“My goal now is to remember every place I’ve been, only do things I love and not say yes when I don’t mean it.”

– Sandra Bullock

“When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.”

– Paulo Coelho

NO: a word that requires merely one syllable, only two letters and hardly any effort for the tongue, yet is so hard to say. That is the enigma of the simple term “no”. I for one have struggled with this enigma quite a bit. Let me paint you a word picture of my antics.

Step 1: Be invited somewhere that is the last place on Earth I want to be. Say yes anyway even though I hate large parties because they remind me of my socially awkward, not-fit-for-this-world personality.

Step 2: Spend days obsessing over the event. Drive myself crazy with thoughts of dressing up and talking to people I have barely ever met before, about topics I don’t really care about. Curse myself. Be miserable and nervous until the dreaded day is over, and everything is said and done.

Step 3: Overanalyze everything I said to anyone and everyone. Promise myself to refuse to go to parties like these in the future. They are not worth the trouble I go through.

Step 4: Be faced with the same situation once more. With a throbbing heart and dry tongue, bring “no” to the surface of my tongue, but hear myself say yes yet again. Face palm!

These series of events happened more times than I can list and always made me wonder why I should be forced to do something that triggers my social anxiety like no tomorrow. But this was merely one example. There are countless others, which means the real question was this: why should I do anything that I don’t want to do?

Now let me tell you, I’m a strong advocate for doing what I want in life. From the littlest to the biggest things. From getting a quirky haircut to huge career choices. Sure, advice from friends and family is always welcome but, in the end, it should be my choice because it literally is my choice. Life gets too tiresome when you have to follow someone else even in the most mundane of things. But I wasn’t always like this.

The fact is, particularly where I live, saying no to something you don’t want to do is nothing short of a sin. If a friend, family member, acquaintance or even a stranger asks you for a favor, they feel entitled to receive a yes and we are too afraid to offend them. Trust me when I say that it’s just people’s reactions that make you dread coughing out a no, nothing else. If the recipient of the refusal were merely to smile and offer a “It’s perfectly alright,” we would have no problem at all stating whatever word we want, right?

It all comes down to people-pleasing really. Now in this book I have included a huge amount of advice and suggestions: some are general tips for saying no that will assist you in every walk of life and some are basically just specific phrases you can use to get out of a situation; some are specifically to be used only with friends or family and some are specifically for a formal or professional environment. But the thing is none of them will work unless you follow this first simple instruction and say, “I don’t want to please people, I want to please me. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I don’t want to hurt myself either.”

It is a fine line though, one that I found difficult to maneuver at first. The truth is: a no can indeed be more than self-caring sometimes, it can be selfish. How, you ask? Why are you going against the entire premise of your book, you ask? I’m not. I’m saying you need to figure yourself out. That sounds exactly like something you will find in a self-help book (and I told myself I would be different, sigh!) but it is too important to miss out. You have to understand what self-care is and what selfish is, for you. You need to differentiate between the two and when you do, trust me, you will feel confidence surging through your veins: the confidence that will make you say no to people, the missing confidence that made you a yes-man in the first place.

I don’t mean to confuse anyone so let me elaborate. If a person who is at the other end of your no is affronted by your refusal just because they are used to hearing a yes from everyone, well then it is not your problem, as long as you are self-assured that you did the right thing, and you will be self-assured because you have already drawn your boundaries, you have already figured out that you are not being selfish, you are merely being self-caring. This will ensure that you will walk away guilt-free from your conversation. Because saying no isn’t automatically the wrong thing to do. Your opinion of yourself is what matters the most.

The point of me telling you this is that I don’t want anyone to lose their kindness. I don’t want anyone to misplace their ability to empathize. But at the same time, I want you to be kind to yourself. Be sympathetic to yourself and everything will fall in place. Balance, guys, that’s all I ask from you. That’s all it takes.

1. Be Polite…

Don’t be a jerk. Nobody likes a jerk, especially one who is being a jerk while also saying no. Look, it’s not wrong to decline an offer, we’ve established that. But it is human nature to be sort of taken aback when you hear a “no” from someone, no matter how understanding you are, so in order to ease people into it, you should use a politer alternative.

Try a short and simple “No, thanks” or the longer version: “Oh, I’m not really interested in bowling so no but thanks for asking” or even a “No, I already have a great cellular service, thanks.” Remember being polite is not just a prerequisite for saying no, it’s a prerequisite for being a decent human being.

2. But Firm

Do not be vague. No ambiguity. No wriggling out of the situation. No means no. When you already know that you don’t want to say yes, why delay it? Why make the other person hang his hopes on you?

When you say things like “I’ll think about it”, “Maybe some other time” or “I’m busy right now, I’ll come back to you” because you’re too afraid to utter the feared N-O, the other person will not leave you alone. The only way for you to get rid of the sword hanging over your head is to be firm, assertive and clear.

Also, stringing someone along is not cool.

3. You Don’t Need to Give Explanations

You have every right to say whatever you want but be prepared to be bombarded with the nosiest questions to ever come out of a human being’s mouth. You are not obligated to reveal the reasons for your refusal. You obviously can if you want to, if it’s a close friend on the other side for example, someone you trust and want to talk to. It’s not, however, a moral duty of any kind. But the problem is, how do you dodge these questions being thrown at you?

First of all, if you are firm with your no, people may not interrogate you too much in the first place. Secondly, be patient. If an offensive inquiry comes your way, just smile and tell them it’s not something you are comfortable talking about. Don’t show signs of irritation by any means or what follows will be more frustrating than what just passed. When you yell or indicate anger, people will assume you have no genuine reason and are being rude just for the heck of it. Not that people’s assumptions matter but if it’s someone you come into contact with on a daily basis, a co-worker for instance, it might become a problem, and we don’t need any more problems in our lives, do we?

Read all tips in the book: 50 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT SAYING NO HOW TO REFUSE GUILTLESSLY Khadija Muhammad



Khadija is officially on her way to becoming an accountant but unbeknownst to many, she loves to write. Ever since a teacher in high school read out her story to the class and suggested that she should be a writer, the thought never left her mind. She loves placing ideas on paper and hopes to do it for years to come.

50 Things to Know About Saying No is her first book, the first milestone to achieving the life she wants. It’s a product of a journey from submissiveness to self-confidence, fear to bravery and self-hate to self-care.

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