Tiny word, big effect.
For two little letters, "no" certainly packs a huge punch. How else to explain why so many of us are afraid to use it?
Think about it. We work through our weekends instead of telling our boss we don't have time for an extra project.
Or, rather than admit we don't feel like going out, we create elaborate excuses to avoid social obligations. And why wouldn't we? Most of us learn from a very young age that saying "no" can get us into trouble.
"Cooperation is one of the main characteristics of a productive, cohesive society, and it is highly valued, (so) saying 'no' can feel as if we are not being cooperative with others at the office, school, or home," says positive psychology and communications expert Michelle Gielan.
"Additionally, many of us want to continually please others, and we might view saying 'no' as a way of disappointing them instead."
Despite the way our brains have been wired to receive it, research shows saying no isn't just socially acceptable — it's actually good for our health. The trick, according to Gielan, is to say no at the outset to avoid having to say it over and over again later. It's a technique she's coined the Power No.
"A Power No is a strategic no that helps boost our well-being in the future," she says. "By saying no, we lower our levels of stress and make time for activities that help keep us in balance including exercise, meditation or time with our friends or family. A Power No also makes the formation of a new, positive habit easier."
It took a plate of fries for the former broadcast journalist to realize how — literally — healthy saying no could be. As Gielan tells it, both she and her mother were trying to exercise and eat better. Over lunch one day, both women ordered a salad. At the last minute, her mother turned to the waiter and tacked on a side of fries.
Instinctively, Gielan shut down the order. In spite of her mother's protests that they'd "only have a few," she realized it would be much easier to say no right now than be forced to say no over and over again each time she looked at that delicious plate of salty fries.
"We told the waiter to cancel it, and my mom later said she was happy we did that because the salad alone was amazing and satisfying. We did not need the fries, and our brain forgot about them by the time we took our first bite," she admits.
While nixing an order of fries may seem like a small consequence, in light of, say, turning down a project at work, or rejecting an amorous suitor, the idea is to change fixed patterns of thinking and give ourselves permission to look after ourselves so we can be there for others.
"It's sometimes hard to muster the courage to deliver a Power No, especially to our boss at work or someone we love," says Gielan. "Ultimately, if it's done in the name of greater well-being, then that can make it more justified in our own minds. It's crucial we take care of ourselves first and foremost in order to be the best employee, partner, parents or friend possible.
While Gielan is the first to admit that saying no isn't easy — she still struggles with it every now and then — putting an action plan together is the best method.
Start by identifying the areas in your life you'd like to improve. It could be curbing your online shopping habit, or turning down the spot on a committee that you know will snowball into a fulltime commitment. The key, says Gielan, is to identify a moment when saying no will have the greatest effect.
The next step is to prepare. "Having a game plan will help, especially if your willpower starts to plummet. Think about the fact that when you say your Power No, you are doing something good for yourself," she says.
Finally, share you intentions with a friend. Having someone to hold you accountable will decrease your chances of chickening out, particularly in the beginning when you may still be a little hesitant.
Just like an exercise buddy, a Power No buddy can help keep you on track. Then, with all the extra time you've gained from turning down an unwanted project, the two of you can go out and enjoy a cup of coffee. Unless, of course, you'd prefer to do something else.