7 Easy Ways to Practice Saying No
The ability to say “no” in both big and little situations is learned.
Boundaries are learned - they are a skill that we learn from positive examples set by the adults around us.
Meaning, many of us have learned the inability to say no.
We were taught that saying no was dangerous, that it made other people not like us, and that it makes us not as nice, not as attractive, or difficult.
“I don’t want to” is the only reason you ever need for saying no to anything, ever.
Same with: “I’m not interested. I don’t like it. I changed my mind. No. Never. I don’t like you. Please stop talking to me.”
If we were raised female it can be especially hard to say these things. Because it is ingrained in us to BE NICE. be polite. Not cause any problems. Not cause commotion. Not inconvenience anyone, or make things hard for them.
And that’s great....
... except it’s not, really, because all this means is that our boundaries get trampled on a daily basis.
We learn to doubt ourselves and question our own judgement before saying no to anybody else.
We don’t get to learn what a true “yes” feels like. Which sucks, because things we are a full “yes” to are usually the most pleasurable.
Worse than that, we form the inability to say no. We get assaulted and we freeze. People insult us and we smile. We feel stressed all day long. We feel the need to find endless excuses. Someone asks us to do something and we think, “I should be a nice person.”
And this makes SO MUCH SENSE - because that’s exactly what we’ve been taught to do.
A piece of our bodies feels unsafe and its way of protecting us is to do what it learned was best. That’s amazing. It may have helped when you were little, with a screaming parent. But you don’t need to empower that piece anymore.
One way to empower the boundary-setting pieces of ourselves is simply to practice. To show your body that the world will not end if you say no.
I have been consciously doing this in so many little ways for the past few years. I’ve started to think of these things as ways I am constantly practicing saying no.
If saying “no” is difficult for you, try these out— and try saying no to them with simple phrases like I listed above, such as “I am not interested.”
Know that you won’t be perfect each time. The idea is to practice— to show your body that it can survive turning something away.
Ways to Practice:
If you don’t have people calling you, google shipping your car across the country (in the United States). Go to a few of those websites and put your phone number in when asking for a quote for your pretend car. They will all call you, and they will be incessant about trying to convince you to use their company.
You can say “no” easily by saying, “I’ve decided not to ship my car anymore,” or you can make it more difficult for yourself by saying, “I’ve decided to go with somebody else.” They will press you and it’s a good way to practice saying, “I’m not interested.”
2. Purchase items you don’t want
Pick up an item at any store that you do not want (a grocery store can be a good option for this) Let the cashier ring it up, and then say, “Oh, I actually don’t want that anymore. Can you take it off the bill?”
(Do this before you actually pay— we’re not trying to make life way more difficult for everyone. Just let them scan the item and then say, never mind.)
3. Late fees
Most credit cards (not Mastercard, in my experience, but certainly Visa) will take the late fee off your bill if you just ask.
You can try this by paying your bill one or two days late, and then calling and saying something like, “Hi, I just paid my credit card bill and I noticed there was a late fee. I am usually on time with my payments. I would like that fee to be removed, please.”
They will say “ok!” and remove the fee.
This obviously only works if you are usually on time with your payments, and do this at your own risk, but I’ve done it a decent amount of times because I genuinely forget, and they always take it off.
4. A free trial at a gym
If you live in the area, most chain gyms will let you have a free trial, whether it’s for a few days or a week. You’ll have to talk to a salesperson, and then they will most likely call you and try to convince you to sign up.
5. Walk down a busy street in a tourist-filled city
This depends on where you live, but usually if you walk down busy street in any touristy area, there will be people trying to sell you things, get you to sign up for surveys, or handing out brochures.
Instead of ignoring them, look them in the eye and say, “No,” or “No, thanks,” or “I’m not interested.”
6. Order a drink and send it back
Order a drink at a restaurant, kindly tell the waiter that you don’t like it, and tell them you’d like to send it back and get another. Most places will not charge you for this.
7. Ask your partner or friend
If it’s your partner, ask them if they’ll practice asking you something you usually struggle saying no to. It can be asking for anything at all — something sexual, or hanging out, or doing an errand.
I did this once with an ex, and it helped. I didn’t feel like I was always saying no to sex when I didn’t want it, so 20 times in a row, I had him ask me, “Want to have sex?” and I practiced: “No,” “No, I’m tired,” “No, but I’d like to cuddle instead.”
And have them practice saying, “Okay,” or whatever you’d most like to hear in return.
If you have a hard time saying no to errands or to hanging out with friends, ask them if they’ll act it out with you until you feel more comfortable. Just say “Hey, I really struggle with this, and I’m wondering if you’ll practice it with me so I’m better at it with people in the future.”
Make yourself good at being uncomfortable
All of these things are safe, tiny ways you can practice saying “no,” and they can begin extending to other areas of your life.
But what saying “no” really is, especially at the beginning, is the willingness to feel uncomfortable. It’s the willingness to feel judged by other people.
And in that regard, anything you do to safely allow yourself to feel uncomfortable will help you be able to set boundaries with others.
Post a video of you dancing unattractively and strangely. Write about your worst fear and share it publicly. Tell someone you like them. Tell someone you don’t want to hang out with them. Go out in public in a strange outfit or without makeup on or with new makeup on. Send a piece of writing out to 5 places that are likely to reject you. Dance by yourself in a park full of people. If you feel uncomfortable being in the gym, go there. If you feel uncomfortable in a dance class (can you tell dance has been very healing for me?), go there. Take a really really long time deciding what you want to order.
Do all the things that make your body squirm, and slowly and gently teach your body that you will survive discomfort.