our thoughts

action experiment : saying ‘No!’
12 February 2014



“When you say ‘Yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘No’ to yourself.”

Paulo Coelho


Many people have difficulties saying ‘No’ to other people. There are many possible reasons for this which we will not go into here.

As we have discussed on this blog before, it is only when people become curious about their inner reactions to situations that they are able to make different choices. This post describes an action experiment that can help you further explore your inner reactions when you say ‘No’. This experiment can be done with or without a partner, and even without anyone else knowing what you are doing.

It involves you becoming more aware of how you react when you clarify your boundaries with another person.  If you decide to let your family, friends or colleagues in on the exercise, you might choose to make the exercise a little harder by choosing something to say ‘no’ to that you might ordinarily say ‘yes’ to.

Here’s how the experiment works:

For a week or two, pick something each day that you wouldn’t normally say ‘no’ to. Then, instead of saying ‘yes’ automatically– say ‘No’!

It doesn’t have to be something terribly important; just something that others would normally take for granted.

For example, if you’re out shopping with your children, and they always ask for ice cream, and you’d rather not get it but usually do it anyway because it’s easier than fighting over it- then don’t! Say “NO” and then don’t back down.

You can also choose work situations, for example:

When a your boss or a colleague asks you to do something that you haven’t got time to do, how do you let them know that this is not going to be possible. Do you:

  • apologise or make excuses,
  • get mildly annoyed and push back,
  • avoid agreeing and hope the issue will go away,
  • moan about your workload / their request, or
  • calmly and assertively say “Thanks for thinking of me for this. I don’t have the time to help you”.

How quickly do you interrupt the other person when you know you can’t help them? Do you wait until they have finished speaking or interrupt them early?

Keep a record in your journal of how you feel when you say ‘No’ for the whole time period. You may start to notice different situations or people where you are more or less comfortable saying ‘No’. You may notice you feel fear or anger or guilt when you say ‘No’. You may notice you feel  differently about saying ‘No’ when you get to the end of your time period than you did at the beginning. If you don’t notice anything, consider doing the experiment for a longer time period.


“No is a complete sentence and so often we forget that.” 

Susan Gregg


further resources

The following resources provide further reading, insights and exercises you can try out.

blogs.hbr.orgLearning to say no is part of success.

FreeYourMind – The ‘can’t say ‘No’ syndrome’ : a deadly hazard to your health.

lifehacker.comA scientific guide to saying no.

www.psychologytoday.comWhy you can’t say no.

zenhabits.net7 simple ways to say ‘no’.



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