About Confidence: How to Say Yes to You

about confidence “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”  Nelson Mandela

Do you have a hard time saying no to requests for your time?

If  “yes” arises spontaneously with little or no thought, you may be locked into perpetual giving.  You may even feel there is no way out.

I know what it’s like because I’ve been there too.  Perpetual giving isn’t necessarily a happy state!  Giving away your time freely without careful consideration can have multiple negative effects.  For example, it can:

  • Reduce your income and ability to save for a rainy day.
  • Interfere with growing your business or succeeding at work.
  • Contribute to a constant feeling of overwhelm and stress.
  • Lead to exhaustion and cause you to crash and burn.
  • Affect your self-esteem when you fall short of your own goals.
  • Ripple out to adversely affect your close relationships.

Can you add to the list?

Excessive giving is not intelligent giving, compassionate contribution, or intentional helpfulness.  It sometimes resembles a small streak of insanity instead.

A Gaping Hole Within?

Which points to the fact that constantly sacrificing self for others may come from a gaping hole within.

  • Do you feel deficient and therefore need to please?
  • Are you starved for attention, nourishment, or love?
  • Does your self-esteem depend on others because you feel you are not enough?

While it’s hard to admit these deceptive belief patterns are running the show, once you are honest with yourself, you will be more ready to start saying “no”.

On the other hand, biochemical alterations may be part of the distress.  A reduction in the executive functions of your brain can make it difficult to pause and consider, “Will this really fit into my life?”   This is sometimes seen in ADHD or post traumatic stress.  You still need to take responsibility and find a better approach, but understanding these contributing factors can bring tremendous relief.

Physical, emotional, or a mix of both, no doubt the pattern feels impossible to change.  But you’ll be surprised how swiftly you can proceed once you begin to recognize there’s really a choice and start saying yes to you, yes to change.

What Will Trigger Your Change?

I’d been exploring my relentless giving in a cursory way, but I just couldn’t fathom the act of actually say “no”.  My “ah-ha” moment came when a friend pointed out how much money I was giving away.

“Have you ever considered that Sherry is asking you for hundreds of dollars by requesting help for free?  If someone came up and asked you for $500, would you just hand it over like that?”  To this I could easily respond, “Heck, no!”

Awareness may arise in cumulative or unexpected ways.  A constant weariness of being, an unexpected turn of events, or life suddenly falling apart – any of these may give you a jolt and wake you right up.  “Wait a moment! This giving is way too much!”

However insight is born, clasp onto it for dear life.  Then start asking pointed questions to strengthen your new awareness:

  • What beliefs are keeping you stuck in perpetual giving?
  • How much is over-giving costing you in dollars and cents?
  • How is it harming your life – your health, your happiness, your relationships?

Learning to Say “No” – It May Be Easier Than You Think

When someone asks you for time, pause.  Tune into the alarms that are telling you the truth:

  • Your stomach tightening
  • Feeling annoyed
  • A flattening of joy
  • A pulling back
  • A forced smile
  • A voice in your head that wants to respond, “Are you out of your mind?”

Practice new scripts so you can say no with grace.

  • “Thank you for asking,  I would be happy to help.  I charge XYZ.  Are you ready to start?”
  • “I’m honored you asked, but I won’t be able to help right now.”
  • “Let me think about it.  I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

Avoid saying “yes” right off the bat.  Take your time and examine the pros and the cons.  Ask yourself seriously if the new task fits comfortably in the agenda of your life.  If it’s hard to say “no” in person or on the phone, then send an email or letter instead.

If you still want to give, remember you don’t have to give it all.  You really can give an hour instead of a whole day.  You can offer one idea instead of preparing a full essay.  So consider how you can give in a balanced and workable way.  Determine your limits and state them in a clear and confident voice.  Others will be grateful when you mark a straight line.

When I practiced saying “no”, I discovered it was easier than I ever thought.  “Hey, I can do this!  I’ve done it once!”  The slogan “Just Do It” applies like a charm. I was then encouraged to go on a 30-day fast from saying “yes” to others instead of myself.

You’ll find most people aren’t bothered.  They will adjust. They’ll sort out the problem all by themselves or find another friend who can assist.  Often, “indispensability” is just a phantom we’ve conjured up in our own head.  In reality, life carries on just fine without us.

Understand Your True Purpose

Knowing your true purpose is the the best way to stay on track.

