Why ‘No’ is My Favourite Word

From as early as I can remember, there’s been a very strict and well-defined definition of “polite.” Generally, the politest way to conduct yourself is by ensuring that nothing you do is an inconvenience to others. You’re taught that considering the needs of others before making a decision is the key feature of a ‘team player.’ Think back to all the times you waited for everyone else to speak before contributing during group work in school, or all the times you held your tongue after being interrupted. While putting others before yourself is admirable and generous, the line between empathetic and sacrificial is faint. Many women have been trained to make their ‘boundaries’ malleable to those around them, with this habit masking itself as kindness. I became aware of this dilemma not too long ago and set out to make myself familiar with my assertive side. If you find yourself as someone who is susceptible to being used, striking a balance between kindness and assertiveness is a difficult task, but I believe that it can be established by familiarizing yourself with the word ‘no’. 

In my experience, insecurity seems to be the root of this dilemma. If you go about your day constantly worrying about the way you’re perceived by others, you become prone to people-pleasing behaviour. In a bizarre way, it feels as though you are walking through life from a third-person perspective. While it is a difficult task, changing the third-person perspective to the first-person narrative is a great way to tap into your assertive and confident side. This is where the word ‘no’ becomes useful. I set the goal for myself, to use the word ‘no’ more on a daily basis - not to be rude, abrasive, or difficult, but rather as a tool to simply voice my opinion. I started integrating it into my vocabulary in regular, or mundane conversations. It may seem insignificant, but once I started doing it, I noticed how much I avoided using the word. Phrases like “I’m all set” became “no thank you.” In an interesting way, the word ‘no’ allows you to redirect the subject of the conversation to encompassing your opinion, instead of phrasing your speech to avoid instilling any rejection in the other person.

Once the word ‘no’ starts to feel more familiar, it will naturally integrate itself into more difficult scenarios. If you find yourself as someone who is susceptible to being used, this is where you can see major improvements. Others asking for you to do their homework in the middle of midterm season becomes, “No I can’t help you; I have my own work to do.” Now it’s important to note that the purpose of this is not to become self-serving, but rather give yourself the same priority you give others. If anything, neglecting yourself can make you resentful of those who seem to rely on you, so establishing these boundaries prevents you from pushing yourself beyond your limits. 

Once you can establish assertiveness, confidence naturally increases and anxiety dissolves. You begin to carry a sense of security and sureness. Being in the moment comes with ease as you are no longer concerned with the perception of others. While it may seem counterintuitive, the word ‘no’ is a tool to give yourself the kindness and care that you give others.