The Art of Saying No

This post was written by Wiley H Oct 25, 2019 in General, Health & Wellness, Mental Health

How to say no to protect your mental health and reclaim your time and priorities.

Attention is a resource – a person has only so much of it.” – Matthew Crawford, Author and Motorcycle Mechanic

Like it or not, we now live in the Information Age. The information highway is an autobahn of news, ads, entertainment, tweets, texts, images and videos that fly at us at incredible speeds and volumes on a daily basis, both at work and at home. This regular bombardment overstimulates our nervous system and leaves us feeling overwhelmed. Many of us suffer from information overload, fatigue, burn out, anxiety and depression.  
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately 5% of the population are affected by anxiety disorders while 8% of adults will experience major depression at some point in their lives. 
In order to protect ourselves from being overwhelmed, we must learn what is essential to our well-being and say “No” to the non-essentials. Only then can we preserve ourselves for the things that matter most to us.
Clarifying our essentials

When we say “No” to something or someone, we are also saying “Yes” to our priorities.

Saying no effectively starts with being connected to ourselves. Before we can say no, we must understand our essentials, what we wish to say yes to – the things that bring us joy, the people we wish to spend more time with, the projects we wish to complete. Everyone will have unique priorities.
Ask yourself: 
  • If you had more time, what would you do with it? 
  • Are you taking care of your health – physically and mentally?
  • Do you get enough sleep?
  • Do you have a creative outlet?
  • What new activity would you like to try?
  • What project would you like to finish? 
  • What relationship would you like to improve? 
It takes practice to say no
When we recognize what’s essential to our well-being and prioritize them as such, we must then start letting go of things, invitations and even people that overcrowd our lives.
Saying no can be difficult. We are social creatures and saying no to someone, particularly to people we like, can feel like a rejection and make us feel selfish or guilty. Paradoxically, when we say no decisively, people may be annoyed with us at first but, in the long run, they will respect the boundaries and priorities we set for ourselves. We can say no with tact, care and etiquette, starting with a sincere smile and a simple “No, thank you. I wish I could but I do not have the time.” 
Practice digital minimalism
One of the most important ways to say no is to practice digital minimalism. Most of us cannot live without the internet or our smartphone. As remarkable and powerful as these digital tools are, they also rob us of a lot of time, distract us from things that truly matter, and overload our senses. 
Here are a few tips to being a master (rather than a slave) to our digital world:
  1. Silence notifications on the phone, including texts – don’t let your phone interrupt your thoughts, creativity and conversation!
  2. Delete distracting apps– social media can be a huge drain on time and energy. Consider carefully which social media platform you really enjoy and delete the rest.
  3. Wear a wristwatch – not only is it retro-cool, it also helps to minimize the need to check your phone for the time, which can lead to a quick peek at your texts, emails, news feeds, social media…
  4. Install Adblock on your Chrome browser – avoid ads and targeted marketing with this popular, free Chrome extension. 
  5. Limit your news intake – be selective about the news you read or watch. Often it is a litany of bad news or irrelevant information that drains your energy.
  6. Read paper books – e-books are great but they also increase your screen time.
  7. Go for an old-fashioned, phone-free walk – invite a good friend for an outing without your phones. Walk and talk without the distraction of checking your phones or taking pictures. Focus on each other and appreciate your surroundings! 
The benefits of saying no to non-essentials
Here are just a few benefits of saying no to non-essentials and setting healthy boundaries to protect your time and priorities:
  • Less stress – avoiding over commitment and too much stimuli will lessen your load. 
  • Increase focus – removing distractions means you can focus on your goals and things that really matter to you. 
  • Gain personal strength – saying no gives you control over your life. Interestingly, when you set clear and firm boundaries, people actually respect you more.
  • More time – saying no to unimportant things means you make time for the things that give you meaning or joy.
  • Less is more – decluttering your life leads to clarity of purpose and a more intentional and enjoyable life.
Saying no to the non-essentials, whether in person or digitally, takes practice. Start with what’s most important to you and protect that by saying no to unimportant, irrelevant and distracting things. The more you do this, the more mental clarity and time you will gain. 

Wiley H.

Wiley is a long-time North Vancouver resident. She works as a technical writer and is the current newsletter editor for the North Shore Writers’ Association. She spends her free time feeding her twin passions of creative writing and hiking. She recently discovered a potential third passion - the pottery studio at the Delbrook Community Recreation Centre.




We have asked our employees and guest bloggers to contribute to our blog in their own voice and with their own opinions. As such, the opinions expressed in this blog entry are not necessarily shared by North Vancouver Recreation & Culture. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us.

Home > Notices, Events & Blog > Active Living Blog > The Art of Saying No