Tips on Saying “No!” from Carolyn Thomas

My friend and fellow blogger Carolyn Thomas, whose wonderful website Heart Sisters, all about women with heart disease, has won awards for being among the top ten online influencers. Carolyn, a heart attack survivor who lives with heart disease, left this great comment in response to my article  When Asked, Don’t Panic: Just Say “I’ll think about it.” Then say No.  With her permission I am sharing her comment with you here. The bold emphasis is my own.

This [article] is a fantastic reminder that “NO!” is a complete sentence.

Yet I’ve spent much of my adult life saying YES! to things that I didn’t really want to do. For example, many years ago, I realized that I was letting other people dictate my social calendar. When they asked “Are you free on Friday?” for example, I’d say “YES!” if my calendar happened to be blank on that particular date/time, and before you know it, I was on my way to something I didn’t really feel like going to, often with people I didn’t really feel like being with. How on earth did I let this happen?

Then somebody gave me this wise advice: on your purse calendar, the week-at-a-glance kind, write the word “NO!” on the top of each page. Then, when somebody asks “Are you free on Friday?” you simply say “I don’t know – let me check my calendar” – and there in big bold caps you find the word “NO!” Doesn’t mean you must say NO! to everything, of course, but it’s a useful reminder simply to pause and ask if this demand on your time is what really works for you right now.

This must have been about the same time I decided that from then on, I was only going to volunteer in beautiful places.

That decision came after decades of serving on steering committees and boards of directors and event planning groups (if you’re a PR person, every organization wants you on their volunteer team!) But this always meant more meetings (often evening meetings, after a long day at work filled with meetings!) But in general, I HATE MEETINGS! So why was I voluntarily sacrificing any of the very precious few leisure hours I have left on this earth by saying YES to more meetings? Duh….

That was the year I first started volunteering at a lovely heritage garden as a tour guide, where at the end of every crazy-busy week, I got to spend a few hours in a quiet and spectacularly gorgeous piece of nature, meet people from all over the world, and share the fascinating history of the gardens.

I still continued to receive regular requests for my volunteer time on boards and committees, but just asking myself “Is this a beautiful place?” meant it became a whole lot easier to say “NO!” if the demand on my time didn’t meet that one simple criterion.

Thanks again for sharing such timely and wise anecdotes to powerfully prove a point.

Photo courtesy ukgardenphotos via Flickr


  • Thank you so much Dr. A for reposting my comment to your previous post (hey! we could just keep this going endlessly! I’ll repost your comments and vice versa!) ;-)

    By the way, I love the photo of the rhododendron/azalea garden in West Sussex you chose to illustrate my “beautiful places” example! Coincidentally, the garden I volunteered at since 2001 – Abkhazi Garden – is world famous for its own heritage rhodo collection, too.

    Thanks again – keep up the great work you do here.

    • Haha! Great idea on the comment loop. :-)

      Just so you know, writing “No!” at the top of the page on your calendar can work for an electronic calendar as well.

      I know you can relate to this. I have a tendency to over do it at work. One day I thought, “Geez, my boss is mean bastard task-master.” My next thought was, “Wait a minute. I’M THE BOSS!” So I wrote a repeat message at the top of every day on my calendar, “You’re the boss!” to remind me to be kind to the staff, meaning me!


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