  • “What is my personal mission?”
  • “Why am I in this life?”
  • “Is it to give endless favors or to accomplish a larger goal?”

These are the questions next in line to ask.  They will take you one step further to saying a full “yes” to yourself.

Design each day with your mission at the top of the list.  By staying true to your ultimate purpose, you will accomplish the greatest good and serve others in a far more effective and intentional way.

Ready to Say “Yes” to You?

Getting to “yes” is a journey, there’s no miracle pill.  Chances are your adrenalin will pump the first few instances you reclaim your time.  But the sense of liberation will also bring you great joy.  So just keep moving forward whatever tests come your way.  It will get easier and easier as each victory seeds the next.

No matter how long you’ve been over-giving, you can bring it to a stop. If I can do it after eons of relentless giving, I know you can too.

What keeps you in the loop of giving away your time?  How does it feel when you are able to say “yes” to you?    I would love to hear about your challenges and your successes too.

About the Author

Sandra Pawula is a freelance editor, writer, and inner explorer.  She shares simple wisdom for a happy life at Always Well Within.

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  1. Dan Garner says:

    I love the part about understanding your true purpose. I’ve found that coming up with a list of principles to live by helps to clarify and provides a clear path to achieve your purpose.

    Thank you Sandra for sharing.

    Dan @ ZenPresence

    • Hi Dan,

      So true! Knowing our true purpose cuts through so much, doesn’t it? I love your idea of creating a list of principles to live by. That’s a sure fire way to stay clear and focused on our path. Thanks for highlighting the essence for us.

  2. Well put Sandra! Being a people pleaser is not something just to laugh off like most to. There is something going on at a deeper level that you touched on fantastically!

    We all must learn to put our one needs and happiness ahead of the crowd or you soon end up feeling empty. Wondering what you are even doing on this crazy spinning rock. Find your own purpose and people who support you will come along for the ride and be glad they did!

    • Carmelo says:

      It’s a beautiful rock, though, isn’t it CC? 🙂

    • I so appreciate your understanding of how being a people pleaser can point to very deep insecurities and it’s not that uncommon at all. By loving and caring for ourselves and come in touch with our true self and true purpose, we will naturally radiate love and care to others. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

  3. Carmelo says:

    Such an important topic, Sandra! And very well laid out, too. Yeah, it’s an inner issue.

    The idea of saying “yes” first to you is really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Sometimes we find ourselves denying our own needs in favor of doing for others to assuage our own guilt of denying ourselves.

    Another thought I have is that if we’re in that habit, we’ve really trained people to constantly grab from us. So, at first it’s going to be a bit of a challenge to retrain them that we’re no longer going to just be at their beck and call 24/7! Yet, it’s got to be done and with persistence and tact, it’ll be a life-saver!

    After all, people who thoughtlessly grab from you for free probably don’t respect you all that much. We don’t want that, do we?

    • This is a really interesting point, Carmelo: how we train others to become dependent upon us when we give relentlessly in a neurotic way. That’s what makes for unhealthy relationships, doesn’t it? You’re right, it will take awhile to disentangle ourselves from this particular net we’ve constructed. But it’s so freeing when we do. I appreciate your emphasis on both persistence and tact because our aim isn’t to harm others either.

  4. Michelle says:

    It’s a practice, that’s for sure! I’ve made great progress, but still have my moments. My favorite part of your post: “Often, ‘indispensability’ is just a phantom we’ve conjured up in our own head. In reality, life carries on just fine without us.” I needed that. Thanks, Sandra!

  5. You’re welcome, Michele! I agree with you wholeheartedly: it’s a practice, for sure! I’m sure we all still have our moments and that’s when we can be kind and gentle toward ourselves too. I’m glad these particular lines especially resonated for you.

  6. Karen says:

    My favorite point is ” I will think about that”. It is truly a great way to gather your barrings before impulsively saying yes… thanks

    • Karen,

      That’s a great phrase to have at the tip of our tongue! Just one simple phrase like that can make all the difference in the world and help us so much to turn over-giving around. Thanks for underlining this potent phrase.

  7. Zivana says:

    Hi Sandra what a rich article. My aha moment was that I keep taking myself to the point of exhaustion – driven in part by fear (what if I miss that / don’t do etc). It’s been a journey to remember that it’s ok – less is more and finding my purpose has helped enormously as a central focus.
    Thank you!

