Woman on the phone trying not to automatically say yes when she wants to say no
"Yes" has one more letter than "no," but tends to roll off the tongue much easier—even if you're internally screaming, "No." Automatically saying yes is a common problem psychologists see—so no, you are not alone in this very real struggle.
"It is normal to say yes automatically when we are asked to do something," says Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, Ph.D., a psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation Media Advisor. "Part of this is due to us being human and our desire to maintain and create relationships. If we say yes, others will view us in a positive light, and this can feel good to many of us."
Yet this second-nature habit has its downsides. Automatically saying yes to something isn't always bad, but it's time to pump the brakes if you do it so often it stresses you out.
"When we say yes too frequently, there can be negative effects such as resentment, anxiety, feeling overcommitted or pressured, and a lack of autonomy," says Dr. Beth Pausic, Psy.D., a psychologist and Vice President of clinical excellence at Kooth Digital Health.
Still, defaulting to "yes"—regardless of true feelings—is tough to stop.
"Automatically saying yes is a habit, and just like breaking any habit, having a replacement behavior on hand [is important]," says Dr. Brittany McGeehan, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist.
9 Phrases To Use Instead of Automatically Saying Yes
1. "Let me check my schedule and get back to you."
Dr. McGeehan suggests keeping it short—there's no need to get into your whole to-do list.
"For someone who is practicing a new skill, it can be easier to have a response memorized that is shorter," Dr. McGeehan says. "We have a tendency to over-explain ourselves in our culture, which is empowering to overcome."
2. "I appreciate that you asked, but I have to think about it."
This variation of the phrase McGeehan offered above is short and gives you space to decide.
"It is not saying no, but it is communicating that you need to think about what you are being asked to do," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says.
3. "I would love to say yes, but can I get back to you?"
"This also communicates to others that you appreciate being considered and that you need some more time to consider their request," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says.
Additionally, it gives the person a chance to let you know if they need to pivot immediately, such as finding a different person to give them a lift to a doctor's appointment or cover a work shift.
4. "No, thank you. I can't commit to this."
If the answer is no, rip the BandAid off and say so.
"As healthy, well-adjusted individuals, we need to understand our own limits," Dr. Pausic says.
This phrase coveys yours.
5. "Currently, my plate is as full as I like it, so let's circle back later."
Dr. McGeehan loves this phrase for its honesty, simplicity and professionalism. It works in personal and work settings.
"It also indicates that the speaker isn't overwhelmed but rather they are content with their current schedule and to-do list," Dr. McGeehan says. "Often, in our culture, there's an inherent belief that in order to say no to something, or even think about something, we have to be overwhelmed or have something else going on instead."
Real talk: "You don't have to earn rest or peace," Dr. McGeehan says. "They are inherent rights. It's always helpful for a recovering people pleaser to practice affirming themselves with a response like this."
6. "Normally, I would love to help, but I don’t have any free time."
Dr. Pausic says this phrase also sets and honors boundaries while still leaving the door open to say yes to a similar request in the future,
7. "Let me circle back with you on that. Do you need an answer by a specific day and time?"
This phrase exudes mutual respect.
"It's building in some time to think about your response while also checking in to see with the other party whether or not they have time restraints," Dr. McGeehan says. "This is a great option for work when you can tell the person would like a quick response because it's professional and helps them slow down as well."
8. Can you tell me more about what you are asking?
Know what you're signing on for to avoid commitment-remorse later.
"Sometimes, we do need more context and details before we say yes to something, and this question can buy you some time to think about the request," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says.
9. "I don’t think I can right now, but can you get back to me if you cannot find someone else?"
If you can be available in a pinch but would rather not, this phrase can alleviate stress on you and the asker.
"This also gives you more time to consider the request and lets the other person know that you may be able to do it if others are not available," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says.
The Genius Way To Pause Before Saying Yes
Take a sip of water.
"I love this tip because it not only gives you some time to slow down, but it also helps your nervous system to ground," Dr. McGeehan shares, explaining that cold water can be an even better option. "It's going to essentially jolt your nervous system a bit and help pull out of the fight or flight response that is sending you into the headspace of automatically saying yes."
"I also love developing a practice of taking two breaths before you respond," Dr. McGeehan says. "This can feel like an eternity to you, but in reality, it is really not that long. This gives you a chance to slow down and think clearly before responding."