I was recently having lunch at an expensive restaurant with a friend. She didn’t finish her meal so she wanted to take the rest of it home for dinner–after all, we were eating at a posh restaurant and the meal was expensive and the food was incredible. She asked me if I thought that they would give her a “doggie bag” to take away the food. I had been to this restaurant several times and was confident that they wouldn’t give her the takeaway bag. She decided to ask for one anyway. She called the waiter and I smugly watched as she asked for the takeaway bag. The waiter simply said: “of course”. Then he took away her remaining food and quickly brought it back beautifully wrapped and ready to take home and enjoy.
I was stunned. Shocked.
I had never before asked for a “doggie bag” at that restaurant.
Because I thought that the waiter would refuse. I was absolutely convinced of his refusal! More than just a refusal, I thought that he would act rude and condescending then flatly refuse her request to takeaway food.
Instead, the waiter simply—and politely—said “of course”.
This minor incident taught me a major lesson: I should stop saying “no” to myself!
I thought about how many times that I have failed to ask for something that I wanted. It has been numerous times in a variety of situations ranging from asking for ketchup to asking for a job. Many times, I just “knew” that the answer would be “no!” so I didn’t even ask.
I’ve heard an interesting quote that says, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”
I always nod in agreement when I hear these wise words. But I promptly forget them when faced with asking for something that I need or want. I simply don’t ask. As a result, the answer was always no. But it wasn’t a waiter, an employer, a teacher or someone else saying “no” to me. I had been saying “no” to myself!
Do you say “no” to yourself?
How many times do you want something (like a job interview, dinner reservations, information) but are afraid to ask? Do you avoid asking for something important to you because you are convinced that you will be refused?
After my “doggie bag” experience with my friend at the restaurant, I decided that I will no longer engage in this type of “self-refusal” behavior. But it wasn’t easy. I didn’t realize that I had made a habit out of saying “no” to myself.
I decided to change that habit. And I did it in 5 easy but consistent steps.
How to stop saying “no” to yourself:
- Develop awareness. After the “doggie bag” incident, I became aware of when I engaging in “self-refusal” behavior. To stop this behavior, my first step was to write down each time that I said “no” to myself. At the end of the week, I reviewed at the number of times that I “self-refused”. It was a good exercise to bring this behavior into my awareness.
- Practice with a friend. I would practice asking friends for what I wanted. Some times, they would say “no” to me. Other times, the answer was “yes”. I always knew that eventually I would get a “yes” answer. It took the fear and embarrassment out of hearing “no”. It was liberating!
- Read inspirational stories. Of course, reading blogs (like this one!) that give you ideas is great. But also read true stories about people who accomplished something against the odds. I read a story about Bessie Coleman (a daughter of sharecroppers in the 1930s) who became a stunt pilot and received an international aviation license. She had been denied entry into flying schools in the U.S. so she moved to France where she learned to pilot planes. She is quoted as saying “I refused to take no for an answer!” as the secret of her success. There are other inspirational stories of people who also refused to take no for an answer. They are great to read and can give you the courage to ask for what you want. (By the way, movies are also great!)
- Meditation and Visualization. After the “doggie bag” incident, I realize that I had stopped asking because I was afraid of getting embarrassed, scorned or even laughed at. Interesting that I didn’t fear a negative answer but rather public ridicule. So I used meditation and visualization techniques to picture myself asking for something and getting a bad answer. It was hard but I became desensitized to the possibility of getting a bad answer. When I was finally able to let go of that fear, I became able to actually ask for what I wanted. (In reality, I was never faced with public embarrassment.)
- Don’t get attached. Go ahead and ask for what you want! Don’t get attached to the outcome. Feel the fear then keep asking. The responses will be different. Some positive. Others negative. Some rude. Others polite. The more that you ask, the more prepared you will be for any response. And the more “yeses” that you’ll hear!
These steps can help you to stop saying “no” to yourself. They can get you to ask for what you want and need. And they can help get you there with the least amount of fear and discomfort. Just remember: the only “no” answer that can stop you is the “no” that you say to yourself!