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I’d break my resolution on the first day!

By Tricia Andor, Licensed Professional Counselor

On January 2, I went back to work after the holidays, and had a brief interaction with Pam*, a work acquaintance, that went something like this:

Pam: “So, how’d your holidays go?”
Me: “Good! Lotsa travel, but good to get to see family.”
Pam: “Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions?”
Me: “You know, this is the first year since I was 15 that I haven’t. I think I’ll still get to it though. How about you?”

She shook her head “no” in a big way, that non-verbally said a definite “NO WAY”, and then added: “Oh, no. My resolution would be to learn to say ‘no’, but I’d break it the first day!”

Pam isn’t alone in wanting to learn to say ‘no’. Lots of us have found ourselves in situations where we’ve overcommitted, gone to an activity despite being worn out, or gone out with someone we didn’t want to.

Sometimes it’s hard to say no when our reason isn’t because of work, a prior engagement, a crisis, or because we’ve got something else going on. But sometimes our reason for not wanting to take on another volunteer project, or watch the grandchildren, or go to an event is simply that we don’t want to. Not that we have some other appointment, engagement, or problem to attend to.

We just don’t want to, for whatever reason. (whisper: and yes, that’s okay)

It made me think about how many times in therapy this theme of learning how to say no comes up. It’s actually a lot. Especially for women. The difficulties in saying no go something like this:

They wouldn’t accept it if I said no just because I didn’t want to. I have to have an excuse!

But she expects me to watch her kids with an hour’s notice. Besides, she knows I’m not doing anything tonight anyway.

My parents expect me to spend the whole holiday break at home with them. Ya, I would personally rather spend a few days there, then go back to my apartment and catch up with reading and friends I haven’t seen for a while. But how could I turn them down?

He told me to update the data – as though he was my boss and he’s not – and even though it’s his responsibility. The audacity! And yet I just sat there and said nothing.

My adult sons always want to go out to eat Sundays evenings, but by then I just want to be at home and start mentally transitioning to the work week. But I don’t know how to say no. It’s not like I physically can’t go.

My observation is that people have a much easier time declining an offer, invitation, or demand when giving an external reason for the decline. I can’t – I have to work. We’re not going to be able to make it – the kids are sick. I won’t be able to work on that – my boss said I have to focus all my time on my primary project.

But for all those other times when the reason is internal (being tired, needing down time, wanting to do something different, being in a certain mood that’s different from the activity at hand, not wanting to spend time with the person asking), it gets a little harder.

In counseling, I help people develop the tools that allow them to say yes to the things they want, and no to things they don’t want.

If this is something you’d like to learn, please call to schedule an appointment.

*not her real name

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