This year a number of my friends made resolutions to “only say yes to those activities I really want to do” or “to only take on the number of projects I can handle without driving myself nuts.” Most students I know are in the same boat - planning to conquer about 1,000 projects this year - which is guaranteed to leave us feeling like frantic failures.
Another way to frame this resolution is – Practice Saying No. If I try to get an A on every assignment, take on every community service project I’m asked to do, or attend every event I’m invited to – I will collapse. We simply can't manage our workloads or our lives without saying no.
And it’s not the easiest skill to learn! If you find it challenging to refuse anyone anything, here are a few ideas to get you started:
*Start small. Make a list of 5 people or events you’d like to turn down, and rank them from easiest to hardest. Start with the easiest one first – you might really enjoy saying no to it!
*Practice. Just like riding a bike, we’re likely to feel a little wobbly the first time we say no to joining that cool new Advisory Board or hosting the huge campus-wide 80’s dance party. If you’re worried about how the conversation will go, ask a friend to role-play it with you a few times first.
*Try a three-part statement. Here’s a simple tool for assertive communication recommended by many Personal Safety Educators: 1) Describe the unwanted behavior, 2) Describe the effect on you, and then 3) Describe the behavior you want in the future. Here’s an example:
1. You borrowed my car again last night without letting me know.
2. I felt disrespected and I needed it to get to class.
3. I want you to ask my permission in the future.
And if it still feels hard to say no, know that you are in good company. Explore why it’s difficult for many of us to say no, and get some great practical tips for how to do it from Lauren Taylor of Defend Yourself.
Remember, as Lauren writes: “You completely and utterly deserve to have your boundaries be known and be respected by others.” You’re worth it! And if you'd like more practice, try one of the Dean of Students' Personal Safety Education workshops.