  8. Hi Zivana,

    What a beautiful name! I resonate fully with the tendency to drive oneself to exhaustion. I’m so happy those days are long gone for both of us. Though we may still have our moments, we’ve come a long way. I appreciate the journey you’ve been on and all your have to share with us.

  9. Siddhartha says:

    Thank you very much for the nice article, it was really very nice 🙂 love it . Now i knwo what was my real problem.

  10. […] Saying Yes to You is the topic of my guest post on Good Life Zen.  I share the signs, symptoms, and dangers of perpetual giving and my personal tips for liberating yourself. […]

  11. Hi Siddhartha,

    You’re welcome. I wish you all the best in working with and overcoming this challenge! Awareness is the first step! I’m happy for you.

  12. Vishnu says:

    So true, Sandra. I think finding our purpose is critical to what we should be doing or not doing in life. When we know our purpose, decisions become one million times easier! And when we continue to do things that make us happy and fulfill our purpose, we become more successful at it. Is it fair to say that saying ‘no’ to others is really the way to say ‘yes’ to you 🙂 !!

    Of course, we’re all not at this state of being able to say no at whim, since many of us are kind of lost and unsure about our purpose. But when we do say yes to activities, projects that we shouldn’t be agreeing to — we can eliminate doing those activities again in the future. So, there are benefits of having wrongfully agreed to things we wish we hand’t!

  13. You’re so right, Vishnu! Life is a learning process and part of the time we may be confused and lack clarity. When we trip up and say “yes” to others when we really want to say “no”, instead of being harsh with ourselves, we can use the experience as a stepping stone in our learning process. Thanks for this helpful insight!

  14. jean sampson says:

    My best friend has always tells me to say, no matter what, “Let me think about that and I will get back to you.” It gives you time to think about it or talk to someone else in order to find out what you really want to do. My friend and I “practice” saying “NO” with one another. It really works well!
    Wonderful post!

  15. This is such great advice, Jean! I love the way you practice with your friend too. I think many of us will benefit from this practice advice. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  16. Sandy says:

    Well, it seems I’m a ‘perpetual pleaser’ also and I’ve been that way just about my entire life. More so after my ex and I separated/divorced and I had to raise my 2 girls on my own.

    And I remember, when I was working full time, it was such a ‘drain’ on me to be so ‘giving’ all the time – don’t know why I felt the need to try to make everyone smile and be happy. Even during times of chaos and crisis, I tend to try to ‘keep a lid on it’ – just to keep peace and so that everyone can be well and feel safe and happy.

    This was a wonderful post and I read – and re-read every word of the article “How to Say Yes to You”. My son in law is someone who has a ‘sense of entitlement’ and expects me to always be there to give and give — my energy, my time, my money, whatever…… I try to say ‘yes’ because of my grandchildren – always did – but I feel as if I’m stressed to the max right now. Too much going on. Too much loss and heartache that I am still trying to sort thru.

    I’m soooooooo exhausted — emotionally, physically and financially — right now and feel as if I need some time for ‘me’. The grandchildren are with their aunt (son in law’s sister) and seem to be doing well. Love them dearly – but I have doctors’ appts to go to, paperwork to complete (moving paperwork) and I’m still unpacking.

    What I did come to realize – thru all the chaos and heartache of this year – is that we never actually ‘arrive’ at any ‘destination’ (ahhhhh – it’s over, I can rest now). Life is a constant journey filled with challenges and adversity. It’s been a year of getting the wind knocked out of me – again and again.

    I’m trying to learn to stay focused and remember that I’m on my ‘journey’.

    I’m glad you posted this article, Sandra. Makes me realize that I do say ‘yes’ without thinking and it does, sometimes, cause me much stress (added stress that I really don’t need right now).

    Thank you. Before I say ‘yes’ to anyone, I’m going to ‘mull it over’ and tell them I’ll think about it before I commit to anyone. Great advice and great post.

    With love and prayers,

  17. I’m happy this article was so relevant and helpful for you, Sandy. So many of us operate precisely in the way you describe. And, because this can be so deeply seated within our psyche in may never occur to us to say “no” and take time for ourselves until we’re thoroughly battered, bruised, and burned out, exactly as you’ve articulated. What about a personal vacation focused entirely on you! That may not be possible at the moment, but I truly hope you can get in a good “no” or two and treat yourself to a dose of personal time and self-nourishment. You deserve it and especially need it after all you’ve been through and have given to others this year. I know it’s not easy to start saying yes to you, but I’m with you in spirit encouraging you along the way! Once you take the first step, it will get a little easier each time. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m sure it will help others who feel stuck in the same dilemma.

