KAUFMANN: The gift of saying ‘no’

The holiday season is coming! I can almost smell the pumpkin pie and hear the jingle bells. Family gatherings, favorite foods, sports games, vacation time: what is there not to like?

For some of us, however, the increased expectations of the holidays are stressful. Saying “yes” to everyone leaves us exhausted. Learning to say “no” just might be the best gift we can give ourselves this season.

Overcommitting ourselves can result in fatigue and stress, no matter what time of year. Fatigue and stress weaken our bodies, making us susceptible to illness. Negative emotions like resentment well up inside us, taking a toll on our well-being.

The good news is that we can learn to establish healthy boundaries. Rather than extend ourselves beyond our capabilities, we can borrow the slogan from Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign and “Just Say No.”

Saying “no” can be a gift to others, as well as to ourselves. When we turn an opportunity down, we are honoring our current obligations. Also, we are leaving a space for someone else to step up and participate. Saying “no” to our children when necessary teaches them important life skills about respecting authority and exercising self-control.

Knowing when and how to turn someone down is the hard part. We can make it easier with these four steps: prepare, evaluate, respond and repeat.


On our own, we can reflect on our goals, talents and limitations. Once we define personal long-term goals, we can more easily evaluate whether opportunities will help or hinder our progress towards them. Being honest with ourselves about our talents and our personal limitations also helps us decide which responsibilities to accept and which to refuse.

We can also prepare some “I don’t” statements to practice using in low-risk situations. For example, “I don’t buy from solicitors” and “I don’t use store credit cards” are strong responses to salespeople. (A friend of mine jokingly repeated “I don’t eat cookies” as a mantra in preparation for the holiday season. Good luck, friend!)


When asked to do something, we should consider the request in light of our goals, our time, our commitments and our abilities. Sometimes we need to sleep on the offer in order to evaluate it properly. Simply say, “I need some time to think about that.”


If we have decided that the answer needs to be “no,” for whatever reason, we should just say “no,” politely yet firmly. We have the right to refuse, just as the other person has the right to ask.

Remember that by refusing a person’s request, we are not necessarily rejecting that person. We are simply expressing our right to be in the driver’s seat of our own lives.


Some people will keep asking, hoping to wear us down. We should be prepared to repeat our “no,” keeping it brief, honest and firm. Avoid over-apologizing. Individuals in healthy relationships will respect each other’s boundaries, instead of trying to overpower or control the other.

Preparing and delivering the gift of “no” can be difficult, but truth is always the best gift in the long run. Happy holidays!

Chrissie Kaufmann is a group fitness instructor at the YMCA of Southwest Michigan.


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