Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher

Practice saying ‘no’


say noI saw the quote-photo on Facebook this morning. It made me smile, and remember, a therapist I saw years ago and the work I did with him around setting boundaries.

“It begins with honouring yourself, Louise,” he told me.

I protested and told him I did, honour myself.

“Do you overcommit? Do you say you’ll do things you don’t really want to do but feel you can’t say no?”

Well, yes. Sometimes. I mean, often, but that’s not about honouring myself, it’s about not wanting to let other people down. I protested even more vehemently.

Practice saying no, he told me. Say it and don’t explain.

Well, that seemed a little harsh to me. I don’t mind saying no, I told him but seriously, just no and no explanation?

He took me through an exercise.

Imagine you’re sitting under a tree on a hot summer’s day. You really want an ice cream. What kind of ice cream would you choose?

I thought for a moment and replied with my favourite, “Lemon gelato.”

“Why that one?” he asked.

“It’s my favourite?”

“Why?” he prodded.

I thought for a moment and said, hesitantly, ‘I really like lemon.’

Are you sure you don’t want strawberry or chocolate?

“I don’t think so.” I squirmed for a moment and then fessed up. “Well, lemon gelato doesn’t have as many calories as regular ice cream and I don’t usually eat it anyway because it’s so filled with cholesterol and sugar, so lemon gelato is sort of my default choice.”

He kept prodding.

I kept explaining until finally he threw up his hands and said, “Why do you have to tell me all of this? I just asked you what kind of ice cream you want. Not the history of your relationship with ice cream.”

“Well, you asked.” I replied.

“Just because I ask doesn’t mean you have to reply,” he told me.

And then, I got it.

My preference was lemon gelato. I didn’t need an explanation — nor did he. It was my choice and I had the right to my choices without having to defend or explain them.

That lesson had such a profound impact it has stuck with me for almost 20 years. Sure, I may have some of the conversation not exactly as it happened, but the gist of it still remains — I was justifying my choice, defending my preferences, not because of his questions, but rather, because I didn’t feel, or believe, that I had the right to simply want what I wanted to have or do, without rationalizing, justifying, defending myself to other people.

I wasn’t honouring me.

The same is true when someone asks me to get involved in something that is not what I really want to do. I struggle to give my ‘no’ without finding excuses to justify my no — but I am in recovery!

I am learning to decline opportunities to get involved in other people’s projects that don’t align with my vision for my life — for no other reason than, that is my choice.

It ain’t always easy.

I want people to like me and I fear they won’t if I say no.

I want to feel needed and I fear people won’t want me if I say no.

I want to be part of the action, and I fear missing out if I say no.

I want to feel important, and fear I won’t count if I say no.

There are 101 reasons why I say yes when I really mean no.

All the reasons in the world don’t really matter when my ‘yes’ is actually my ‘no’. Because when I say yes when I really mean ‘no’, the outcome is almost always 100% not good. Saying yes when I mean no almost always results in my feeling resentful, disengaged, stressed, under-pressure, rushed and a whole host of negative emotions. I say almost always because there are some happy mistakes where I get involved in something I hadn’t intended to and it turns out really well.

But the majority of times… yup. It leaves me feeling not so good, about myself, the effort I put into something, the results I’ve achieved. I end up avoiding, people, situations, phone calls, emails and engage in all sorts of self-defeating behaviours only because I didn’t have the courage to stand my ground and speak my truth.

And saying, “but they pressured me into getting involved” doesn’t cut it.

I am 100% responsible for my choices. Regardless of how much pressure is exerted upon me by someone else, I am the one who is responsible for my ‘yes’ and my ‘no’.

Next time you’re faced with a decision, choice or possibility, and are inclined to say yes because you fear saying ‘no’, practice your ‘no’. You can add, thank you. thanks. or any other one or two word softener you feel compelled to give — but do not give an explanation. Stand by your no and be strong!

Not only will you give the other person the gift of your truth, and the opportunity for them to find the person who will be really, really committed to what they are doing, in your honest ‘no’ you might just find your ‘yes’ to what makes your life, your heart and your dreams shine.