  18. Izzy says:

    Wow :).

    What a wonderful post!

    Sandra I am blown away by your analysis of people struggling to say “no”.

    I have recently learned that people respond best when I say “No, I cannot do that.” With a confident calm clear tone. When I sound wishy washy they tend to try and get me to say yes. The irony is that if I sound wishy washy and try to stick to my “no” I end up feeling bad but if I stick with a calm confident “no”. I feel much better and others seem to just accept it.

    It’s very fascinating :).

    Great Post.

    • Izzy,

      Wow, I’m so touched by your words of appreciation. And, I love the tip you offered. It’s so true that when our speech, body, and mind are congruent our message is a million times clearer and stronger. It’s interesting how this makes a difference to how you feel too. Thanks for sharing that insight.

    • Hi Izzy,

      I’m very touched by your positive words! Thank you so much. Clarity can make all the difference in the world, can’t it? It’s interesting that you even feel bad when you express yourself in a “wish washy” way. Great insight here and helpful impetus to practice confidence in our expression.

  19. Wow, Izzy, I’m so touched by your kind words. Thank you. You’ve added an invaluable piece of advice to the conversation. It’s interesting how being congruent in your body, voice, and message impacts the result of your message and how YOU feel about it too. That’s an intriguing point and essential lesson. Thank you so much.

  20. Myk says:

    Very good

    The below all applied to readying the article – definitely an important area of required personal development

    Stomach tightening, feeling annoyed, a flattening of joy, a pulling back, forced smile and a voice in my head that responded, “Are you out of your mind?”

    To many alarms to ignore

    Thank you

  21. I give too much when I’m feeling like I need to prove myself–in other words, when I lack confidence. It’s so counter-intuitive that giving too much is actually a bad thing, but indeed it is true. Thanks for a helpful article that will aid me in checking in to when I’m over giving.

  22. Hi Charlotte,

    That’s an important insight! The key word in you comment, in my mind, is “too much”. I think that amount varies for each of us. We each need to find our own level of giving. Personally, I think giving consciously and saying “no” appropriately allows us to give more. Now there’s another counter-intuitive puzzle! In fact, my core motivation for learning to say “yes” to me is to be able to give more to others.

  23. […] I know it’s not necessarily easy, but it gets easier once you take your first step.   If you find it difficult to say no to others, read my primer on saying yes to you. […]

  24. Kyle says:

    Great post Sandra!

    My favorite trick for avoiding unhealthy perpetual giving is the one you mentioned about postponing your answer. It’s amazing how much a simple “I’m not sure. I’ll get back to you” can help keep you sane in these situations, and not once have I seen this make someone upset.

    Taking that little extra time to talk it over with someone (e.g. your spouse) helps a lot too.


  25. Hi Kyle,

    That’s a great to know that not once have you seen this response make someone upset. That extra space and time can make all the difference in the world. I’m sure talking to your spouse gives you an added perspective too. Thanks for underlining how well this works.

  26. […] About Confidence:  How to Say Yes to You at Good Life Zen […]

  27. Anna Maroni says:

    The art of saying no! Great article, I am still learning how to say no. I have been a “people pleaser” my entire life, feeling that if I say no then I’ll lose the friend or the help when I need it or a million other excuses to say yes. This article has helped fuel my drive to say yes to myself and not stretch myself out to everyone one asking for my help. I almost built a clan of people that constantly come to me for help knowing the answer is yes every time and now they look at me almost lost at first because I just can’t continue to say yes to everyone. Thank you again for your great article.

    • Anne,

      When we stretch ourselves too thin, it eventually makes us snap, doesn’t it! That’s such an interesting point about how you’ve built a “clan” of people that constantly come to you for help. I wish you the best in turning this around. You can do it!

  28. Aditya says:

    I always say no now 😉
    Albeit with a straight face.

  29. Jacky says:

    Hi Sandra, It’s hard to me to say no to anybody if they requested me to do something that they should do by themselves. I remember that when i was in my working place, my colleagues asked me to do their job. I don’t know how to reject them directly.
    I would learn from your point up there and try to say “no” to them easily. Thanks for your sharing.

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