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Can't say no? 5 strategies to kill your inner people pleaser

Working mother and son at home

Any fan of musical theater will remember the famous song "I Cain't Say No!" from "Oklahoma," in which Ado Annie sings about her troubles rejecting the proposals of would-be suitors.

These days, saying "no" to a dancing Oklahoma cowboy isn't the issue. It's rejecting the assertive neighbor lady who wants you to be vice president of the PTA.

You swear you're not going to say "yes" to this volunteer committee or that. You won't agree to chair the school bake sale or join the board of a nonprofit that you gave money to once.

But in the end, you can't bear to disappoint anyone and you agree to participate. You can't say no. You get angry for not having the backbone to stand up for yourself. So while the person who sought out your help isn't disappointed, you are.

Participating in your child's school, in your community or in a worthy nonprofit is admirable and necessary, but sometimes it all becomes too overwhelming and you have to learn to say "no" to things that cause you more stress, worry and frustration than they're worth.

Here are some strategies from psychologists for taming your inner people-pleaser.

Don't give an answer right away

You might really want to chair the church food drive, but you have a big project due at work that same week. Instead of jumping in and saying "yes" right away, just say, "I think that will work, but let me get back to you to confirm."

You're taking the impulsive, people-pleasing element out of it. You might very well say "yes" in the end, but it will only be after careful thought and not because you jumped in without thinking. You're way less likely to regret that decision.

Reframe a 'no' as someone else being able to say 'yes'

When asked to serve on a committee, instead of feeling obligated to say "yes," think about what it would take away from your free time or time with my family or friends. Instead, consider that someone else may be more equipped to serve in that capacity.

Do you really want to spend that hour a week in a board meeting when you could be home reading a great book or indulging in a guilty pleasure TV show? The answer might very well be "yes" because you decide that what you're achieving on that board is worth the sacrifice of lost time with loved ones. But if it's a "no," think about what someone else with more dedication might be able to get done.

Acknowledge your free will

Remember, you are free to say "no" to requests even if it makes you uncomfortable at first. Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of "The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It - and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever," says people-pleasers want everyone to be happy even at their own expense.

"People don't want to be seen as lazy, uncaring, selfish or totally egocentric. They fear they'll be disliked and cut from the group," Newman writes. She says the first "no" is always the hardest, but once you exercise that free will it gets easier to get off that "yes treadmill" and make decisions you want to make.

Recognize that the world doesn't revolve around you

If you've ever felt like the world will crumble if you don't accept that request to run that school fundraiser, remember you might not be as important as you think you are. The person asking you to volunteer is likely to just move on to the next person on their list and not give your "no" a second thought. The sun will rise for them tomorrow, while you wallow in guilt for saying "no."

Psychologists say while that might seem a little narcissistic of the people-pleaser, people-pleasers typically lack confidence. Clinical psychologist Linda Tillman told Psych Central people-pleasers yearn for outside validation. "Their personal feeling of security and self-confidence are based on getting the approval of others." By helping others, people-pleasers feel like they're needed and important.

Know that 'no' is reason enough

You don't need to have some drawn out explanation of why you can't do something. You can say just say "no" politely and firmly — no wavering. You don't need to come up with some cockamamie excuse. Most people will never be nosy enough to ask "why" you can't make it. If they do, you can elaborate with a simple, "It just won't work for me, but I hope you have fun."

According to Newman, "As soon as you start explaining, you give the other person lots of wiggle room to come back and say, 'Oh, you can do that later,' 'You can adjust your schedule' or 'That's not as important as what I'm asking.' "

And finally, embrace a new word: CANCEL-ELATION

Not CANCELLATION, but rather Cancel — Elation. It's from behavioral economist Dan Ariely, who wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal. Ariely says next time you're faced with a decision to say "yes" or "no" to an event or a commitment of some kind, think for a moment about how you'd feel if this event or commitment was cancelled. Would you be elated to hear it or disappointed? If you would feel elated that the event was cancelled you shouldn't say "yes" to it in the first place.

If you can start implementing all of these changes on a consistent basis, Miss Ado Annie will be the only one who can't say no.

Tracy Briggs

‘The Great Indoors’ with Tracy Briggs appears every Thursday in The Forum. For more information go to her blog at thegreatindoors.areavoices.com.

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