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Saying No is Not a Sign of Weakness – It’s a Sign of Wisdom

One of the questions I get asked a lot is how to make changes when you feel like you are burning out.

There are many things that can be done to prevent burnout. But when someone is teetering on the edge or already sliding down that slippery slope, giving them a laundry list of things is to is not helpful. That can make them feel even more overwhelmed. They need one significant actionable thing that will make a difference for them, and it needs to be something they will actually do.

I hear from people all the time that their lives these days are busier and more stressful than ever. They take on more than we can handle and often don’t take the time to replenish their energy. The one thing that helps the most, is to help that person recognize that saying no is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of wisdom. It is also an act of responsibility and of love. But we have to learn to say no to the right things, and in the right way.

Why We Need to Say No Sometimes

The real problem is that we have not accurately counted the cost of what we are doing and prioritized our investment of time and energy in line with our values and resources. We have said yes to too much. Every time we say yes to one thing, even if it’s a passive yes, we are saying no to something else, even if we haven’t actually said no.

When we say yes to something that is not in line with our priorities and your values, we are foregoing or putting off things that really are important to us, even if just in that moment. We either have to expend more energy trying to get everything done, at the cost of doing things well, or we are forced to let some things slip.

We only have so many hours and so much energy. No matter what it is that we are investing our time and energy into, if we continually put our wellbeing on the back burner, we eventually start to feel drained. We end up feeling exhausted all the time. We have a harder time processing information and making decisions. We feel more emotional and irritable than we used to. Worst of all, we feel guilty and even resentful because we aren’t enjoying life, and that just adds to the stress we are feeling. Chronic stress sets in and eats away at our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health.

Make no mistake, this decline in our health affects every area of our lives, from our relationships to our daily work to our finances. These areas of our lives are all interrelated. As those areas suffer, we can feel trapped and like things are slipping out of control and the stress just gets worse.

Balance Is About Our Energy, Not Just Our Time

If we want to live a flourishing life, we must learn how to balance ourselves. The most powerful thing we can do it to learn how to use the word no wisely in order to ensure that what we are saying yes to is worth our time and energy. That means taking stock of three things:

  • What is important to us in life and why

  • What we must do to ensure you honour what is important to us

  • How to balance our time and energy in order to honour what is important to us

Some things that are important to us will take an enormous investment of time and energy. That’s ok, as long as we take the steps to rest and replenish our energy in all realms: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. They are all connected, so what we do in one affects all. The more intense your investment of time and energy, the more intense your investment into replenishing your energy needs to be.

Think about it. If you are feeling run down, it’s your whole self (body, mind and soul) that feel it. When you are energized, it’s your whole self that is energized.

A Wise “No” is an Act of Humility and Love

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves some tough questions and be prepared to accept the truth.

The first question is, why am I taking on too much?

  • Am I afraid to say no for fear of losing respect or love?

  • Am I trying to live up to what others expect of me, or what I think others expect of me?

  • Am I trying to impress someone?

  • Am I feeling burdened with obligations and believe I have no control over the situation?

Sometimes, we truly are in a situation that may be beyond our control, like having to care for a loved one who is chronically ill. But there are still choices you can make that will replenish your energy and give the stamina and resilience to live up to your obligations in a healthy way.

The next few questions actually is not about us at all. It focuses on the other person. In my experience, when we take the focus off of ourselves and look at the bigger picture with a different lens, we gain the perspective needed to move in right direction with our yeses and our nos.

The question is what effect is my relentless struggle to do it all having on others?

  • Are their needs being met in the best way?

  • Am I preventing someone else’s growth by blocking them from stepping up to the plate?

  • Are things really going to fall apart if I don’t do it now or if I don’t do it myself?

When we can be brutally honest with ourselves, we can find the courage to say no in a way that honours our humanity and allows others to step up in cooperation with us to get the job done. If we are concerned that giving up a task may make us look bad in someone’s eyes, such as our boss or a loved one, we can explain that we are concerned about the quality of the outcome and would rather see the task done well by either getting some help or perhaps even giving it to someone else (even if it is a temporary situation). It gives others a change to grow (even if they don’t want to at the time), and the good deed will come back to us in time in some way.

So, when saying no, remember to do it in a way that is respectful and empowering. Be prepared and take heart. You wont always get the reaction you want, because you cannot control other people. But you will be able to clear some time and space for yourself and feel some relief.

Commit to Replenishing Your Energy

As we learn to say no to non-essential things that drain us, we have to be cautious. There is no lack of other stuff just waiting to ooze into the space we just made. We have to be mindful about protecting our time and energy so that we can replenish.

Since we are used to having such a heavy load, our minds will likely send us messages that make us feel guilty or selfish. Be prepared to use conscious, mindful effort to let those thoughts go. Remember this, burnout is real. It does not serve anyone if you hit the wall and cannot function. But rather than focusing on burnout, focus your mind on recovery and what that looks like.

The other thing to be aware of is that your immune system may be low, and your nervous system may be hyper-active, and so you might feel ill (physically and mentally). Take some time to rest, hydrate and fill your soul with something that uplifts you. This is critically important so that you can continue to function.

As I said at the beginning, there are many things you can do to replenish your energy, but I’m not going to give you a laundry list here. When you are ready, let me know, and I will be happy to send you more information that can help you replenish. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook or at my website,, where I will be posting helpful information and event notices.

Until then, use your no’s wisely, my friend.

We would like to thank our Guest Blogger, Liz Horvath from Hale Health and Safety Solutions Ltd.

Liz Horvath, B.S.Sc., CRSP

Founder and CEO

Hale Health and Safety Solutions Ltd.

Liz’s personal mission is to help as many people as possible to flourish in life. This means succeeding at reaching personal and professional goals without unnecessary suffering from injury and disease. She brings nearly 25 years of experience guiding people in organizations across Canada to achieve better outcomes in business and personal life through strategic integration of health, safety and wellness. Liz established Hale in 2012, where she works with women and men individually as well as in organizations to help them identify and address drivers of chronic stress in their work and personal lives.


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