When I learned how to say no to people, my life finally took shape. It’s never easy to turn someone away. But, at times, it’s necessary.

I used to have a hard time saying no to people. It didn’t matter if I shared the same bloodline as them or never even met face-to-face, the burden of turning someone away who asked for my help tormented me. I’ve always been of the mindset that to experience purpose and deservedness, I have to serve others.

It’s no surprise that the more you say yes to other people’s priorities, the less you say yes to your own. The result, also not surprising, is a massive debt in the pursuit of your dreams. What you deem important and essential falls to the wayside, and you begin to starve your needs in order to feed someone else’s. You can’t fill your plate past capacity and expect nothing to fall off.

When you don’t say no

Imagine for a moment, if you will, a tomato plant. To bring it to life, you plant it in nourishing soil, equally spaced apart from all the other garden plants to ensure it has the range of motion it’ll need to grow into the superstar tomato producer you envision. As it starts to grow, you keep it aligned towards the sky by propping it up against wooden stakes, allowing the stakes to support its strong stems, and future strong fruit.

After about a month, you begin to see cute little shoots popping up beside it. Their fresh green color adds beauty to the garden. You whisper to yourself, eh, that’s harmless. Instead of saying no to their presence, you allow them to fill in the area around the tomato plant. After all, they are quite beautiful with their delicate stems and cheery heart-shaped leaves.

A few days pass, and you notice the cute little leaves are beginning to wrap themselves around your tomato plant. In fact, they look as though they are strangling your tomato plant. They are taking over the ground, the stake, the entire plant!

Your plant can no longer thrive because it’s taking on the burden of this weed.

By saying yes

By saying yes, the tomato plant’s resources to water and space have been undermined. Your plant is in jeopardy of losing its place in the garden because you couldn’t say no to that first cute little innocent shoot.

Innocent requests from people are a lot like that weed. Under the right circumstances, people will take up root where they are welcomed. If never turned away, they will keep right on requesting. Before long, many of us become that tomato plant, vying for resources we need to grow.

Are we being selfish for saying no?

As a society, we’re programmed to be helpful, contributing whenever possible to the greater good. We’re told we’re less selfish when we put others before ourselves. But, in taking a closer look, when you put others before yourself, you’re telling the world that your dreams come secondary.

When you fail to light the fire under your dreams, you fail to share gifts that could help lift and inspire others.

You have to believe that your work matters. You’ve been given a set of gifts, skills, and talents, and you should fully embrace them by nurturing them. Sometimes this means having to say the dreaded word – no!

If you don’t learn to say no, you’re letting others uproot your chance of molding your gifts into something magical. When you’re aligned with your passions, you’re more productive. If you’re constantly pushing your passions to the side to cater to someone else’s, you’re not bringing the best of yourself into this world. Therefore, the argument of self-serving by saying no voids itself. By continually saying yes, you’re actually acting selfish because you’re removing the chance for your gifts to take up flight and positively affect the world around you.

To say no is hard.

You want to appear amenable, reliable, and dependable. You want to be liked. You fear that by saying no, you risk losing respect and friendship. You’re also afraid to miss out on opportunities.

But here’s the thing: Saying yes may result in saying no to something more valuable.

You can’t let everything in and expect to be open to new opportunities. Saying yes to too many things throws us off balance. It’s counterproductive, not to mention, overwhelming.

Please note:I would never advocate saying no to someone in serious need of help. The situations I’m bringing up here are more about the pesky requests that take us from our own work, family and health. A lot of people have a hard time saying no, and feel guilty for it. The result of always saying yes to being on a committee, going out on the town when you’d like to spend time with your family instead, or taking on a project that will topple you over and bring you great stress, can overwhelm and ruin balance.

How to Begin Saying No

Don’t answer right away

Allow for some breathing room whenever asked to help with something outside the scope of your priorities. Cement this rule into your life. This will open up space to weigh the options and consequences before committing or not.

Be concise

Saying no often leads a person down that guilty path where she looks for ways to soften the blow. This typically comes in the form of excuses, over generalizations, even lies. Keep your answer short and to the point. You don’t have to offer a reason for saying no.

Minimize guilt

I’ll again suggest you ask yourself this question: Does this add value? If the answer is no, then guilt has no place in your heart.

Analyze your feelings

If you are volunteering to do something and it feels like an arduous chore, you are not going to derive joy from it. If you don’t enjoy something, that emotion will seep into all involved. Do you want to spread that kind of vibe?

Create rules and stick to them

Create a process for determining what you agree and disagree to and stick to it. People will treat you the way you allow them to treat you. If you let them barge into your life with demands, and drop everything to cater to them, they will expect this every time. Set boundaries you can live with, and don’t allow any breaches to them.

Let others know what they can expect from you

If they want you available for an evening phone call, and it’s not what you want, be straightforward and set the rule that you are a morning person, and evenings are off limits. No excuses. Just plain and simple honesty.

Learning to say no becomes easier with time and practice. If something doesn’t lead you towards your dreams, create happiness, or aid in your grand plan, let it go. The less you have to carry on your journey, the more adventurous you can be!

What are your thoughts? Do you feel guilty when you have to say no?