Saying no is usually tough to do: this little word has so much negativity associated with it that we hate having to say it as well as hear it. The truth is, however, very often in our lives we have to say no to a lot of things: temptation, others’ demands, cake. That being said, we should probably get better at doing it.
An idea that I’ve been researching for quite some time is that we actually tend to make it harder for ourselves to say no when we need to. How is that possible? I’ve already discussed the importance of not only what but how we say it (you can check it out here) and the no situation is no different (pun intended).
For example, have you noticed how usually when we feel obliged to decline something, we tend to say “I can’t”; no matter if it’s a shopping-spree with an old friend or an extra drink at the bar on Friday night, we turn to those words more often than we realize. The thing is though, those words are a bit flimsy: they’re not really efficient and are quite easy to work around. Here’s a quick example of something I overheard in a cafe the other day: “I can’t have that cake because I’m on a diet.” “Oh, come on, one little piece of cake will not ruin your diet. And besides, it’s Saturday, let yourself go!”. “Well, I guess just one won’t hurt.” See how easy-peasy it was to totally break that justification? I’m sure we can all relate to that.
So, instead of saying I can’t, why don’t we try saying I don’t? There are many articles, like this one for example, that show that in terms of sticking to something you’ve already decided, I don’t is a far better option to use. Why? Because it has 2 aspects that particularly strengthen your willpower against the odds: generality and statement of principle. The generality bit comes from the stating of the universal fact that you don’t do X: this helps because usually when we’re tempted to veer away from our main goal, it’s because of something random (like the cake in the example above). But that random temptation really has no power over you, because of the general principle you follow: I don’t socialize on Sunday, because Sunday is me-day or I don’t go to bed until I’ve done the dishes. And then the principle statement is the actual words you say to clearly state to others (and also remind yourself!) who you are and why you stick to that general principle. We normally have a tendency to stick to a version of ourselves we know and like so, when we reinforce it by saying it out loud, it’s x10 stronger.
So next time when you find yourself in a situation when you need to resist temptation: remember think about who you are and what goals you’ve set for yourself and think: what’s more important to me right now, random thing X or my big plan?