Balance & Beyond Podcast

Episode Summary

#43 How to Say No Without the Guilt

Ever felt the weight of the world on your shoulders, because you couldn't muster the word 'no'?

You are far from alone. Welcome back to Balance and Beyond, where today's heart-to-heart peels back the layers of societal expectations that often leave ambitious women like us grappling with guilt and overcommitment. We're taking a hard look at the emotional turmoil behind being a perennial people-pleaser and providing tangible strategies to bravely assert your right to prioritise self-care and personal goals. It's about time we redefine success on terms that resonate with our well-being and aspirations.

As we navigate the tricky transition from remote to hybrid work environments, the silent expectation to juggle an ever-increasing workload looms large. This episode doesn't just reveal the harsh consequences of saying 'yes' too often—it hands you the tools to transform your 'yes' into a 'yes, but', allowing you to honour your commitments without sacrificing your sanity. Our conversation leads to a powerful realisation: saying no isn't about letting people down. It's about lifting yourself up. Tune in for an empowering discussion that aims to recalibrate your life's balance and guide you toward joy and fulfilment that's here to stay.

For more on how to say no, download the free must-have guide for ambitious women: The Art of Saying No Without Guilt. Embrace the freedom of saying "no" and reclaim your time, boost your energy, and create true balance.

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Episode Transcript

INTRO: Welcome to Balance and Beyond, the podcast for ambitious women who refuse to accept burnout as the price of success. Here, we’re committed to empowering you with the tools and strategies you need to achieve true balance, where your career, relationships and health all thrive, and where you have the power to define success on your own terms. I honour the space you’ve created for yourself today, so take a breath, and let's dive right in…

N-O, two letters, and a very, very small word that is so challenging for us to say. On today's episode of the podcast, we're going to dive deep as to what we make this word mean, why we struggle to say it without feeling guilty, and what is a practical, better alternative, a tangible strategy that you can start implementing that's going to allow you to say no to other things, so you can start saying yes to yourself. Let's dive in. 

“Jo, it's almost impossible for me to say no.” “I worry about letting people down.” “I worry about being selfish.” “I worry that they're not going to like me, and so I end up saying yes instead.” Does this sound familiar? This is something I hear from women every single day, and it is right up there in terms of one of the top challenges that women are having, and it's something that is very often specific. 

I'm generalising here, but to women, often, men don't have a problem saying no. And this first piece I want to share with you today is, why is it so tricky for us to do? There's this complex web of conditioning, societal conditioning, gender conditioning, where, as girls, we are brought up really, particularly those of us who were brought up in the 80s and 90s. Despite having this, “I can take on the world.” “I can go to space.” “I can do everything!” We still have to take care of people, we still have to look after others. 

And accusing a woman, particularly a mother, of being selfish, is still one of the biggest insults you can throw at us. And what this does is. This is one of the key reasons that so many women end up being some variation of a people pleaser. And by this, I mean, it's very difficult for us to put our own needs first. We want to say yes to everybody else, because we don't know how to say yes to ourselves. 

What happens is, as children, we are not ever really taught when we try to say no, but then we usually get in trouble if we don't agree with our parents, or that we don't agree with the teacher. And again there's this beautiful thing called guilt and shame that is heaped upon us, on a very, very regular basis. 

And so, what happens? As we grow up, we start entering the workforce and because we worry about what no means and we'll get to that in a second we end up saying yes to everything and we're rewarded for that. We say yes for this project, and look at that. You know, we do a great job. We get praise, we get external validation. We say yes to helping bake cupcakes for the school fete, because we believe that that's what a good mother should do.

And it's like, “Oh my God, look at these cupcakes!” Even though you stayed up till midnight swimming in resentment, because you didn't want to do it, and you're exhausted. And so, society is built on women saying yes to everything, but the thing is, we're never allowed to say yes to ourselves. 

Now, the second piece I want to share with you, is so not only is there this complex web of conditioning that really makes it difficult for us to say no, it's something that we have to learn. When we say no, there's a whole lot of meaning that we put in it that makes it even harder to say. 

When you're a people pleaser, you want people to like you. And there is this deep, ingrained fear, in so many women that, “If I say no, that I'm not going to take that work”, or “No, I'm not going to bake cupcakes”, or “No, I'm not going to do X, Y, Z … “ “Well then, what are they going to think of me?” “Are they going to think that I can't cope?” “Are they going to think that I'm not capable?” “Are they going to think that I can't handle it all?” 

Because, we've somehow put ourselves on a pedestal of being able to do everything, and never asking for help. “Yeah, sure I'll do this.” “Yeah, sure it is.” It's as if we've often used the term superwoman, but that doesn't mean saying yes to everything, and everyone else. And in this quest for wanting everyone to like us, if we say no, this fear will emerge. 

So if we say no, “What are they going to think of me?” “They can't think I'm not going to cope.” And then the great horror is “What if they don't like me?” “What if they don't think I'm nice?” And then, “If they don't like me … “, here's where our caveman brain really kicks in, “If they don't like me, then they're going to kick me out of the tribe.” “And if I'm kicked out of the tribe, I'm not going to be able to survive on my own, because I'm living on the savannah, because I've got my caveman brain here.” Being part of the tribe was part of survival. So, “I'm not going to be kicked out of the tribe”, and “I'm going to die.” 

