We introverts tend to say yes to a lot of things out of guilt. Can you blame us?
We feel enormous pressure to fit into a culture that worships extroversion. More specifically, we feel pressure to be outgoing busybodies with a packed social calendar. The desire to keep up with the extrovert ideal drives introverts to say yes to all sorts of things we hate.
What we risk by saying no
We secretly believe that if we say no, our life could start to unravel. We imagine saying no will lead our coworkers to think we’re mean, lazy, or (gasp!) genuinely too busy to do their job for them.
Our acquaintances will realize how unloveable and despicable we really are and create a secret club that gathers weekly for the sole purpose of talking behind our back.
Our chance at real success – the kind that involves money, admiration, and endless attention on Twitter – could be lost forever.
These are just a few of the irrational fears that keep us from saying no to sh*t we hate. The truth is that saying no to needless obligations frees up time and energy for more worthwhile things. You know, like activities we actually enjoy, and benefit from.
The most common no’s for introverts
The things we secretly want to say no to vary from one introvert to the next. Our list often includes social obligations, such as happy hour with coworkers, or holiday parties. Perhaps, we’re dying to say no to community obligations, like strata meetings, or fundraising efforts. Parents might feel the urge to say no to heading up the next school bake sale, or book drive.
Many of us desperately want to say no to work opportunities that seem like a definite ‘should’, but don’t align with our core values: “Sure, I’ll head up the company fundraising campaign, even though I hate event planning, and I’m pretty sure the charity we’re promoting is a sham.
No matter how strongly we want to say no to something, sometimes we just can’t help it. We say a reluctant and immediately regretted yes. Then we suffer the consequences.
Is saying yes driving you insane?
Some of us are such yes people that we actively seek out obligations we know will overwhelm us. Take my friend Emma, for example. A while ago, Emma went through a chaotic period in her life. A close family member had a serious illness, which meant she had to rearrange her life to care for her. On top of this, she had a demanding full-time job, plus a house and dog to tend to.
One day, while Emma and I were catching up over lunch, a friend of hers, who owns a fitness studio, popped over to our booth to say hello.
“How are things?” Emma asked her friend.
“My office girl just quit, so it’s been crazy. I’m pretty much living at the studio, but you do what you gotta do.”
“You know, if you ever need help at the studio, just call me,” said Emma. “Really, I’d be happy to come in and volunteer for a few hours a week. My schedule is flexible, just let me know and I’ll be there.”
As sincere and generous as Emma’s offer was, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What the heck are you thinking?!” From my point of view, Emma’s life looked like a tornado had run through it. The last thing she needed were more obligations.
Sometimes, saying no is simply the omission of yes. It’s keeping your pretty little mouth shut when you’re tempted to volunteer your valuable time and energy for something you don’t actually want to do.
Of course, It’s not always easy to know if the activity in question is worthy of a yes. Like Emma, we might genuinely want to help a friend in need. Most of us want to do the right thing. We want to be good people, we really do. But where do we draw the line between generosity and martyrdom? How do we know if we should say yes or no?
3 questions to determine if it’s a yes or no:
Does it align with a bigger vision or goal? For example, if your main goal in life is to be the best writer you can be, you’ll want to say yes to as many writing opportunities as possible. Meanwhile, you might have to turn down activities that impede your creativity, such as big networking events.
How does saying yes feel in your body? If the thought of doing an activity makes you feel heavy, and even queazy, it’s probably a no. On the other hand, if it makes you feel light and excited, say yes, baby! (I should note that some worthwhile activities are scary. If you’re unsure if that queazy feeling stems from healthy fear, or unnecessary obligation, revert to question #1 and explore in more detail.)
Who will this benefit? You would think that activities that benefit the most people should always be a yes. Not exactly. You have to gain something too, my friend. The benefit for you could be building confidence, reaching a goal, or gaining a skill that is important to you. Let’s not forget that you can do something just for the pure enjoyment of it. It’s also essential to remember …
You don’t have to please everyone. Truly connecting with one person trumps mildly entertaining the masses. Tweet this >>
What about obligations?
There are some things in life that we absolutely cannot say no to. Parental obligations are a perfect example of this. Some work commitments are right up there on the list, too. Here’s a tip:
If you are constantly saying yes to sh*t you hate in one particular area of your life, consider making a major change. If you hate every aspect of your job, it might be time for a career change. If you hate everything about raising your family in the big city, maybe it’s time to consider relocating.
Of course, such decisions can’t be taken lightly. But they shouldn’t be ignored either. Saying yes to stuff we hate takes its toll on introverts. It drains our precious introvert energy, and makes life infinitely more sucky.
Life’s too short to say yes to sh*t you hate. Tweet this >>
Find activities that energize you and light you up, and say yes to those instead.
