The Art of the Graceful No

by | Aug 27, 2018 | Podcast, Season 1

As entrepreneurs, most of us are pretty damn keen to get more done, in less time.

We’re always ready for a productivity hack, a tool, resource or FINALLY the PERFECT planner to help us feel like we’re more efficient. Last week we discussed the importance of rewarding the small behaviors we’d like to see ourselves repeat (and replacing that punishing internal dialogue that’s constantly telling us why we don’t deserve rewards or praise if we’re not 100% perfect).

Well if you’re embarking on this journey which at its core is really about self-love, I expect you’ll find quite quickly, that one of the most difficult parts of the cycle I outlined last week – is actually setting boundaries and properly taking care of yourself. Putting our own needs first, for most of us, is the most difficult, backwards thing we could possibly do. It feels selfish. It feels uncomfortable.

We worry about asking for what we want and need and what others will think when we do. But the absolute pinnacle of all of this boundary-setting and self-care, is the moment when you actually learn to say NO.

Now, let’s be honest

Saying no to yourself can be as hard or harder than saying no to others, but the idea here, is learning easily access and use a graceful no.

This is an incredibly important milestone in your journey as a business owner, leader, employer, and happy human. The graceful no isn’t just about saying no, either, it’s also about speaking up for what you want or need, instead of staying silent. It’s about honoring your needs, even when it is awkward.

I want to tell you a little story about a recent situation that really challenged me in the graceful no department…

So a couple months ago, my husband and I went on this glorious little getaway to Wales. Several hours away from where we live in London, we packed up the dog and a selection of balls (it’s not a holiday without a tennis ball and American football for my husband, and at least one for the dogs too). We were headed away with my husband’s mum, aunts, uncles and grandma.

One of the great joys of my life in London

Is being a part of this family: they are so wonderfully generous, nurturing, warm and kind. But it’s important to note, that part of being in this very delightful british family, is that the social currency is being easy and flexible: avoiding conflict or confrontation at all cost, pitching in to get things done, and having things planned, comfortably organized down to the last detail way in advance. So let’s just say, I’m always trying to be on super good behavior because the generosity of these ladies is hard to keep up with!

Ok, so when I was packing for the trip, I had just started replacing one meal a day with a smoothie – not just a ‘shake it in the bottle’ kind of smoothie – but one that actually required a blender. I battled with myself: Do I bring the nutri-bullet? Is it crazy to pack a blender for a week holiday? Will the house have one? (I had no idea what the house was like because we didn’t do any of the planning – hello zero control!)

Not bringing the blender meant I could pack lighter, but it also meant I was at the mercy of whatever the others have planned for meals – and from what I could recall they were a ‘toast and jam and coffee to start the day’ kind of group – which simply doesn’t work for me… but I also definitely didn’t want to seem difficult or ungrateful.

My husband has also recently become a vegetarian and that in and of itself was enough of a complication, so in the end, I opted to fit in and be easy. I didn’t bring the blender… and I went from someone who doesn’t eat white flour and sugar, to having bread or pasta for nearly every meal of the day for a week.

The result of not communicating my needs, and putting them first,

Was that for the whole week (and a few days when we got home) I felt bloated and grumpy from the carb overload, and disappointed in myself for not holding my boundaries. I chose to fit in and be easy so that I could be likeable and avoid seeming like a diva. The consequences of that simple decision, impacted my feeling of wellbeing, my mood, my productivity, my ability to relax.

Now, if I HAD packed the blender, had smoothies for breakfast, brought our own groceries and planned our own meals- we would have snubbed the bacon sandwiches and lasagna – and risked being perceived as picky, ungrateful or difficult – which of course feels like it means risking being loved or belonging less… but in reality – would anyone have really cared that I was having smoothies for breakfast? Probably not. Would they love me less because of it? Of COURSE not – but it was so much easier to just avoid it all together than to honor my needs and boundaries.

Does this sound at all familiar to you?

Simple, seemingly small decisions we make every day where we opt to repress our desires and needs in order to be easy, flexible, likeable, or worst of all – because we feel OBLIGATED.

The graceful no starts with acknowledging one simple fact:

The people who are worth having in your life will not love you less for having boundaries. In fact, it may even increase their admiration and respect for you.

The second fact

Is that when you have boundaries, ask for what you want and need, and say no – you will often trigger some ugly feelings in other people who haven’t learned the graceful no. You may experience some judgey comments, cold shoulders, conflict and even some outright anger from people who don’t think it’s fair that you’re standing up for what you need when they don’t know how to do the same for themselves.

Fact three

Is that the way other people feel is not something you can control. The way other people react to you is on them. Even though it doesn’t feel great when people dump their shit on you – it’s not actually about you at all – it’s about them.

Ok – so where do we start with our brave assertion of our boundaries and needs?

The first place I always suggest is to track how you spend your time each day, week and month. What are the things you do on purpose because you want to, what are the things you don’t enjoy but feel obligated to do for some reason probably related to someone else’s feelings about you… and what are the things you outright drain you, make you feel smaller, suck the life out of you, or that you absolutely dread right before you have to do it.

My suggestion is radically simple:

It’s that your time is your most precious resource – more valuable than money – and the first step to the graceful no, is that you stop spending it in ways that you despise.

The second step

Is that you work on feeling good about it, instead of guilty.

In one of my favorite books on this topic, Sarah Knight’s  The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, she says:

“I call it the Not Sorry Method. It has two steps:

  1. Deciding what you don’t give a fuck about
  2. Not giving a fuck about those things”

I mean, it really just is that simple. Somewhat annoyingly, all you have to do is decide.

Of course, the even HARDER version of the graceful no, is not actually about the stuff you DON’T WANT to do – but learning to say no to the stuff you DO want, but you simply don’t have time or capacity to do NOW. I am still learning that one – and it will definitely be a topic of conversation in the future. But it’s all the same rule.

As far as HOW to actually communicate your needs

Or your ‘no’ when you’re nervous it will make you unpopular… you don’t need to make excuses, and you don’t need to apologize… you simply say:

  • ‘no thank you’
  • ‘thank you for the invitation but I can’t make it’
  • ‘I won’t be able to’
  • ‘I’ve reached a point where it’s time for me to [not do this thing]. Thank you for the opportunity, and I hope to [whatever you want to say that’s nice]”

You can still be polite and grateful, just make the no clear and undeniable. Not ‘maybe’, not ‘I don’t think so’ – it’s a solid no.

I challenge you

to actually track how you’re spending your time and how you feel about each individual commitment and task. I know it sounds easier said than done to just say no – especially because of that long list of reasons that you’re still doing that thing you hate doing,

But just for a moment, consider what it would be like for that obligation, task, job, friendship, commitment or connection to be gone – and notice how THAT would feel.

You deserve to have that energy back to have on more worthwhile pursuits, do you think?

Has anything popped into your mind during this conversation? It might time to let it go. We’d love to know what it is over in our private Facebook Group, Magic Makers HQ – if it’s helpful, talk it out with us – and together we can help each other let go.

Next week we are talking all about why Letting Go is sooo important – why it is such an integral part of the success of all entrepreneurs. So if you’re needing more inspiration to ‘rip the bandaid’ so to speak – be sure to tune in next week. Subscribe here so you don’t miss it!

That’s it for episode 8 of the Magic Maker podcast – welcome to the headquarters of entrepreneurs who want to do good, be real, find happy and build brands that matter.

We’re thrilled you’re here

Of course, we would be so grateful if you would be willing to invest a few moments of your precious time by reviewing this podcast on iTunes, so we can reach more magic makers and help them too, to change their lives, and the world.

We’ll see you next time

xx – Nic