Image by chulmin park from Pixabay

This is part of my online book on Healthy Boundaries Made Simple.

A reader wrote:

Dear Stewie, my neighbor invited me to go camping with his family. I hate camping. I want to sleep in my own bed and not on the hard and cold ground. I don’t want bugs crawling in my mouth.
How do I say No?

Saying No is difficult. We worry about hurting others and losing their approval. As a result, we agree to numerous things we don’t want to do only to resent it later.

Digging down, what we really want is to feel OK saying No. We want to feel capable of declining an invitation without the world crashing down around us.

Now I don’t have a panacea, but I do have six strategies that help me feel OK saying No:

1. Remember that saying No is uncomfortable for everyone

Modern life is incredibly complicated. We could devote eleven lifetimes to meeting all of the requests—and demands!—from our work, family, hobbies, civic duties, etc. As a result, we have to say No to many things, and this makes us uncomfortable. That much is obvious.

What’s not obvious is that everyone feels discomfort as they say No to hundreds of things. Everyone is in the same boat as you.

So take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. You’re not the only person who regularly has to say No to all sorts of stuff. And you’re not the only person who, as Brené Brown advises, needs to “choose discomfort over resentment.”

2. Turn the tables

Imagine you invited your neighbor to your upcoming Dungeons & Dragons night, but they don’t like D&D. In fact, they find anything fantasy-related to be incredibly boring. They haven’t even seen the first Lord of the Rings movie all the way through because they always fall asleep during the first 30 minutes.

So imagine this neighbor politely declined your invite to D&D night. They said, “Thanks, but that’s not really my jam.”

Would you get mad? Or irate? Would you flip over tables and chairs? Of course not! You’re a reasonable person. You might feel a tinge of disappointment, but you’d get over it. Furthermore, you’d prefer they say No instead of showing up and being miserable the whole time.

Similarly, you should trust that your neighbor won’t freak out if you say No. Trust them to behave like a reasonable adult.

3. Remember that life is short

We have a limited number of days left before we die. Much of this time is spent on our day job and household chores. And too often, there’s precious little time for recreation.

So don’t squander limited free time on recreation you don’t like.

4. Stop seeking others’ approval

You’ll always get sucked into unpleasant activities until you cease craving others’ approval. Stop approval-seeking, and your life will get simpler and brighter.

Now, this is easier said than done. Here are two exercises that help me:

  1. Imagine you have just 24 hours to live. Would you go camping? No. Would you worry about your neighbor’s opinion? Not a chance! You’d spend time doing what you wanted to do. You’d be free from worrying about what others think (or what you think they think about you)
    Next, imagine you had six months to live: Would you go camping?
  2. Imagine your neighbor dislikes you. They give you the stink eye anytime you see them. Could you be OK with this? Could you still have a good life? Would you still have food, shelter, and medical care? Yes. Do the people closest to you still love you? Of course!
    So why trouble yourself with your neighbor’s opinion?

5. Find a role model

I have a friend I’ll call Mickey, and he is exceptionally good at diplomatically saying No to stuff he doesn’t want to do: Want to buy overpriced tickets for Disney On Ice this weekend? No thanks. Want to help me re-roof my house? No thanks.

At the same time, Mickey is regularly suggests activities and shared experiences that we would both enjoy. This way, our friendship remains strong.

So, when I have a hard time saying No, I ask, “How would Mickey handle this?” And this gives me good ideas on how to graciously say No.

You need a Mickey you can look to.

6. Make sure you actually say No

If you decline the invitation by saying, “Yah, maybe next time,” with a smile, your neighbor will hear, “I should invite them in the future.” Don’t do this. Instead, say, “Thank you, but camping isn’t really my thing.” This politely declines the invitation and closes the door to future invites.

And, ultimately, that’s what you want—a way to decline invitations without feeling like a horrible person. You want to say No and not get ensnared in things you don’t want to do.

Just remember that saying No is uncomfortable for everyone, but turning the tables can help. Also, limit approval-seeking, and you’ll be well on your way to establishing healthy boundaries and feeling OK with saying No.