Do you find it hard to say no to yourself? I do. Bad enough it is hard to say NO to others, but to ourselves, even harder.
Consider this scenario: I’ve got a writing deadline this week. I plan my work, break it up into mini tasks with a timeframe so that I stay on track. And then, half way through, the inevitable happens. I think I deserve a tiny break. I probably do. I think, let me just watch an episode of the show I want to binge on and then carry on with the work. I let myself watch the episode. Then I think, what’s just one more?
This is the point I should say no to myself, but I really struggle with it. Before I know it, I’ve lost three hours of that carefully planned schedule. Guilt sets in, accompanied by some freaking out because now I must make up for the lost time.
Ever experienced that kind of situation where you had to say no to yourself but couldn’t? We all need to say “no” to ourselves several times each day. It can be due to a temptation to procrastinate, spend money, waste time, eat something unhealthy, or take an unnecessary risk and in all these instances, learning to say no to yourself is necessary.
Nope. Not easy.
If it were easy to stop ourselves from doing something we ought not to be doing, we’d all be healthy, wealthy and well, lean. We give in to our urges more often than we should and that is not good news.
The thing is, most of our negative urges may be habitual but many are programmed. I hate to admit it but we are programmed to enjoy calorie-dense foods. During my childhood, it was not as easy as it is now to access those calories. But now, yes, they are very easy to find. Hello, supermarkets and online shopping!
Moral of the story? When we gain control over ourselves, we go a long way towards building a better life. Which means learning to say no to yourself.
Also read: 7 ways to master your self discipline
Here is a 5-step process that teaches you to say no to yourself
It also helps you build self-control.
1. Pause to think
So you have the urge to run out and get that cheeseburger or (fill in the blank) Or maybe you want to buy that top you really don’t need but want to spend that money. When you stop and pause to think, it can make a big difference.
Break that train of thought or you’ll spiral down that path of giving in to your urge and do what you have always done.
Reorient yourself. Do this by taking a look around and name five things you see. Take a deep breath and describe what you smell. What can you hear? How is the temperature of your environment? How do your clothes feel against your skin?
2. Acknowledge the urge
Notice the urge. Return to thinking about the action you want to take. How does it feel in your body? It’s not just a thought. It triggers a particular physical feeling. Where is it? Focus on that part of your body and notice what happens.
If you’re patient, the feeling will fade.
3. Contemplate the long-term perspective
Think consequences. What will it mean if you follow through? How much does that $X item cost you over 10 years? What will a bowl of ice cream mean to your waistline and your health? What is the downside of continuing with your urge? Make a list of reasons why you should say no to yourself and shouldn’t do it.
For me, a samosa is always a temptation. But then, I pause to think of how it will affect my blood sugar as a diabetic. And I say no to myself.
4. Find a positive alternative
Say you are desperate to eat something sweet. Perhaps a piece of fruit would be a better option. Whatever urge strikes you, think of a positive alternative that has a similar benefit. And consider the long-term implications.
5. Practice telling yourself, “I don’t.”
Whenever we are offered something we ought not to eat, we tend to respond with “I can’t eat this” But you know what? It is more effective to say “I don’t eat this” There is actually research to prove that saying I don’t is way more effective. Because empowered refusal motivates goal-directed behavior.
Also, I don’t is more of a choice whereas I can’t is like a limitation. Pretty much like you are saying that you actually want to, but…. you can’t.
Instead, consider saying this:
- I don’t miss workouts.
- I don’t eat chocolate.
- I don’t smoke.
- I don’t stay up late when I have to go to work the next day.
Imagine how easy life would be if you could say no to yourself and follow through on it. You’d be healthier, be at your ideal weight, have more money, be well-rested, and avoid many of the issues that can make life so challenging.
Bad habits would be unheard of if you could just say no to yourself – and mean it!
Being in control of our own behavior is a skill that takes time and sometimes, a lifetime. It isn’t as if you can just absorb the steps and change overnight. But you can certainly make a huge positive difference to the quality of your life quite quickly when you learn how to say no to yourself.
Small word. Big difference.
One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself. (Leonardo da Vinci)