“How I learned to say no
– without telling little white lies, feeling guilty or burning bridges”
Think back to the last time you received a request from a family member or a friend, you said no and both of you immediately moved on without a second thought. If you’re anything like me until very recent times, you would probably struggle to find (m)any examples. But why? What is it about this magical word NO that pushes our buttons?
I believe we can all discover how to say no – freely, without worry or concern, standing our ground and feeling respected and honoured in our choice. If you want this in your life join me in this 3-part series equipping you with the resources and practical steps to achieve your truest NO and your truest YES!
I learned to say no in the dance world. These insights aren’t confined to the world of dance though. Take any physical discipline (yoga, snowboarding, running), all encompassing hobby or endeavour (starting a business, climbing Everest, learning a foreign language as an adult) the walls we hit are the same. So if you don’t dance, currently want to learn dance or think dance isn’t for you, think about the last time you wanted to say no but simply didn’t know how.
I remember one particularly painful rebuttal at a dance event, I asked someone to dance and they said they were “sitting this one out”. Literally seconds later someone else asked them and they bounded onto the floor faster than the Easter Bunny.
After my initial, exceptionally British indignation – “of all the cheek!” I had to accept that in that moment the woman concerned felt it was better to openly lie to my face (the lie was uncovered seconds later right in front of me) than simply say “no thank you”.
This was many years ago now and the pain has (mostly) subsided. In all seriousness, we seem to live in a world where casual untruths are more socially acceptable than a simple no thank you. No wonder when you give genuine reasons not to dance people think you are lying; casual lies have become the norm. Yuk.
When I first started swing dancing it was strongly implied that one should never refuse the kind offer of a dance. Exceptions such as injury or ‘I just need to grab some water / cool off’ were merely temporary nos, soon to be replaced by yesses once the obstacles were removed.
Whilst these occurrences are valid – if you are simply too hot and need to cool off, fine – but what happens when there’s technically no ‘valid excuse’ but you just don’t fancy dancing with this particular person at this time – or even, heaven forfend, dancing with them ever again?
There is a very real, very large can of worms here and I’m fetching my most powerful tin-opener. Because it’s time.
I hate to break it to you folks, but what we have in life as well as in dance, is a pervasive entitlement culture. Before anyone asks, no, I’m not a curmudgeonly US Republican, I’m a left leaning, pretty liberal (and don’t mind saying so) British woman. Yet I feel compelled to speak out for the following reasons:
As in all walks of life, dancers routinely pay to attend dance events to see particular celebrities. We have seen them achieve competition wins for example and we want our little piece(s) of them. We feel miserable, somehow ripped off if we don’t manage to get a dance with them – especially if we know most of the ‘competition’ (the other follows/leads) did. These feelings of loss, disappointment and resentment are very real (I have experienced them myself in the past). They build up in us because we think those moments of magic with this special person will somehow transform us. If we could just dance with that one superstar. And the next superstar… And the next…
But the truth is is that NO ONE outside of yourself can give you anything that you aren’t prepared to give yourself first. Be it permission to shine every single time you dance – no matter what the combined skill level, be it permission to say no, permission to fail and especially permission to succeed!
These permissions feel like they are external but they are not. We are the ones that set limits on ourselves. We do it all the time. It stands to reason therefore that only we can truly set ourselves free from limits. Just like being a fan of a movie star or musician can have a healthy and enriching place in our lives if it doesn’t consume our every waking moment, we need to stop handing our own dance happiness to someone we saw looking awesome in a video and who is now but a few feet away. Especially when that person may actually need a break!
Jealousy and stagnation are just 2 of the most common side-effects of externalising acceptance and in part 2 I will reveal several cures for when we unconsciously give away our power like this. The pain of these is nothing compared to that of the dejectedness we often put upon ourselves when people decline to dance with us however. So, here’s the first of my challenges designed to help you build your no muscle:
Try saying no to something small at the next opportunity – an extra pint you don’t really want in the pub, or a second helping of dessert, something that won’t really cost you any real or lasting social pain, but that will start to build your ‘no’ muscle. You’ll likely feel a little apprehensive & maybe there will be a rumble of surprise, or even a joke at your expense. Breath through it if you can’t take yourself away from the situation. If you can deflect the attention with a funny joke or distraction – using your own authentic words – all the better. Likelihood is, everyone else will have forgotten within moments but you’ll have started something you can build on.
In part 2 I will share in-depth solutions on mastering the art of no along with what it took for me to be accepted as a leader in my community. I share both of these so that you’ll be better equipped to brush things off and step into being that most exquisite dancer that I know you can be. Remember…