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The art of saying no

by Nicola Arnold


‘NO’ every other closed question asked ends with it. Such an easy word, two letters, one syllable ‘No’. Mmm so how come I find it so hard to say it in certain situations?


Let me explain. As compassionate human beings we are conditioned as we grow up to be kind, generous and loving to each other. To support each other and be there to listen and empathise, take care of others and make sure they are OK.


Taking care of others is a top value of mine – however I’m not so good at remembering to take care of myself all of the time.


You see I have this inability to say the word ‘No’. I know its crazy right? Or is it? How many of you reading this will be sitting here thinking ‘yeah that’s me too!’ Just last week a friend who I love dearly who’s going through a hard time asked me to meet her. I said yes – why wouldn’t I?


But then it dawned on me that by saying yes I was saying no to myself to have the one evening off I had planned in 11 days to have some me time. Then I felt racked with guilt, yes the good old guilt gremlin was back and rearing its ugly head. “You’re failing your friend when she needs you” versus “what about you?” You need some time off, you’re failing yourself”.


Self first

So after a half hour gremlin wrestling match in my head it suddenly dawned on me that actually how much use to my friend was I, if I’m tired and not totally present to meeting her? Having a night to myself would be refreshing, reenergising and enable me to face another week feeling ready for new challenges – surely I would be in a better place to be with her and actually also and not selfishly, for myself.


So I did something brave (in my eyes) I rang her back and said I couldn’t make it and could we do another day instead. It felt strange, however almost uplifting. I wasn’t being selfish was I. No I was putting my SELF FIRST and making a CHOICE for me and it feel strangely GOOD. My friend also was more than happy to me another day – so why had I put myself through that anguish when I didn’t need to?


Take another example Lady Gaga – the pop singer, I know who’d of thought I could bring her into this blog? Well the other day I stumbled across a video of her on social media. I went to scroll past as how could this media hungry singer known for her wackiness teach me anything. However something told me to take a moment and watch the video. She describes how she started saying ‘No’. In service of herself and to uphold her own values she started saying no to aspects of her life and work.


Wow man, did this resonate with me. I sat and watched it several times as is it dawned on me that I was watching a reflection of who I wanted to be. I wanted to be able to sit there sat up straight, shoulders back with my head held high completely comfortable in my own skin, feeling truly connected to my heart and able to say proudly “I live by my values”.


Wow – it just shows how we can all make judgements – certainly Lady Gaga isn’t someone you would initially consider to uphold this for herself in the industry she works in. Then I realised, look at the impact she has just had on me and perhaps a great deal of others too. Authentic living being true to your values.


This was the pivotal moment. Right now this wasn’t the real me. Ouch! How did that happen?


My Gaga moment

So let me ask you reader, when did you last review your values? When did you last sit and connect with your heart – take time out from the world and just sit, breathe and be mindful?


My Gaga moment as I now refer to it was such a key reminder last week that we can all stumble off the track, get wrapped up in the moment and lose our way. The difference is whether we choose to get back on, to realign what’s important to us and refocus. Our values are connected to our life purpose right? And the mindset that we hold, and the choices we make to live our lives. So how do you check in with this? What’s your structure? Ultimately what is your purpose??


Take a moment now to just sit, connect and breathe – what shows up for you?



the art of saying no - nicola arnold


The stretch

Moving forward, where is your stretch to uphold your values and truly be the best you can be in all your magnificence? What aspirations keep you curious and growing where there is no need for validation or feeling judged.


Not limiting yourself but stepping up and showing up in the world. For example if a value of yours is joy, fun etc what about dancing? Do you let yourself go, really let the rhythm control you, let your hair down and be care free to really express yourself? Do you feel the joy in every moment? Every drum beat?


This was true for me yesterday. I went to see a musical and was mesmerised by the cast as they made every word, movement and musical note count. I found myself wondering whether I make every moment count. Do you ever stop for a second and think could I put more effort into this?, more zest into something you’re doing? How do you know when you’re truly showing up? Truly aligned, feeling alive and radiant?

Go on – STOP now… Are you feeling aligned today?

How does it feel?

What do you see?

What do you want to lock in?

Inside us all is this strong wiser self who when we connect with can help us to face the things in life we strive for but sometimes hold back. How could you bring the stronger, more committed and bolder person to the forefront?


Checking in

There are simple techniques we can all engage in daily and weekly to check whether we are upholding our values and purpose and I encourage you to invest in yourself:

1) Check in with yourself each day by allowing 5-10 minutes to ‘just be’. Notice what happens when you allow yourself to connect with your breathing, stop what you are doing and just focus on you. Are you connected with what you really want?

2) Ask yourself ‘What have I achieved today?’ Every day is the chance for a new beginning and to appreciate what has gone well. Journal 3 positive things before you go to bed each night and notice what happens to your sleep pattern and mind frame the following day.

3) Write down your core values and check in once a week to ensure you’re upholding them. Notice what happens when you feel on purpose and when you don’t

4) Notice what have you said ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to this week? How does it feel and who has it served?


A promise to yourself

Writing this blog alone, has been a great personal exercise for me to try new ways of checking in with where I am now and where I am going (with my values firmly packed in my rucksack for the journey of course). What has this blog bubbled up for you? Reconnection with your values? or reflection on when did you last say ‘no’ to something or someone? Enabling you to say ‘yes’ to yourself?


What is a promise you can make to yourself moving forward? Perhaps it is to just notice when you say no and what that feels like. I’ve even put a sticky note on my computer to remind me!


Go on try it – it’s quite a revelation.


By Nicola Arnold (Certified Professional Co-Active Coach)