I was a girl with big dreams who wanted to forge streams and scale heights and I proudly carried this role all through my childhood, teenage and years beyond. But I ended up in situations where saying “no” was not an option. From choosing a college for my education to finding the most appropriate suitor- I had no opinion, nor was I allowed to express. Uttering the word “no” meant disobeying my parents, defying my cultural traditions, or being looked upon as an impertinent girl by other members of the society. 

For years, I believed, saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend, a colleague or someone I really respected. It was all good until things rolled over and I was compelled to suppress my ambitious voice and say “yes” for almost every decision people made when it came to scripting my life.

It was not long ago that a realisation dawned upon me that I wasn’t leading my life the way I wished. Instead, I seemed to have created a network that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what they thought I should be doing, and some of what I wanted to do. The result? I had a jammed life that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled. 

For years, I believed, saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend, a colleague or someone I really respected.

It took me a while, but I finally learned the art of saying “no”. Saying “no” meant I no longer felt obliged to fulfill everyone else’s needs and had more space for what I really wanted to do.  I could now focus now on my own needs and interests without worrying about disappointing anyone and that’s what really matters. I became a lot happier. And guess what? I hardly disappoint anyone anymore.

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It’s no wonder that a lot of us find it hard to say “no”. From a young age, we are compelled to say “yes”. Slowly it becomes a habit and it comes automatically to us. We say “yes” to fit into our peer group at school and college. We say “yes” to our superiors out of fear of losing a lucrative promotion. We say “yes” to any demands of our parents so that we wouldn’t disappoint them or maybe we just say “yes” because that’s what we are taught, and the list goes on.

Inculcating the little word “no” into your life can be incredibly life-changing. Turning some things down will mean you can now open your doors to what matter the most to you. Do you feel obliged to say “yes” and worry that saying “no” will reflect poorly on your personality or people will start underestimating your ability to perform? Well, you are not alone.

Let’s face it. It is hard to say “no”. Setting boundaries around your time, especially when you haven’t done so in the past will feel awkward.

Remember that you are the only one who understands the demands of your time. Think about it. Who else knows about all the workload you have? No one. Only you are at the centre of all these requests and the only one who understands how much space can you spare in your limited time.

Saying “no” means saying “yes” to your priorities now. When we decide not to do something, we get an opportunity to decide how to utilise our precious time.

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So change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself out of that zone where you might normally say “yes”. Use the request as chalk to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay attention to when you place certain demands on yourself. If you are the one placing the demand on yourself, try to evaluate where the demand is coming from?

Try it now. It’s never too late to imbibe something that has been withholding you for a long time. Don’t hesitate. Just be courageous and say “no” to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw a line with a workaholic colleague and tell her you will complete the project at your own pace but not by working all weekend long. And yes, when people nudge you that you don’t have time for them, just say it out loud “preference and priorities of people keep changing over the course of time.” You’ll find yourself in a much happier space. You’ll realise how productively you accomplish your tasks and how wonderful and fulfilling it is, to put yourself first.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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