How often have you found yourself doing something you’d rather not, having agreed against your better judgment? Saying yes when we want to say no causes resentment and stress.

We may feel guilty saying no to someone else. After all, it would be easier for them if we agreed to their request, and aren’t we supposed to help others? But we all need to decline a request from time to time. The sky won’t fall if we say no – it’s okay for others to adjust to our wants sometimes. Our needs and desires are just as important as those around us.

If we can’t ever say no, it can be confusing to others. Our friends and co-workers may begin to wonder whether our agreements are genuine, or may even start to take our agreement for granted.

Saying no is about setting boundaries – it’s part of expressing what is us and what isn’t. When our days are filled with too many things we don’t want to do, there’s no room for doing enjoyable things that recharge us. And we have more control over where we set our limits than we may think. Others can’t respect our boundaries if they don’t know where they are.

As we begin changing our responses, it’s best to start small. Say we usually go to lunch every day with coworkers and we’d sometimes like to use that time instead to take a walk. We may be hesitant to risk others’ objections, but calmly and confidently saying no to the group once or twice a week won’t harm anyone. We get to decide what we do with our free time.

Once we are comfortable saying no in relatively low-stakes situations, we can take on bigger challenges. For example, perhaps our father, because he no longer drives, wants us to pick him up and help him do his errands daily during our lunch hour. We want to help him, but may find this burdensome and begin to resent him. We need to do something different before the resentment builds and impacts our relationship. Since any changes affect our father, it’s best to involve him in creating the new plan. Perhaps the solution will involve having other family members or friends help. A new plan may actually meet his needs better by bringing more varied interactions into his days.

As we start saying no more often, we should be careful to choose our tone carefully. If we’re not used to saying no, we’ll need to learn how to express ourselves without overdoing it. After all, it wasn’t others’ fault that we didn’t say what we wanted for so long! How were they to know we didn’t want to do something if we didn’t say so? Meeting our needs while also taking into consideration others’ needs and the demands of the situation isn’t bad, it’s just respecting ourselves. So, we don’t need to feel guilty.

What about responding to requests as they come up? A handy trick is to start by asking for more time to decide: “Let me think about this for a bit and get back to you.” Eventually, as we get more comfortable with expressing what we want, we can learn to say no in the moment. When we know we can say no, our yes will be clearer and more satisfying for us.

Getting along requires honesty and flexibility. The goal here is choosing when to say yes and when to say no, based on our overall preference after considering our needs, the needs of others, and the likely consequences.