The Good No

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I like to think I’m pretty helpful. It’s nice to be nice and all that, and I enjoy the connection it makes, even if it’s only for a fleeting moment; holding a door open and receiving a smile, helping push a broken down car, chasing after someone to give them their dropped glove.

If you are like me you will tend to say yes when someone asks for help. After all, what’s 2, 10, 15, 30 mins of your life in the grand scheme of things, of course I can help…

Being helpful is nice, isn’t it? That little boost of karma and the associated good feels are a wonderful reward. The world seems brighter, birds sing louder and the sun feels that little bit warmer on your face! Saying yes is TOTES OSSUM AMAZEBALLS, FACT!

Except that isn’t always how it turns out, is it.

The few times that “yes” actually gives you those warm fuzzies seem too few and far between, and I’ll admit that there are many times I really wish I had said no.

So I’ve been trying to be more aware and, as I’ve slowly pared back and simplified my life over the past few years, saying no has become A Thing That I Do. I’m still not very good at it but I am finding that saying no is helping me create mental space and balance. It doesn’t always involve someone else, saying no can be an internal decision – no, I won’t go to that event, screw you FOMO – or a part of an discussion with someone else – no, I can’t help you with that piece of work because then I’ll compromise my own commitments. The latter remains the harder of the two for me (the former isn’t always simple either).

I don’t find saying no to others an easy thing. It’s seen as negative, a commentary on the person rather than the act or favour, some people take “Sorry, no” as a diss, a slur on their character. What power that tiny word holds. But why does it carry so much weight?

My guess is that it’s down to my old friend, expectation. If someone asks for help there is a weight of expectation, they’ve put themselves out there, taken the brave step of asking for help so of course you have to say yes! How could you dare say otherwise? What an affront that would be to the the emotional energy they’ve used and the effort they’ve just put themselves through!

I read the following article a few weeks ago and it’s stuck in my head (and prompted this blog post) – Ways to Say ‘No’ More Effectively

“One of our most fundamental needs is for social connection and a feeling that we belong,” Dr. Bohns says. “Saying ”no“ feels threatening to our relationships and that feeling of connectedness.” And we worry that saying “no” will change the way the other person views us, and make him or her feel badly.

Sadly, it often does hurt feelings. “No” is a rejection. Neuroscience has shown our brains have a greater reaction to the negative than to the positive. Negative information produces a bigger and swifter surge of electrical activity in the cerebral cortex than does positive information. Negative memories are stronger than positive ones. All of this is to protect us: A strong memory of something hurtful helps us remember to avoid it in the future.

Even so, psychologists say, most people probably won’t take our “no” as badly as we think they will. That’s because of something called a “harshness bias” — our tendency to believe others will judge us more severely than they actually do. “Chances are the consequences of saying ”no“ are much worse in our heads than they would ever be in reality,”

So, part of being able to say no, a ‘good no’, is to understand that it’s not as bad and awful as we think. Simply put, saying no doesn’t carry as much weight as I think it does.

If nothing else, having this in mind should make saying no, for the right reasons, a little bit easier in the future.