How to say “no” and why it’s so crucial

I woke up Saturday morning and could feel my breath was short and shallow and my chest was tight and constricted. My plate was too full–professionally and personally. Some things had to go.

I was born with a lot of energy, and one of my life-long challenges is I tend to over-schedule (read more on how we create stress for ourselves). One of my favorite mantras came flooding back to me as I sat up in bed: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Before I even stepped into my day, I hit the pause button. I re-assessed my weekend, looking at what could go, and gave myself full permission to back out of previous commitments.


When I feel a sense of internal and external spaciousness, I know I’ve found the “sweet spot.” Saying no is key to finding this state of being.

One of the most popular tools from my first award-winning book, The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life,  is the Nine Ways to Say No list from Chapter Four on Managing Your Energy, Setting Priorities and Saying No.

We have a finite amount of energy.

In addition to being over-scheduled and overworked, most of us waste a lot of energy through endless hours in front of the TV, on our phones or devices, or engaging in activities that don’t really feed us. One highly effective way to harness your attention and energy so you can focus on what really matters, is to say “no” to those things that are non-essential and to the “shoulds” –so you can say “yes” to what matters most.

Learning to say “no,” is like exercising—the more you practice saying it, the stronger you become. Here’s some helpful language from our Personal Renewal Groups to support you in mastering this essential skill:

Nine Creative Ways to Say No

1.Just No: “Thanks, I’ll have to pass on that.” (Say it, then shut up.)

2.The Gracious No: “I really appreciate you asking me, but my time is already committed.”

3.The “I’m Sorry” No: “I wish I could, but it’s just not going to work right now.”

4.The “It’s Someone Else’s Decision” No: “I promised my coach (therapist, etc.) I wouldn’t take on any more projects right now. I’m working on creating more work/life balance.”

5.The “My Family is the Reason” No: “Thanks so much for the invite, but that’s the day of my son’s soccer game, and I never miss those.”  (Consider hiring a coach to help you get clarity.)

6.The “I Know Someone Else” No: “I just don’t have time right now. Let me recommend someone who may be able to help you.”

7.The “I’m Already Booked” No: “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I’m afraid I’m already booked that day.”

8.The “Setting Boundaries” No: “Let me tell you what I can do …” Then limit the commitment to what will be comfortable for you.

9.The “Not No, But Not Yes” No: “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”

As you look at the next two months and consider a new work, family or volunteer project or social commitment, remember that while important, it will take away time and valuable energy from your heart’s greatest desire. Pause, reflect on how you want to experience November and December and remember, “Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least,” (thank you Goethe).

  • Retreats are ideal if you’re in transition, exploring, “What’s next?” and want to create new ways of being. Join soulful, like-minded women in an empowering and deeply supportive environment; I’ll be in MA Jan. 25-27 for New Way of Being: Women’s Self-Renewal Retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health for a deeply restorative winter self-care retreat (packages start at just $500 and lodging is almost sold out, reserve your spot today) learn more.
  • Hire me to plan/facilitate a custom workshop or retreat for your company, team or organization on life balance, resiliency or self-renewal. I’ve been speaking professionally for 25+ years on work-life balance and managing your energy.  My clients include Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit agencies, national conferences and women’s organizations. Learn more and email me at workshops at reneetrudeau dot com with questions.
  • Craving authentic community and want to find (or create) your tribe? Learn more about our global sisterhood of RTA-Certified Facilitators  and empower/support women in your community! More here on how to become a RTA-Certified Facilitator and join our inner circle ($100 off through 11/30; includes private coaching with me).

Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by mindfulness coach/author/speaker Renée Peterson Trudeau. Passionate about helping men and women experience balance through the art/science of self-care, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, US News & World Report, Spirituality & Health and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining self-renewal groups based on her award-winning self-care curriculum.  She is the author of three books on life balance and mindfulness including the award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 16-year-old son. More on her background here.

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