Author: Louise Gallagher

I believe in wonder. I believe we are all magnificent beings of divine beauty. I believe we can make a difference in this world, through every act, word, thought. I believe we create ripples with everything we do and say and want to inspire everyone to use their ripple to create a better world for everyone. I'm grateful you're here.

20 thoughts on “Practice saying ‘no’

  1. Love the phase ” ‘No’ is a complete sentence.” Explaining yourself just opens the door to have your answer questioned and throws you into an arena of self doubt.


    • So very true Bev — I know that arena of self doubt well, and it often does stem when I feel like my answer is being questioned and I don’t feel worthy of my own choices! And thank you for that reminder. No is a complete sentence! Love it. 🙂


      • To answer a persistent attempt to get an explanation from your ‘NO’, the suggestion is to reply with “What part of no do you not understand?” 🙂


  2. I love your gelato story and “no” is a complete sentence.
    How perfect 🙂 Thank you for sharing here Louise!
    What also comes to my mind is how much easier it seems to be for men to say simply “no”. As woman we are more relational and tuned into the feelings of others. It isn’t surprising that this strength can sometimes work against us and make it hard for us to say no cleanly and clearly.
    Caring for other’s feelings is what makes the world a better place … we just need to remember to put our own feelings first when it counts. Val x


    • Thank you Val — such a good point — our relational nature creates a world of kindness, unless of course, we undermine ourselves with too many yeses when we mean no! 🙂 It begins for me with being true to myself — when I do that, my world is a better, more loving, caring, kinder place!


  3. It’s hard to do. I am trying now to decline invitations I don’t think I/we will enjoy, and not say yes just because I feel I/we should go. I think my husband has problems saying no to work requests– sometimes that becomes an issue. Life is short; it’s important to find meaning and not become involved in activities, etc that may not be fulfilling.


    • ABsolutely Lisa! That delicate balance of meaningful engagement versus doing it because I think I/we should is sometimes hard to embrace if only because… the habit of over-committing and my fear of saying no interfere with my heart calling me to be true to myself! Hugs — good luck with your declining of invitations — let me know how it goes! 🙂


  4. Louise,
    Sometimes when you write something… lately… the silliest things makes me cry. NOT that this was a silly post by any means it was profound! but why the heck do I get the metaphor of the lemon gelato and your right to choose it and want to cry?! Damn! But I think that it is because I AM finaaaallllly getting it!
    Thank you… for another epic lesson. You know I loved it… and you know by now you too! 🙂


    • It is so wonderful to feel that ‘gettingness’ settling into our hearts isn’t it Di? Reading your blog recently, I feel it embracing me too as you share the deep and powerful journey of your heart. Thank you my friend — and I love you too! Such a gift in our connection!


  5. Nice reminder for all of us Louise. It also reminds me of a quote from Brene’ Brown: “I would choose discomfort over resentment every time”. Meaning it’s uncomfortable to say no, but the pain associated with resentment lives far longer than the discomfort of saying no!


  6. Wow.. I love this article. It truly resonates as I too ‘practice’ saying no. Especially without an explanation! Love your therapist’s ice cream example. Practice, practice, practice! Love it. And my favourite take-away from this great post today: to own my No, “for no other reason than, that is my choice”! You are a gem Louise, and I am so thankful for all the wisdom you share here. Hugs, Gina


    • Thank you Gina. Being here has been a blessing for me! It keeps me travelling the path with my eyes and heart wide open in Love. It gives me a place to explore and the safe and courageous space to take the journey with fellow-heart-seekers like you. Thank you so much Gina for your light. Hugs


  7. Sometimes I have no problem saying just no and other times I babble an explanation even if the other person hasn’t asked me why! Love this post Louise.
    Diana xo


    • LOL — I catch myself doing that too Diana. Babble babble and then I realize, oh, they’re not really all that interested in my ‘why not’. They just wanted me to make a decision! 🙂 Life is a journey best taken in love!


  8. Thank you for this reminder that I don’t always have to explain myself when I say no. All others want is the answer, not all the reasons to defend it!


    • So true Tandy — I think one of the challenges when I start defending my answer is that I begin to talk myself out of it! the more I defend, the less convicted I become in my right to say no! Hugs my friend.


  9. oh how i struggle with this! thank you so much!


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