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I’d love to hear your thoughts
Do you have a habit of saying yes to things you hate? What is it time for you to start saying no to? Please do share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Uh, I definitely had the habit of saying yes to every little shit (pardon my language) I was asked… Even to the dumbest questions, things I really hate… I felt horrible every single time. Like your friend Emma, I was saying yes, even though I knew that my life is crowded as it is! But like you said Michaela, guilt came in at the door… It played a big role in my “yes” answers to everyone, and the requests I didn’t like.
However, with years, this changed. My absolute limit was one time, when I literally came home, so consumed by all the “yes” to all the requests, that I literally fell to the ground and didn’t remember the entire day. This was my breaking point. I told myself that day, no more. Now, I carefully assess my situation, and the question I am asked. But what’s more important, I stopped doing the things I hate, and turned my attention to the ones I love. 🙂
My advice to everyone who struggle with this is: Every-time you say no to something you don’t like, you say yes to yourself and your own happiness. 🙂
Beautiful article Michaela! 🙂
Great advice Marko! Sounds like you hit your “yes man” rock bottom, and you learned your limits! Thanks for sharing your story. 🙂
I have made really good progress in being more assertive and saying no more often. I use to be a yes man but now a yes or no man. I just think society, family, and other institutions can instill certain expectations that can create internal pressures that one has to start to question. I learned people actually have more respect for you when you can tell them no sometimes then to being like a doormat and then get used.
Well said, Emerson. And congrats on becoming a “yes or no man”. I agree that society puts pressure on us to assume certain things are a yes. Better to question than blindly accept! 🙂 xo
This is definitely a struggle. Saying yes to too many things. And then dreading the meetings for sometimes weeks. Doubting if I should cancel or not. I think those 3 questions definetely will be a great evaluation method.
Though I also find often, that I might not be psyched in advance for a meetup. But know that I will like it when the moment is there. So I try cultivating making the decision in my head – go for it and don’t worry in advance or cancel now and stop worrying as well!
Keep up the good posts!
Great advice Timon! I sometimes end up enjoying things I dread, too. Overthinking it can be worse than the event itself! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
The advice I find that most helps with this is to remember that when you say “yes” to one thing, you are saying “no” to something else. You can’t please everybody, and there are always conflicting choices. Follow your gut instead of your brain: your brain lies!
Great advice Graeme and well said! I think that old “you can have it all” slogan confused a lot of people – made them forget that you can only say yes to so many things. 🙂
Story of my LIFE. I said “yes” for a long time because I wanted people to be happy, but at my own expense. To be honest, I still say “yes” quite a bit, but it’s a response that is selected with more care, as outlined in Michaela’s article. Last year, “no” became my favorite word.
I read an article by James Altucher (couldn’t find the article to link), and he told a few stories that illustrated his mindset of “no” being the default answer unless you have a good reason to say “yes”. Not only does this release you from committing to everything (including the stuff that you don’t want), but it also releases you from obligation, or feeling like you have to explain your reason for saying no in the first place.
Right off the bat, this can feel like a selfish approach, as people are less comfortable when they are told “no”, but you also have to honor yourself. No one is going to honor you more than you. Being selfish is healthy. Having said that, “selfish” can oftentimes have a negative connotation – but it’s only when you stop considering others in the process that it becomes an issue. There’s room for us all to be more selfish, and we can honor each other for that need.
To circle back – it doesn’t make sense to only consider others while forgetting about ourselves. Let’s all consider others, but keep room to be selfish too. 🙂
It’s funny that you give the writing example. Since I made the decision to commit to being a writer (about eight months ago now), I’ve started saying no to a lot of things, but I’m finding that I’ve become way more discerning as a result. I’m nurturing the people and pursuits that really matter and feel so much happier now. Thanks, Michaela. It’s always good to know there are like-minded people out there.
I have the opposite reaction. I tend to say “No” to everything at first because I know I can get overwhelmed. But then I take the time to reconsider and say “Yes” to only those things I want to do.
It frustrates the hell out of my kids who just want me to take them “somewhere fun”. My initial reaction is no because I want to sit in the relative quiet of my home. But then I think about what’s more important: my desire for solitude, or for them to know their dad loves them and is willing to sacrifice an hour to give them some personal time.
It’s all about understanding your own limits and balancing them with priorities.
