The Other Side of the Couch – How to Say “No”


Every now and then a period of time arises in my life that results in hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth, accompanied by thoughts such as, “How could this have happened again?” and “What were you thinking?” and “Were you even thinking?”   This is usually the result of having said, “Yes,” to too many different projects, all of which for some odd reason all need to be completed within the same (already packed) time period.   This is what I used to call in my college days a “Pressure Period.”  The perplexing part of this for me is that I am light-years past college, and the same kind of thing keeps on happening on an all-too-regular basis.

I have strategies for dealing with it when it happens – chunk it down, one step at a time, do the next right thing, this too shall pass.  All of these strategies work to some degree, and the period of time passes and it all gets done.  However, what I want is a change in the pattern.  I want it NOT to happen.

To make that happen, I have to be really honest with myself and with what I am committing myself to taking on.  For example, I am currently the president or leader of three organizations – two are local and one is national.  I didn’t plan to be the one in charge of these groups all at the same time – it just turned out that way.  It’s as though when I am asked to take a certain role, everything other than my ability to do the job and my desire to do it well and my knowledge that I can do it well recedes.  I can only see that one thing that is ahead of me  All the other things that I do are not present as I contemplate this possibility.  I do choose to say yes, and I often say it quickly, without taking time to consider the impact on other areas of my life.

The result of this pattern is that I stay very busy.  I am sure that staying busy is serving some purpose in my life, but I won’t know what that purpose is unless I allow myself to become less busy.  Becoming less busy is going to involve saying, “No.” – and saying no is a skill I need to practice.

So – here are some ideas I plan to try:

  • Say maybe.
  • Sleep on any decision.
  • Make a blanket rule about saying, “Yes,” to anything at all for “x” period of time, no matter how good it sounds.
  • Be ok with changing my mind.
  • Understand that I am not the only person who can do a task. I am not irreplaceable (Wow – how arrogant to even think such a thing).
  • Breathe
  • Be compassionate to the part of me that wants to say yes, and curious about what it would be like to be less busy.

I will let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, I’d better get busy….!!!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at

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