I know I'm being dramatic, but this is what your brain is doing. And for so many women, if they do say no, it can literally feel like, “Oh my gosh, I'm going to die!” “I cannot say no.” And if we do happen to say no, what we do is we will then heap shame and guilt on ourselves, at the same time. So, if I say, “No, I can't bake the cupcakes.” Then, because of that fear of rejection, even though this is all made up in our heads, guys, isn’t this nuts? We will then secretly, or sometimes very overtly, guilt and shame ourselves, which means that we're wrong. 

So, even when we say no, we feel like we shouldn't have. And how this plays out is we then worry that we've let someone down and we worry that they weren't like us and we feel guilty because I should be able to bake cupcakes until midnight, even though I'm working full time with a big job and I have three children and it's winter sports season yes, it's absolutely crazy. And so we've become now chemically addicted to these emotions of shame and guilt.  

And then, in some ways, because we then beat ourselves up if we say no, it's almost easier to say yes, and swim in resentment instead, and deal with the exhaustion, rather than heaping shame on ourselves, because we make it such a bad thing if we want to do anything for ourselves. So, we've got these dual fears, we've got this fear of not being liked, and we've got this fear of being selfish. 

And so, “I don't want to be either of those things.” “I don't want to be selfish.” Which, apparently, is what happens if I say yes to myself, and no to somebody else. That's being selfish. And then, “I want to be liked, and the only way people are going to like me is if I say yes to everything that they ask of me.” 

And the result of this is that we end up swimming in resentment, completely and utterly exhausted and with nothing left in the tank for the people that we love. This is where it becomes completely nuts. This is where we've got it all wrong, because there's nothing left in the tank, because we've said yes to everyone else. And the person who misses out most in this whole experience is you. 

Because you're so afraid of being selfish, it becomes impossible to say yes to yourself. And by this, I mean, yes to going to bed early, or yes to focusing on what you want, instead of what somebody else wants. I've had clients I've worked with who, as an example, you know, get Thai food every Friday night for takeaway, and they hate Thai food. They really want Italian, but they've never been able to say, “I want Italian”, because they're so worried that that's going to make them selfish. And they've got all these things caught up in what being selfish means, and “That means I'm a bad mother, and I have to put everybody else's needs before my own.” 

All this is resulting in is an entire generation of women who are saying yes to everyone else, but they are exhausted, and the resentment is toxifying, or making toxic, every single relationship they have. I know many women who secretly, or sometimes overtly, resent their children because they need so much from them. 

Now, of course, children need their mothers, they need parents. But, they don't often need them to the extent that we give ourselves to them. We can say no to putting their milk in three different types of cups. They can take the first one. So, there are all these inbuilt mechanisms that keep us trapped, and keep us stuck. 

There's a reason that I'm talking about “no” as such a vital piece of the puzzle that we need to learn how to do. It’s because more now than ever, and by this I mean, in a post-COVID era, there's some very, very strong emerging trends. I am seeing, given I talk to and work with thousands of women from this very specific cohort. These are women typically with big jobs, with demanding jobs, towards the top of the hierarchical ladder, juggling families, and what we are starting to see is this convergence of a number of different trends. 

The first trend is that work volumes are increasing, and by that I mean there's less budget because of the economic climate. People aren't being replaced, and if they do happen to have their headcount, they can't find the right person or they can't pay them what they want to be paid because of the cost of living, and so everyone is having to do more with less. 

And when you're a yes person and you're having to do more with less. What do you think is happening? Well, you're still saying yes to all the things, and those yes things are piling up and piling up and piling up and piling up, and the answer seems to be to work harder or later or longer. Seems to be to work harder or later or longer, and that is not working. On top of that, you've got this environment of fewer resources. 

You've also got now most organisations who have offices, have some form of hybrid working arrangements. So, you've gone back to the office. Likely, if you work in an office, maybe a couple of days a week, maybe you're back full-time. It depends on your circumstances. But, what this hybrid life has now done is, yes, it can be great to take your Ugg Boots off, and put some real clothes on, and go and socialise. I'm not saying it's a bad thing at all. 

But, I'm saying now you've had this world that was predominantly work from home for quite a while, and now we've gone back, but we haven't adjusted our behaviours or expectations or reinforced our boundaries. So, when you're hybrid, and then you leave the office because you've got to come pick up a child, or put them to bed. And then you're back on the couch again, and then you're home, and then you're doing the washing and being like a demon, and saying yes to all these extra things that you've probably picked up because, in theory, you weren't commuting, but in reality, more women have just taken on even more. And now they're adding on a commute a couple of days a week, on top of that. 

So, you've got increasing work volumes, you've got hybrid work, and what this is resulting in, is mass overwhelm. Because, on the personal front, so that's the work front, on the personal front, you've now got everything back in peak. Let's call it activity four. Everything is back, all the seasons are back and I know many families that, coming off the back of COVID, when they couldn't do things for a few years, have picked up some extra stuff, because their kids missed out on sport for a few years, or piano lessons for a few years, and so activities for many, many families are almost greater than they were pre-COVID. 