I said no to a close friend once when she asked me to go watch friends playing basketball. I said I was feeling drained and felt like just staying home. This was over twenty years ago. We were both in our mid-teens. She never invited me out ever again I didn’t mean for that to happen but she got so offended! She is an extrovert by the way. I now know why I didn’t feel up to it, because I am an introvert, but didn’t realise it back then So I felt it was all my fault that I had practically lost a friend because I didn’t fancy going out one Saturday afternoon. Now I know she should not have been so hard on me having read so much on introversion. She is still very extrovert now out every weekend and entertaining with her very extrovert husband, my husband likes peace and quiet thank goodness, it is sad though to think that our friendship was never the same after that one incident!!!
I used to say yes all of the most of the time but even that was overwhelming. I now am able to stop, heed how I FEEL, and then make a yes or no decision. My one question to myself is “Are you being realistic about saying yes?”. I can determine how I will feel then and there or in the future by simply assessing what is required of me, specifically “energy”. I’m okay with not being liked or pleasing myself before others because it’s not out of selfishness, it’s out of knowing how to take care of myself, because my energy is fragile like that. 🙂
I have realised that I used to say yes to work tasks and social events without feeling if it was the right thing to do. Many times, becaused I feared that I would miss out on something if I said no, although I did thing that drained my energy.
Now I often take some time or sleep on it before I say yes or no to something. This feels much better for me and I am more relaxed and clarified. Agree that it is a matter of priority and spending your energy and time on stuff you really want to do
Some time ago, I realized a dirty little secret about saying “no” to social events, and it’s changed my life ever since.
Whenever I’m told that I “just have to go” to an event, it’s not because the extrovert has my best interests in mind. They’re just craving all of that energy they’ll get to soak up when they fill the room full of people. Great for them, not so great for me! Do I really feel like giving my time away to the extroverts? It’s up to me (and only me) to decide that – it’s my time after all 🙂
I used to be a yes person. However my personal health situation has caused me to limit my yeses. My energy is even more limited and precious now. It is a difficult balance. However not directly on the topic I noticed the tone and wording of the article. Particularly the email introduction I got. Just a guess based on the personal nature of the example given, but it makes me wonder where the romantic part originated. I hope either you Michaela, or perhaps someone close to you, is struggling with a very serious personal situation. Not to pry, but if so I do hope you know how much your articles help us introverts and I am sure the same for your close personal friends. You are a fantastic, vibrant, and exceptionally well expressed person. You say things some of us struggle just to put into words. Stay strong and know there is a community that values and supports you no matter what. Even is that takes some down time and requires some deep personal soul searching. We all deserve the best we can get from life no matter what others say about us introverts. Thank you so much for bringing so many of us to that realization. You are more valuable than even you know Michaela!
I tend to say no to social invitations as I find socialising to be very tiring. Also, I find activities such as “hanging out” a waste of time when I could be devoting that time into activities that bring me real value such as reading, learning a new skill, etc. In fact, I recently helped a friend of mine out of a bullying situation precisely because I am an expert on non-physical combat and negotiation. I would not be as such if I had not studied these areas extensively. And, I can study these areas, and others, extensively precisely because I do say no to social invitations and thus I have the time to devote to study, reading, etc
This whole yes thing is literally my life. I can’t ever say no to anyone without that guilt feeling. Like yesterday, a friend asked me to help walk them home after school because they had trouble walking in their new platform shoes. I didn’t really want to help them because I had other plans with another friend, but I didn’t want to turn them down so I ended up walking them home, and then went to my other friend. It was such a struggle for me because I really pushed myself.
I put everyone before myself, and I can’t always let it be that way because sooner or later if I ever realize this, it’ll turn me into a mess and I won’t have any time to myself. I’m always gonna be running around even when I know I shouldn’t be running around for some stuff because I simply can’t do it or it’s a risky situation.
Another situation I had was when I had a day off from school, and my friend wanted an opportunity to hang out (the same friend I had to help walk home), and I didn’t really want to do that either because I wanted to use my day off to “recharge” but I ended up hanging out with my friend anyway because I simply couldn’t say no. That was a dreadful day because I really did tire myself out and I didn’t want to do anything. Luckily we spent most of the time watching videos so I didn’t really have to do anything.
I completely understand i was in the exact same spot. I said yes to so much shit it almost drove me to suicide and i just can’t watch someone go down that road idk u so idk how headstrong you are. That is a life sucking road your going down and it gets worse and worse. You should seriously consider where you want to stand in life, do you want to constantly be running around after someone else someone who really is only using u to do shit for them? Come on your worth more than that much more, this is something you shouldn’t do for anybody else this is something u should do for yourself. Unfortunately this is up to you alone and you gotta want it enough to put in the mental work to get it. take it from somebody who’s already flown through the storm, clear skies and a happy life are ahead and i want to help you get it but i can only help you if you want to put in the work. thats all i can really say to try to persuade you to say no more its your decision and i believe in you.
