Personal Development

Saying NO to Things You Don’t Want To Do (and How to Feel Better About It)

Saying NO to Things You Don't Want To Do (and How to Feel Better About It)

Sometimes, I find myself in a position of being asked to do something that I don’t really want to do, and having to decide whether to say yes or no to it.

Surely it’s obvious – just say no!

It should indeed be a simple matter of just saying no because I know that I don’t want to do it or it’s not right for me. But I often find it difficult to say no because it feels horrible to disappoint people or let them down, especially if I have always said yes to them in the past. In some cases, I feel like they will be shocked and surprised (which they probably will!) and I spend hours painstakingly crafting the rejection email in a way that will cause the least surprise and disappointment.

It makes me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable sending such emails and I cringe seeing their replies arrive in my inbox, even though most of the time they are kind and understanding. It feels as though it would be easier just to say yes and do what they have asked me to do, rather than saying no, even though I know it is not right for me.

Does that sound familiar?

I imagine this is a situation most people have been through at some stage in their life, even if it is just the occasional request. Are you a person who finds it easy to say no? Or are you like me, agreeing to everything even when it is not in your best interests? Do you feel guilty and anxious about saying no to people?

There is no doubt that if you don’t want to do something, the right thing to do is to say no. So the main obstacle is the guilt and discomfort of doing this. I have been coming up with some ways of dealing with this, to make it easier to say no, and ease the guilt of letting people down.

How to feel better about saying NO

Picture your future self, on the day of the thing you have been asked to do.

Imagine yourself doing the thing you have been asked to do, and imagine how you would be feeling. Then, imagine yourself spending that time doing something you’d rather do. This will help you to realise that on the day, you would be grateful to have said no.

This way, you put your future self first, and say no, even if it means sending a difficult email rather than choosing the instant relief of saying yes.

Think of yourself as a rebel.

This can be a fun way of getting into the mindset of saying no. Think of yourself as powerful and ruthless. You are determined to get where you want to be, even if it means causing some chaos along the way. Think of yourself as a dramatic character in a movie, if it helps. You can even dress up in a style that feels rebellious to you, listen to some rebellious music, or do anything else that gets you into the right mindset to ruthlessly forge your path, burning down anything that gets in your way. Of course, it’s best if you are still polite and sensitive when actually saying no to people. But an attitude of ruthlessness can help motivate you to get on with what needs to be done. 

Related post: A Set of Mottos for Getting Through Challenging Times

Think about other people who have said no to things.

If you think about it, I bet you can remember lots of times in your life when somebody you know has let you or someone else down, or said no to something they were asked to do. Maybe to them, it seemed like a big deal, but most people would hardly bat an eyelid. It happens all the time and it’s not really a big deal. I have a friend who is not the most reliable person in the world. She often cancels plans at short notice. But I don’t hold it against her – it’s just something that people do, some more than others. Aspire to be more like that friend!

Aim to accelerate the process.

It can be easy to think, “I’ll just say yes to this one thing because it is easier than saying no. I’m letting people down gently and gradually. I already said no to some other things so it won’t be much of a time commitment to do this one thing, and I feel I can cope with this”.

That is okay as an approach, and there may be some situations where you decide it is genuinely better to do this. For example, if you had already agreed to do something and it is too short notice to let them down. But in the long run, if you keep on doing this, you will only extend the process, and it may take a lot longer to get to where you want to be. Not only will you still be doing things you don’t want to do, but you’ll also be losing time that you could be spending on new projects that would propel you to where you want to be.

Make it your default to say no to ALL the things you don’t want to do, even if you feel like you could cope with them. Remember, if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting!

Imagine you are pressing backspace or travelling back in time.

Before you met these people or started doing these things, they managed just fine without you. They will manage without you again, and new people will step up to fill the gaps you leave behind. There might even be someone out there who truly wants to do the things you are saying no to. If you say yes, you could be stopping them from having that opportunity. 

Say no to the good, to make room for the better.

There may be some situations where you feel like you could easily manage the thing you are being asked to do, and you may even enjoy it. But ask yourself truthfully – is this what you want to be doing with your life? If the answer is no, then say no. This will create space for even better things to come into your life. Things that are not merely manageable, but are exciting and desirable for you. 

Don’t just do it for the money.

Even if you are short of money, your happiness is worth more than the money you would get for it. If that is not the way you want to be earning money, you could instead be using the time to work on other ways of earning money.

Be true to yourself.

In the long run, you will be helping more people if you are doing what you are truly enthusiastic about. So don’t feel bad about letting a few people down. It means you will be able to help more people in the future, in ways that are more suited to you. And remember, these people you are letting down wouldn’t want you to be unhappy. They would want you to fulfill your true potential.

I hope this list has made you feel better about saying no to things you don’t want to do.

Next time I am feeling bad about saying no to something I don’t want to do, I will definitely come back to this list. I hope these tips will give you some motivation and encouragement next time you are in that position too, and help you to believe that you are doing the right thing. Because trust me, you are!

Do you have any more advice on how to feel better about saying no? I would love to hear it – let me know in the comments!

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How To Feel Better About Saying No To Things You Don't Want To Do


  1. AMEN!!!! I needed this 100%!! Glad you shared!!!

    1. Sophie Harriet says:

      I’m glad you found it helpful! 🙂

  2. Oluwaseyi Adeoshun says:

    Lovely piece. Thanks for the advice.

    1. Sophie Harriet says:

      You’re welcome!

  3. Yes, good advice. Setting boundaries around time and energy- I’m working to do the same.

    1. Sophie Harriet says:

      Absolutely – we need to define our boundaries otherwise it’s so easy for all our time and energy to go towards what other people want from us, and have nothing left for ourselves and our own wellbeing!

  4. Love it! Yes this is right on.

    1. Sophie Harriet says:

      Thank you Jessica!

  5. Margarida says:

    You’re absolutely right! I’ve learned to say no. As you said, above all, the most important thing is to remain truthful to ourselves.

    1. Sophie Harriet says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you have learned to say no. I’m still working on it, but it gets easier the more I do it! Absolutely, it’s so important to remain true to ourselves – even if it’s hard at first it will be worth it!

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