Posted by: coachingparents | April 27, 2009


By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

You want more free time in your life?  You want more happiness?  You want more love?  Then learn to comfortably say that great little word, “no.”

Most of us became frightened to say “no” when our parents withheld approval (or worse) the first time we shook our heads from side to side, frustrating parental efforts to feed us that last bite of food in order to “clean up the plate.”  Or perhaps we were punished when we put our hands atop our diapered hips and refused a parental request.  In any case, saying “no” usually became risky very early in life, when loss of love was life threatening.

On the other side of this dynamic, children quickly recognize that when they conform, obey, and verbalize “yes” to the expectations of parents, they are usually rewarded with increased approval, praise and affection.  Therefore, we grow up striving to meet everybody else’s expectations and requests by acceding to the wants and needs of others, rather than attending to our own.

We need to learn to say “no” to anything and everything that costs us too much time, money or energy.  We need to say “no” to unreasonable or impossible requests.  We need to learn to say “no” to situations we currently tolerate, but don’t really like.  We need to learn to say “no” to time wasters such as interruptions, procrastination, junk mail, junk activities, junk food, junk in our houses and junk in general.  We need to learn to say “no” to over-promising and then appearing undependable, feeling guilty and striving to accomplish too much.  We need to “under promise and over

In our childlike fear of saying “no,” we often engage in strange and indirect behaviors.  We make promises with no intention of keeping them.  We avoid people.  We stay out of situations that might teach us things we need to know.  We hide our true feelings and create facades.  We lie.  We strive to be all things to all people.  We over-extend our commitments.  We become people pleasers.  We become sick.  We avoid work.  We develop self-defeating habits.  We have “no time for ourselves.”  We become sneaky.  We tolerate intolerable circumstances and people.  We form only superficial relationships…easy to dissolve if relationship demands become too strong.

There are many positive personal advantages to learning to comfortably say “no.”  Saying “no” sets personal limits.  It
establishes your boundaries.  It protects you from the intrusion of others.  It defends you against exhaustion.  It honors your preferences.  It allows you more “free” time to pursue your own desires, needs and wants.  It educates others about how to treat you, how to behave around you and what you will and will not tolerate from them.  It keeps your integrity intact.  It simplifies your life.
When we say “no” regularly, we form strong, honest and direct relationships.  We become comfortable in chaotic circumstances.  We become healthier.  Our self-confidence grows.  Our self-esteem increases.  Our stress level diminishes.


Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams) the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton 2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on


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