A happy woman sits in the flower and waters it

“I spent the week saying no to all the things I didn’t want to do – and it was the most freeing thing I’ve ever done”

Posted by for Wellbeing

Saying this one little word never felt so good.

The word ‘no’ often gets a bad rap. This one little phrase can elicit such a reaction that many of us, quite frankly, don’t use it enough and feel pressured to say yes to things we don’t want to do. Be it for family, friends or in the workplace, not saying no can sometimes leave us with feelings of dread and despair as we force ourselves into saying yes when we really, really don’t want to.

While I like to think of myself as pretty transparent about what I want and don’t want to do, I sometimes fall into the trap of saying yes at times to benefit others. But the reality is, sometimes uttering those two little letters can be a freeing and exhilarating way to maintain boundaries and keep your own mental health in a good spot and truly do the things that serve you.

So that’s what I decided to do. At the ripe old age of 28, I decided to spend a week defiantly saying no – and I’ve noted it all down for you to see just what it did for me.

Day 1: Lots of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’

On the first day of my ‘saying yes’ ban, I woke up feeling energised and with a pep in my step (getting a sufficient amount of sleep is key to saying no with conviction). As I prepared for a day of saying no to the things that didn’t serve me, I expected to feel invigorated and clear-headed by the end of it – but instead, my day was filled with ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ as I spluttered my way into saying yes and completely failed on the first day.

While spending the day working from home, I somehow roped myself into hosting the next family dinner, drinking copious amounts of coffee when offered despite my two cup limit and somehow ended up pencilled in to babysit my cousin the following week.

It was after realising that I’ll be spending next Sunday being asked 101 questions by a toddler and watching reruns of Peppa Pig that I understood my ability to say no didn’t start out as strong as I expected – and mentally, I felt slightly defeated. 

And while I failed at saying no, my commitment to saying yes wasn’t as clear either. It made me realise that sometimes my decisions to do something aren’t clearly a yes or no but a string of ‘um and ‘ahs’ followed by a ‘sure’. It was then that I recognised that even if I did say yes the next day, it was important that I was clear, decisive and sure in my decision.

Day 2: The reactions begin

I cancelled previously arranged plans in a bid to have a self-care-filled, relaxing weekend, much to the annoyance of my friends.

While they were initially annoyed, the aftermath of my no was quickly replaced by the next topic of conversation and plans to rearrange for the following week – something that admittedly took me by surprise.

It’s funny how saying no can feel like this huge, daunting shadow that you‘re about to cast over other people’s lives when, in reality, it will only last for a little while and they won’t care shortly after. If this is what it’s like to say no on a consistent basis, it just got a lot easier to do.

Day 3: No, no and no again

By day three, I’m fully in my no stride. I’ve rescheduled a lunch meeting that would’ve taken up time I didn’t have, I’ve logged onto Bumble and swiped no to many men in record time and I’ve successfully rescheduled my family dinner hosting duties – yay me. 

It was at this point that I truly began to understand the power of saying no and my mental health began to benefit from it. I was no longer anxiously trying to rearrange my schedule to accommodate other people or overthinking why I said yes to something I really didn’t want to. Suddenly, there was an ease and sense of calm I felt within myself – and it was liberating.

Day 4: I’ve got the power

Most Londoners know that Thursdays are the new Fridays – which means socialising is at an all-time high as we’ve emerged from our pandemic cocoons and are out and about like coronavirus isn’t still roaming around these streets – but that’s a whole other conversation.

While out for drinks with friends, we were approached by a group of guys and were having a friendly conversation. One of the guys asked me for my number, and for the first time ever, I said no without the caveat of “I’m already seeing someone” (an old fan favourite many of us are accustomed to using).

Thankfully the reaction was totally respectful, but there was a strange sense of relief and acknowledgement I felt in saying no without following up with something. I said no just because I wanted to and it was kind of an epic turning point. I recognised something I’ve been doing for years and changed it in a split second. Do you know what they call that? Growth.

Day 5: Living my best life

On my final day of saying no, the decision to use this word no longer felt like a challenge I’d tasked myself with. At this point, I said it with ease in moments I truly felt I needed to – and my mind and body felt better for it. In moments of stress or anxiety, there are things I normally do, like clenching my jaw or tensing my shoulders, that I found I did a lot less by the end of the week.

I also felt a lot more clear-headed compared to how I started and was surprised to notice the physical and mental benefits I experienced as a result.

The verdict

So I’ve made it through the whole week of saying no to things I wanted to, and it turned out better than I thought.

In the course of five days, I leaned into the power of saying no for my benefit and learnt the importance of exercising my authority when it comes to what I want to do.

When we often talk about self-care, it’s usually related to escaping aspects of our busy lives, like going to the spa or away for a weekend. But self-care doesn’t have to be about taking time away from your busy schedules – sometimes it’s about carving out space in your life to be just a little bit selfish for your own mental health, something that I truly realised by the end of this week.

Sure, I’ll still babysit and occasionally do things that people in my life care about, but I’ll be doing it on my terms – and if all else fails, I’ll just look back at this week and remember how good it felt to utter that one little word.

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