real life

"I found saying 'no' impossible. Until I learnt a new word."

We have a running joke in our family.

Dad is no longer allowed to answer the front door or pick up the home phone.

We’ve learned from experience. First it was Foxtel doing a door knock. Dad ended up agreeing to a 24 month contract, on the most expensive plan. “Oh, did you want to get Foxtel?” Mum asked him, confused.

“Not particularly,” Dad replied.

But the contract, and the hundreds and hundreds of dollars down the toilet, was far less excruciating than the alternative: saying ‘no’. 

Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Jessie Stephens discuss the single most effective way to say ‘no’ on this weeks episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

It happens with telemarketers and salespeople. Doorknockers who would like you to complete a 30 minute survey on a Tuesday night at 7pm, right when dinner has been served.

These people only have jobs because people like my Dad exist. And I sincerely apologise.

My dad, in his mid fifties, is virtually incapable of saying ‘no’. And along with his ears and odd-shaped knees, I’ve inherited it.

I often say ‘yes’ to plans when I already have plans. I’ve handed in my own Uni assignments late, because I was busy helping other people with theirs. When I tutored as a side job for extra money, I ended up with 16 students. And some weren’t even paying me.

I feel the need to clearly state, this is not because I am a profoundly good person. I am not doing this out of the goodness of my heart. I do it because I am physically incapable of uttering the word ‘no’.

"I'm incapable of saying no." Image via iStock.

And life as a person who can only say 'yes' is painful. Insufferable. Suffocating.

You're a martyr, a victim of everyone's passing request. You whinge and huff and puff. You resent what your life looks like and maintain that you have no control over it.

And ultimately, it makes you sick.

Learned helplessness theory (a sense of powerlessness over ones own life) posits that depression may result from a "real or perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation".

You have no control, because you cannot - ever - say 'no'.

But this week, everything changed.

I came across an article on Science of Ustitled "Here's the most effective way to say no to things you don't want to do." A recent study found that the way a statement is framed has a huge effect on how effectively someone sticks to it.

The best thing to do is replace the word "can't" (I can't go to the movies on Tuesday night), to "don't" (I don't do the movies on weeknights).

"Can't" inevitably suggests that you might want to do something, but you're not able to. It leaves room for discussion and negotiation.

Writer Shaunacy Ferro encourages everyone to repeat this mantra: “I don’t say yes to things I want to say no to”.

I have made the "can't" mistake more times than I'd care to admit. I'd insist, "I'm so sorry, I can't tutor at the moment," and they would respond, "Oh, how about if we did late Thursday nights, are you free at 9pm? Let's do that." Next thing I knew, I was at someones door step on a weeknight nearly in tears.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

There is no argument to be had with "don't".

For me, this discovery was an Oprah 'a-ha' moment. This was life-changing. You can't live an empowered and fulfilled life without mastering the art of saying 'no'.

And as women in particular, we really need to get better at saying it.

How have you learned to say 'No'? 

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