So, you've got this confluence of work has massively amped up, personal life has massively amped up, and you keep saying yes to everything, and now, because everything around you has amped up, there's more opportunities to continue to say yes to everything. So you say yes to everything. And because you say yes to everything people keep asking, and then you get angry at those people because they asked you, because they knew that you would say yes, but you really wanted to say no. It is nuts, and it is time that we need to stop it. 

You've heard these theories of the great resignation, and then there was the silent quitting. What they, I believe, is now we are now seeing, particularly in this cohort of women, is the great burnout. And, it's not a great volcano that's burning out, it is this gradual, slow candle that is being burnt at both ends, faster than ever before. We're talking mass rates of autoimmune diagnosis. We're talking about depression. We're talking about your relationships that are breaking down. 

And for most women, yes, there are the big external factors. We're talking about what happened to the joy? What happened to being fun, instead of spending your life feeling guilty, and doing everything for everyone else, not being able to actually recognize your own needs? Not knowing what it is that you want? Because, you've not even given yourself permission to know what it is you want. And so, knowing all of this context, it's a pretty good chance you might be nodding right about now. 

I want to share with you one of my favourite strategies to say no, and I have just released The Art of Saying No Without Guilt: An Ultimate Guide for Women. So, there'll be details in the show notes below this. But, it's time for me to start sharing some of these strategies with the broader world, because so many women don't know how to do it. 

It's all well and good for me to give you scripts, and I can give you examples and I can give you strategies, but you have to understand this conditioning. You have to understand why it's so hard for you to say no, and you really have to understand the importance of letting go of guilt, and letting go of the shame, and creating a new, empowered meaning of no. Because on the other side of no, is freedom. 

I know, that's a big call, and something big to say. But, when you learn to say no, you actually now get what you want in life. You get to prioritise what's important to you. You get to have time, and energy, and headspace, for what really matters, not for things that you feel like you should be doing, you feel obligated to do. This is when life completely turns around, and it is literally the ticket to freedom. 

So, my favourite saying no strategy, is actually not the word no. So, we can avoid all of this conditioning, and this is just one of the strategies that I share in my saying no guide. My favourite saying no strategy is called, “Yes, but … “ And by this, I mean, you can say yes to something. But, you then need to say no to something else. “Yes, I can bake cupcakes for the school fete, but I'm going to come off that committee.” 

You get to say yes, but you put a condition on it, so that that yes is going to work for you, because too often we say yes with no condition,s and we end up not only baking the cupcakes, organising the bloody stall, buying all the ingredients for everybody else, doing all the marketing, sticking it up on the school Facebook page, doing all the marketing, putting it in the newsletter, then we're counting the money, then we're taking it to the bank. We take on so much! 

How is there, then, this opportunity for you to say yes? “I can get you that report by Friday, but this other piece of work you want is going to have to wait till next week.” Imagine the freedom of not saying yes to everything that you are asked to do. And if you do want to say yes. You can say, “Yes, I can join that project team, but I'm going to have to push this project out.” “Yes, I can pick up the kids, but you're going to have to do the grocery shopping.” 

This is a yes, but it’s such a powerful strategy, because it's going to help you understand what your capacity and capability is. You have to leave something in the tank for you, and this is what “Yes, but …” does. Such a simple strategy. It's two words, “Yes, you know, I can organise the party, but I want you to take the dog to the vet.” “Yes, I can stay back late this evening to help out with this work function, but I'm going to come in late tomorrow.” And saying “Yes, but …” puts you back in this beautiful place of authority.  

One of the things I teach women how to do is to become a woman of influence. And a woman of influence manages her energy, she manages her capacity. In order to do that, you have to be a guardian of it, you need to use tools, and you need to use language that's going to support you to do this.

So, my challenge for you today is to try a “Yes, but …” in one part of your life. If you're a people pleaser, if you find it difficult to say no, if you worry about feeling guilty, then I'm pretty sure there's going to be something in the next 24 to 48 hours that you can say a “Yes, but …” to. Even if it's a child who says, “Can you get me an extra glass of water?” “Yes, but I want you to put your plate in the dishwasher.” Freedom for you. That is my wish for you today. 

And, while you're at it, if you like, my “Yes, but …” there are four other strategies in the ultimate Saying No Guide, you can visit  to download your free guide, full of tools, full of resources, and it’s one of the many things that I'm delighted to be sharing with you. I look forward to hearing all about your “Yes, buts”. Have a go at implementing strategy, and I'll see you again here soon. 

OUTRO: Before we go, in case you missed it, I wanted to make sure you had that link to grab your free, must-have guide the Art of Saying no Without Guilt. You can visit Lots of practical tips, beautiful information on conditioning, and I want you to be able to embrace the freedom of saying no. Let's help you reclaim your time, boost your energy and create a life with true balance. That's Enjoy the guide, and we'll see you next time on the Balance and Beyond podcast. 

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