Just Say NO (to Anything!)

From my own wedding in May to this wedding over Labor Day, my summer has been pretty intense. Which is why I’m reintroducing one of my favorite words into my vocabulary this fall…. NO.

It’s just two little letters, but the word NO is incredibly powerful. And it also tends to stir us up emotionally, which is why so many people struggle with saying it.

But NO is literally such a negative word, you might be thinking. NO closes doors, NO shuts down opportunities, NO hurts people’s feelings, NO denies people who really need your help.

Are those ideas even true? Some of the time, sure. But think hard about the last time somebody asked you for something and they were truly desperate for your help. Like in a dire situation desperate. It happens less often than you might think.

What NO also does is it forces you to make choices, and that’s not a bad thing. NO sets clear priorities, NO defines limits and boundaries, NO is honest about exactly where you stand.

And NO gives you enough time and space that when people really need your help, you can be there for them.


Let’s say that an email request goes out asking for sub coverage for a yoga class. You look at your calendar and decide that teaching this class is not a great opportunity for you.

That might be because:

*You are already teaching three classes that day and will feel overwhelmed teaching four.

*Your overall weekly teaching schedule is already packed and you don’t want to add anything to it.

*You have a personal commitment, such as brunch with a friend or plans to go to a movie with your partner, during that time.

*It’s your regular day off.

What you would like to do is say NO, but here’s where your mental wheels start spinning out.

“I am technically free, so I should pick up this class.”

“The studio really needs me, they won’t be able to find anyone else to teach.”

“I’m lying if I say I’m not available to sub.”

“It’s only one class, I could probably reschedule brunch.”

The real reason we are afraid to say NO is because we are afraid of being punished for it. We think we will disappoint others, make them angry, or get them upset, and that as a result, they will cut us out of the tribe. If you look deep down at why you resist saying NO, past the excuses and the rationalizations, you might find that the reason is simply, “They won’t like me anymore.”

Take a moment to breathe and offer that part of yourself compassion and comfort. That piece of you might be legitimately scared, and it’s okay to honor that.

But that piece of you is also holding on to false beliefs.

“I am technically free, so I should pick up this class.” The truth is, “should” is just an obligation you place on yourself. You’re either required to teach a class, or you’re not. Anything else is optional, and if it’s optional, you can either opt in or opt out. You always have a choice.

“The studio really needs me, they won’t be able to find anyone else to teach.” The narrative that you are the only person that can rescue the studio by covering a particular class is piling a lot more responsibility onto your shoulders than you need. Do you own the studio? Do you manage it? If not, remember that’s what managers and owners are for. They assume more responsibility because they have a greater stake and potential to gain from the business than you do. That’s part of the tradeoff.

“I’m lying if I say I’m not available to sub.” You’re only lying if you say you’re not available because you’re already teaching, or out of town, or doing something else that you’re not actually doing. One of the biggest challenges teachers face is deciding what technically qualifies as free time and what doesn’t. You may not be teaching a class, but that doesn’t mean you’re available. You might be going to the dentist or getting to take class with a teacher you really love, and that’s okay.

“It’s only one class, I could probably reschedule brunch.” Because yoga teachers have crazy schedules, because it can be tough to get together with your friends (who may also have crazy schedules), because it’s hard to define when you’re available to teach and when you’re technically “off,” it is super important to be firm about your personal commitments. Your relationships with the people you love are important, and need maintenance, care, and dedication, the same way your career does. Plus, brunch is sacred.

In a way, yoga teachers are lucky. They have many opportunities to practice saying NO, and there’s an obvious delineation between “Yes I can teach this class” and “NO I can’t.” Many other folks out there have careers where working overtime is expected, and “I’ll just stay 15 minutes late today” slides into “I’m staying an hour late every single day” all too quickly.

And just as an FYI, it's not that I'm opposed to the idea of subbing other people's yoga classes. I actually love subbing and do it often. I like being able to help other teachers out, I like the boost to my income, and I like encountering students I wouldn't normally get to meet. But I want to feel really good about every class that I sub, and that only happens when I really consider whether the opportunity is the right one before saying yes.


Now that you’re ready and willing to say NO, the next step is to learn exactly how to say it. In the next post (in 2 weeks), I’ll walk you through a formula that helps you say NO in a way that is clear, direct, and kind.