This is my life, though I’m working hard to improve in the area! I will say yes to everything from dinner or drinks after work to weekend getaways…and every time I say yes, I know full well that I actually mean no, and that I have no plans to actually attend. I’m so ashamed of that, and I am working to just say, “No, I’m sorry. I’m overwhelmed and really just need that time for myself.” Some days are harder than others.
Thanks for this reminder. <3
Thanks, a great article! Do you mind elaborating on saying no to the work/social obligation? How to avoid informal meetings that happen over parties and drinks? Being a teetotaler(and uncomfortable with bar environment), it adds more trouble to say yes to such meetings!
I desparetely need to say NO &walk away! This is especially the case wth my manipulative daughter who is 26 years old & wont take NO for an answer without stomping the ground in a tantrum! It ends up in an argument because she thinks im not allowed to say no. I get to the point where I can’t answer because I’m appolled she still asks so much. I’ve become numb. She has brain injury & is a recovering addict. She is still healthy enough to work but has excuses. I say no & she tries to get in my face so I try to remove myself from her before a big argument ensues. It’s a love-hate relationship that’s driving me nuts! No no no no no!!! I can’t stand it!
I have just recently put my foot down and said no to a few toxic people and situations , and it feels strange I don’t feel like me , I almost feel like it’s my duty to suffer this rather than hurt people by saying no , but I know it’s the only way now ,so I say I will be your friend I will always have manners and be a gentleman , and if you are truly in need and I can help I will, but the second you take the piss with that I’m gone .
Michaela, many years I used to say “yes” way to often, until I got more and more depressed. I felt guilty for every”no”. I really was suffering! – Meanwhile I even hardly need to say “no” because nobody asks me (hahaha). The people have learned, they know how I tick and so they don’t bother me! (OF COURSE: Some few, very special lovely people could bother me night & day!) – but for the rest: Leave me alone! Thanks. 🙂
So true … I get asked to do something … inside I am screaming no, not, don’t want to do it … outside I say sure, er ok, happy to … fear that if I say no I will not be loved, will fail, world will come crashing down …
Weirdly I find it way too easy to say no to things. If I don’t feel like doing something (and often holiday parties) I won’t want to go to, I have no problem saying no.
I’ve tried to form the habit of answering any requests to do things with a maybe or an I’ll see.
I wait a day. And often I find later when I have time to adjust to the idea of future, potentially painful socialization, I decide I can and want to do whatever was requested of me.
Great article. Another way of putting it–and I can’t remember who said it–is, “If it ain’t a Hell Yeah, it’s a NO!”
Does anyone feel like this “yes/no” dilemma (as well as quite a few other things) is a reflection of our broken/undeveloped ability to actually make decisions and to stand up to them? It seems only reasonable that one would not say “yes” if it’s not in their interests. Still, we will say “yes” (or “no”), and, then, we’ll be doubting ourselves. This is also why the title of this post may look so enticing.. Once it’s called sh*t, it’s hard to turn back.
PS. Not offering this is a judgement, btw.
I have started doing this and it feels great! Since finding out I’m an INFJ I have leaned in more to my introvert tendencies because I no longer feel ashamed of them and see that it is normal. Since I say no to things I don’t want (or need) to do, I’m more at ease. More peaceful. And more likely to say yes to other things I would normally not have the energy. I know this will give off a standoffish “mean” vibe to some other people……..but I don’t CARE! Now I’m taking care me. I have spent my whole life trying to “fit in” and be like everyone else. But I’m not like everyone else. I’m me. And I just wanna do what I wanna do.
That’s great to hear Lina! Good for you for saying no. I know this can be especially hard for INFJs, because you care so much about the feelings of others.
Great article! Every one I’ve read so far has been; thank you. Indeed, I’ve felt like I’ve had to say yes my whole life to shit I hate. And then justify it when I don’t. Maddening. Maturity (older age!) has helped considerably in becoming more assertive. It also helps that there is a lexicon now for introverts; the means to express and communicate is truly helpful.
Thanks again. Keep up the writing! I’ll be returning here often when I need validation and/or a little fortification.
I just said no now to a friend who wants us to hang out today. I’ve had a long and tedious week, thank goodness she gets me, or maybe not but it feels good to just say no for once.
I’ve actually made difficult decisions lately as a way of saying no to things that weren’t beneficial to me like refusing to be dragged in family issues and leaving work after realizing how I didn’t fit in with the company culture. It’s not easy to stand up for our real, deeper needs ’cause sometimes doing so entails that we give up things that are also important to us and we can piss/hurt others, in the process, too. It really sucks sometimes and we can end up feeling guilty and unsure of our decisions. Despite that I still think saying no is one of the best ways to protect ourselves and avoid messy outcomes that could possibly take place as a result of burnout sooner or later.