoiding the hard conversation may feel easier at the time, but someone always pay the price later. 

4 Steps to Learn to Say No With Confidence

Since that phone call and eye opening interaction with my husband, I’ve been working to equip myself to say yes and no with confidence. It doesn’t matter how unbusy we hope to be if we can’t muster up the words to actually say no. Here are the four steps I take that have helped me learn to say no and not feel guilty about it.

1. Assess Your Bandwidth, Not Your Calendar

Bandwidth: “The energy or mental capacity required to deal with a situation.”

Your internal bandwidth is the most important factor to consider before making any kind of commitment. Are you hanging on by a thread? Feeling pulled in one million directions? Do you have anything left to give right now? Keep in mind, your calendar is not the only thing to consider.

Maybe this week is actually pretty wide open, but the last three were insane and you need this time to recover. Perhaps, like me, you’re about to begin soccer season. I coach 4th graders and need all the down time I can get right now.

Filling every sliver of my schedule leaves me with nothing left to give and often causes me to resent the commitments I was once excited about. Maintaining white space in my week is non-negotiable. My bandwidth (and often my sanity) depends on it.

You must be diligent in monitoring the state of your bandwidth, because nobody else is going to do it for you.

learn to say no

2. Use This Line to Say No

For better or worse, my go to response when someone asks me to do any.thing is to say, “Let me check my schedule and I’ll get back with you.”

I don’t mean it. I’ve tried to change it. But after decades of using that one line, it still comes out of my mouth. So rather than kick myself for it, I’ve simply added another line that makes it mean something totally different.

When asked to do something I now say,

“Let me check my schedule…and see if I have the capacity to take that on right now.”

Eh, eh? See what I did there? Now it isn’t about how full my calendar is, it’s about my own personal capacity. This way it becomes an issue of your sanity, not your availability. And that’s hard to argue with.

While our calendar and physical availability is certainly the first thing we evaluate, letting it be the only thing we look at is how we find ourselves lost in the busy life.

learn to say no

3. Practice makes Permanent

You won’t get it right every time. You’ll still find yourself in over your head and wondering what made you say yes to this particular thing in the first place.

However, the more you practice saying no, the more comfortable and confident you’ll get using that word. I used to feel really guilty saying no, unless of course I had a good enough reason. I’ve come to realize that my sanity is a good enough reason.

On top of growing in confidence with your ability to say no, you’ll also begin to learn more about yourself and the best use of your time and energy. I used to think I loved being busy. That I was made for chaos. However, my new found skill of saying no, gave me a chance to try on a slower pace. Turns out, this is more my style.

learn to say no

4. Listen to Your Gut, But Know Your Gut Isn’t Always Right

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “If it isn’t a h#ll yes, then its a h#ll no.” While I can appreciate the sentiment behind that line, I’ve found that isn’t a reality for many decisions in life.

Sometimes the right thing to do is not an easy yes. 

For example, my gut screamed “h#ll no” when I was asked to speak to a group of business women about the benefits of minimalism. Public speaking takes a lot out of me. And “business women?” I’m not a business woman! However, pausing to assess my bandwidth allowed me to reconsider and recognize that saying yes to this was in fact the right thing to do. It lines up with what I want most.

Learning to say no isn’t about perfecting our ability to avoid hard things. It’s about improving our ability to decide which things are worth our time and which things aren’t meant for us.

learn to say no

Put it into action

I’ve paid the price for overcommitment. It leads to fewer date nights, a distracted life, an anxious heart and an exhausted version of the mom I want to be.

The word “no” used to seem like a deadly weapon. As if one little “no” had the power to end a friendship or disqualify me from future opportunities. The truth was, I just didn’t know how to say no.

If “no” is hard for you, I hope you’ll grab ahold of my one little line and begin to practice the art of saying no.


For more on learning to say no and living a not so busy life read:

A Lesson on Pruning for a More Abundant Life

5 Reasons Your Kids Need You to Abandon the Busy Life


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