So much of our childhood was spent hearing the word ‘NO’ and yet in the latter half of our lives, it’s something we grapple with using, especially when we need to.
Like when your mates made you shove shots of tequila down your throat, or the time that your classmate asked for money that you couldn’t really afford to lend.
An inability to say no creates serious problems in the long run. Addiction, abuse, harassment, not to mention the cost of your precious time. A lot of this actually begins with simple requests, that can often lead to pressure and before you know, you’re at a dead end where the risks of speaking up seems far greater than going along and becoming a ‘Yes Person’.
But first let’s dive in the psychology of why we struggle with something that’s so fundamental and imperative for our peace of mind.
Much of human emotion and action stems from the inherent need to belong. It’s what helps us feel validated, makes us happy and gives meaning to our lives. Except that sometimes this need for belonging is taken a little too far, as in the case of people-pleasers who end up satisfying everyone else’s requests at the cost of their own sanity.
From a brain science perspective, our reward circuits are linked to social recognition. This explains why teens are less likely to put their foot down and more prone to indulging in whacky behaviours in the name of ‘popularity’. In situations where their friends are cheering them on, the brain signals of the reward center become activated and it’s all ‘Bring it on Baby!’
Here’s a little nerdy reminder in case you were busy bunking science classes at school. Your prefrontal cortex, the indispensable part of the brain that’s responsible for high executive functions such as emotional regulation, anger management, reasoning etc. also plays a significant role in guiding your sense of judgement. Guess what, research suggests that having stronger circuits in the frontal lobe region equips one to develop more self-control and resist peer pressure!
The implication here for you is simple, stop functioning on auto-pilot mode and get really intentional about your actions. Do you really need to swing along to that party when you’ve got an important exam around the corner? Becoming aware of priorities and keeping that long -term vision in mind is useful to counter situations that may seem confronting in the moment.
Folks with high empathy inevitably struggle with turning down requests owing to disappointing someone, hurting someone’s feelings or the fear of getting into conflict. In situations like this it’s important to consider that the repercussions of being upfront outweigh the stresses and anxieties in committing to more than you can handle.
Saying no is a real deal because it takes courage. The courage to risk being rejected, being labelled as an A-hole or worse being an outcast, at least these are the stories our minds make up anyway. But ultimately you need to realise that in order to belong to others, you first need to belong to yourself.
In terms of the actual practice of saying no, sure there are plenty of strategies around it. We’re well familiar with making excuses or delaying to respond, but a more sustainable way of doing this is simply being upfront and transparent. This really comes down to becoming comfortable with the discomfort of saying no. The more comfortable you are with ‘who you are’ the easier the art of no comes.
Luckily, I’ve always been great with refraining from peer pressure. A trait that comes in real handy in a city like Delhi where social drinking is an absolute protocol. But I have no qualms in saying ‘No thanks, I don’t drink’ every time that I’m persistently offered one. I can promise you, as much as people enjoy trolling me (which I couldnt care less about), I am most often complimented for my ability to not give in and being upfront. You see, succumbing to silly requests may make you ‘fit in’ momentarily but when you own your authenticity, you earn unforgettable respect.
When it comes to more genuine requests from people, it is our natural inclination to offer help but it’s also where we get ourselves in trouble by going well out of our way to fulfil people’s requests when we’ve got our own hands full.
Here’s a better alternative:
“Hey bud, can you help me with my assignment this week?”
“Sure, I’m just caught up between a few of my projects but in the meantime why don’t you refer to X resource which would be helpful to start with and I’ll give you a shout soon as I have a breather”.
The key here is to be conscious of your boundaries and not hesitating to commit to yourself first. Moreover, a graceful No when said with politeness while articulating your motives saves you from messy situations.
Life will inevitably throw you circumstances where your assertiveness will be tested. Situations that call for a straight no- like going for a rave fest (if it’s against your values), being invited to dinner by that colleague who makes you uncomfortable, picking on that disabled child just because the ‘popular kids’ think its funny, and plenty more.
At any given point, being honest with yourself has far better returns than pretending to be someone you’re not.
So own that confidence, say No, when you have to and do it like a boss!