All I want for 2024 is the ability to say ‘no’

...and not feel guilty about it.

Harper's Bazaar India

Picture this: It is almost 5:00 p.m.—you're done with your work and just about to slam your laptop shut when you get a (surprise) visit from your manager asking you for a "small favour". You already know the favour is far from small, in fact, it's enough to make you miss out on your Friday night plans. And just as they put their request forward, you can feel your lips attempt to mouth the word ‘no’, however, all that comes out is a coy "Yes, sure. No worries". And now, instead of grooving to ‘All Rise’ by Blue at a club downtown, you're stuck at work belligerently slamming your keypad, thinking about the hundred different ways in which you could've responded, the word ‘no’ being your primary response, provided you knew (read as: learned) how to do so. 

If you must know, we've all been there. All the time we could've said "thanks but no", instead we forcibly gulped down our courage and agreed to things we didn't really want to participate in—working beyond official working hours, going on a trip with the people you don't really like, sitting through an endless seminar, listening to a privileged (read as: bratty) young adult yap about their problems, the list is never-ending. The point is we all seem to have the same problem. And with the year ending, learning to say ‘no’ should be on our list of resolutions for the New Year. 

“The tendency stems from the need to seek approval and validation from others, in most cases it is a response to something that might have happened in the past,” says Sophia Peermohideen, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist. She continues, “For example, a parent or a teacher may have expressed their disappointment in your refusal to do something.” While the intensity and situation may vary from person to person, Peermohideen believes this can stem from anywhere. 

And rightfully, the inability to say no is likely to be a validation problem. The first step to solving any problem is addressing it. The psychotherapist recommends Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, also known as ‘DEAR MAN’ to her clients. A kind of talking therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is a mindful strategy that helps people navigate through difficult situations, cope with stress, and regulate their emotions. Further to this, Peermohideen tells you how you can effectively talk yourself through an uncomfortable scenario using the suggested method. Take notes.


D: Describe 
Describe the situation to yourself. And stick to the facts. Meaning, you should avoid overthinking a situation and reading into it too much. 

E: Express 
Make it a practice to express your feelings (good and bad). Further, convey them using ‘I’ in your statements. 

A: Assert 
Make it a habit to ask for what you want. If something doesn’t sit well with you, remember that the other person cannot read your mind, and say a polite and clear ‘no’.

R: Reinforce 
Run the positive effects of doing what you may not want to do in your head quickly. For example: If you manage to refuse task A, you can spend an extra hour in the shower to relax. 

M: Mindful
Keep your focus on what you want. Your wanting to skip the New Year party is valid. Avoid the ‘buts’ and ‘ifs’. 

A: Appear confident 
Make (and maintain) eye contact and use a confident tone of voice which will help put your point forward in the best way possible.

N: Negotiate
Here’s what you should remember. You have to be willing to give to get. Ask for the other person’s input, offer alternative solutions to the problem, and know when to “agree to disagree” and walk away.

While this technique is most likely to help you, your real uphill battle will begin after you’ve used all the power in your chest to refuse something. Because that is when the sense of guilt will start crippling you like a venomous serpent. What do you do then? Here are five affirmations that Peermohideen suggests you give yourself to help minimise and shake off some of the guilt.

Overcome the fear of not being liked

Repeat after me, “I may have worked towards it, but it's not necessary they will like me. Some may like me and some may not, I do not need their approval and validation.”

Overcome the fear of being selfish

Say it out loud. “I can be very supportive and generous to others and still not be held responsible for how others react when I stand my assertion.”

Overcome the fear of hurting or upsetting others

Insert this in your brain. “I would like this person not to feel hurt, but there is no guarantee that they may not. They are responsible for how they feel while I hang on to my opinion.”

Overcome the discomfort of saying a ‘no’ that follows 

Here’s what you should tell yourself. “It’s not necessary people will understand my needs and although assertion is uncomfortable, the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term gain of avoidance.”

Finally, overcome the fear of rejection 

“Rejection is bad and I do not like it but it can certainly happen”. Absorb this in your system and watch your life get easier. 

In the many forms of self-care that are known to mankind, the ability to refuse and say ‘no’ is quite an underrated way of pampering yourself which makes it all the more important to make it a religious practice. It puts you in the driver's seat of your life and makes you feel more empowered. Not to forget, it is also what helps you set healthy boundaries at work and beyond. 

So all I am working on in 2024 is how to say ‘no’, and you probably should as well.