You Don’t Have to if You Don’t Want to


I have a history of saying “yes” just because I can’t think of a good reason to say no. I may not particularly want to do it, but my schedule is free and I have the time and I’m not doing anything else, so… I guess I’m doing The Thing. The fact that I don’t actually want to do it gets rolled over and ignored completely.

I have an even harder time saying no if there is some kind of precedent in place for my having done The Thing in the past. The most recent example of this is going to the equivalent of four Kempo classes a week even though I’m exhausted and in need of a break. I worry that my absence means I’m letting my classmates and Senseis down.

Reality: Maybe someone asks where I am during the first two minutes, then class moves on like I was never there. I’m projecting my perceptions on to a dojo full of people, most of whom aren’t entirely sure of my name.

I’m saying yes when I’d rather say no just to please a bunch of people who know me only as “the redhead in the front”.

To that end, I recently posted this little gem above the laptop in my home office:


It is a little reminder to myself that I can say no. I’ve written about “no” being a one-word sentence, but this actually comes before that. This is the permission I need to actually say it. This is the reminder to stop and take stock of what I need.

  • Do I have enough time/energy/inclination for this request?
  • Even if I’m on the fence now, will I regret not doing it later?
  • Will I enjoy it/have fun once I’m doing it?
  • Am I reacting from a place of anxiety/fear/nervousness, or do I genuinely not want to do it?

The final question may be most important for me. Sometimes I make anxiety-related knee-jerk choices, and in order be a thriving person in this world I need to push myself out of my comfort zone. Most times I am grateful to myself for having said yes when my anxiety said no.

Sometimes, however, I just don’t wanna. So why do I say yes? Because I can’t think of a good reason to say “no.”

I spent most of my Thirties going on multiple lackluster dates with lackluster men, simply because I couldn’t think of a good reason to decline. I wasn’t attracted to these poor men at all, but because I couldn’t come up with a “good” reason not to, them I kept dating them.

FYI: dating a person for three months because you can’t think of a good reason not to is not a healthy relationship foundation.

This little sticky note above my laptop is my reminder to me that sometimes, “not wanting to” is all the reason you need.

Sometimes I have the time and the energy and it’s not my anxiety responding. But no, I won’t regret missing out on it and, no I’m not convinced I’ll have much fun. Do I have a “good” reason to say No? Not according to my projected fears. Am I going to no anyway? YES.

I’m allowed to say no. I’m allowed to use that one-word sentence. I’m allowed to fill that time and invest my energy in something that I know will be enjoyable.

And yes, we can’t always get what we want. We all have obligations and responsibilities that sometimes mean saying yes when we’d rather the no (hello, taxes). But many times, we have more choices than we allow ourselves to see.

Saying no to the things that don’t fulfill us means we say yes to the things that do. A fulfilled person is more likely to take that feeling out in the world to help others feel that way too.

So, no. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.


What have you said no to in your life, that allowed you to say yes to something else?