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5 Ways to Get Better at Saying No

Remember, "no" is a complete sentence.

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Say no, aarp, sisters
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It’s one of the shorter words in the English language, but those two little letters can be some of the toughest to say. And for Black women — who too often have taken on the role of the people who can do everything for everybody — saying no can sound like the stuff that dreams are made of.

But being a yes-woman is exhausting. Spending time focused on everyone else’s needs and to-do lists can leave you emotionally and physically worn out. There’s a sense of empowerment built into saying no — it means you chose yourself and your needs first.

Fortunately, we are not genetically wired to people please. Girls are socialized into believing they shouldn’t rock the boat so they’ll be liked, which means they can grow up into women who fear rejection if they assert themselves. But learned behavior can be unlearned. Here are five ways to do that and strengthen your “no, thank you” muscle.

Get some perspective. Yes, saying no can be hard. But doing whatever it is that someone asked of you might be even harder. As soon as you find yourself getting nervous about turning down an ask, take a deep breath and consider the time suck that will happen if you agree. Then, pick peace of mind and say no. It will get easier each time. Until then, inhale and exhale through it.

Practice a script.
Think of the most common things you are asked to do that you say yes to when in your head you hear a loud “noooo!” If you are agreeing because you panic in the moment and can’t think of a way to decline, practice in advance at home. Know that your work friends are going to invite you to happy hour — an event that is never as happy as they hype it to be? Instead of being flustered, make your go-to line, “I’ve decided to stop doing midweek drinks.” Say it out loud in front of a mirror, get used to how it feels coming out of your mouth and be ready for the next Margarita Monday invitation. No panic because you’re already prepared.

Don’t apologize.
Correct: “I’m not able to do that.” Incorrect: “I’m so sorry, but I’m not able to do that.” You do not have to get permission not to do something. Even if you’re uncomfortable and feel like you’re doing something wrong, fake it until you actually start to believe that there’s no reason to feel bad.

Banish the words “let me think about it.”
You thought about it as soon as the person asked, and what you thought wasno way, no how do I want to do that. So don’t pretend you’re going to mull it over for the sake of protecting someone’s feelings. It only prolongs the conversation — and your anxiety.

Replace “I can’t” with “I don’t.”
“I can’t” sounds like the door is open for a conversation. When you say you cannot do something, there’s a chance someone will try to convince you that, yes, in fact, you can. “I don’t” is much more emphatic, making it clear there is no wiggle room. For instance, take the salesperson who asks, “Would you like to open up a store credit account today?” We’ve all been there, waiting to pay for our items and hightail it out the door. A firm “I don’t use store credit cards, but thank you,” will shut down any more chitchat on the topic, saving you from hearing about bonus sales and interest rates.