Saying no — a straight up, absolute N followed by an O — becomes more and more difficult as the year trickles to a close. The year starts with New Year’s resolutions, clear boundaries, and big ambitions, but it ends with a second helping of pumpkin bread, sitting in the corner of a house that isn’t yours, for the third evening in a row.
There are plenty of opportunities to say no in December.
Saying no to a gathering (of which there are many) can feel difficult. If ever there’s a time for half-lies about whether or not you are actually planning on attending an event, it’s the holidays. Acquaintances running into each other at Trader Joe’s sound like a chorus of “Wellllll, I’ll definitely TRY to come by,” and, “Just trying to keep my head above water!” We’re all sliding out of our responsibilities, feeling guilty and stressed and like we’re coming down with the flu. Which we probably are.
Saying no to tasty food might even be more difficult. It’s already made, it’s there, oftentimes it’s warm out of the oven. It just makes sense. It’s more than most logical people can handle.
Saying no to requests and demands from family and friends—that’s probably the most difficult of all. It can be difficult to know what to say no to, and even more difficult to approach that “no” without apologies all over our faces and scattered throughout our text threads.
Making decisions this time of year involves work and family and emotions and relationships in ways that hit close to home. The problem is, there are no clear lines or universally agreed-upon expectations (ever, really, in life—but especially during the holidays). Everyone has a different opinion on what to prioritize. Saying no can make us feel like a teacher handing out bad grades—or like a witch cursing herself with a stomachache.
But it doesn’t have to feel that way.
What if “no” was empowering and relieving? What if saying no felt like opening a door instead of shutting it?
It’s possible. But it takes some soul searching. And one of the best ways to look inside is to start writing.
Sit down with a pen.
Ask yourself about your obligations:
- What do you feel obligated to do before the year ends?
- What do you feel obligated to say or feel?
- Why do you expect this of yourself?
Ask yourself about your limitations:
- What do you have to give—financially, emotionally, in time or in energy?
Ask yourself about your values:
- What excites you about the coming weeks?
Then, ask yourself where you feel fear or anxiety around saying no.
It might be around an event or a family member—or a certain week (right between Christmas and New Years, for example). Follow that discomfort. What are you afraid of? What if you welcomed that feeling in . . . had a conversation with it? Are you afraid of disappointing people? Not getting enough sleep? Not finishing a work project before the end of the year?
Fear is actually very helpful. Look closely, and it will tell you what you value (in a backhanded kind of way). Afraid of rejection? You value a relationship. Afraid of leaving work undone? You value your commitments.
What is the worst thing that could happen if you said no? What’s the worst response and outcome? How would you deal with that?
Time after time, you’ll find that you already knew what you need to say no to.
The truth is, you can say no however you please.
You can make a phone call, send a text, have a sit down conversation, write a letter, or simply not show. You can apologize—or not. You can explain—or not. You might try your best not to hurt feelings, but ultimately you can’t control other people’s reactions.
More important than how you say no is how you feel—in your gut—about your no. And that’s what writing can lead you to: saying no with confidence.
Looking to have the confidence to say no when you need to (and yes when you want to) all year round? Sign up for Monday Motivation for a weekly, reflective writing prompt. Follow the Find Your Voice Instagram account for another weekly writing prompt, plus plenty of other inspiration.
And if you need more help writing during the holidays specifically, check out our holiday blog series: