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Just Say No: 10 Steps to Better Boundaries

Up until recently, “No” was dirty word to me. As a stage-four people-pleaser, my vocabulary was rich with affirmatives: “yeah,” “sure,” “okay,” “absolutely,” “no problem.” But my mouth just couldn’t seem to form the consonant-vowel combination required to say “No,” even when “Yes” was simply impossible due to time conficts or just an overdose of stress in my daily life.

I would get stuck at “Nnnnnnn… alright.” Which meant I was doing all kinds of things that I didn’t want to, have to, or have time to do.

If you are like me, surrounded by a modest sampling of users, takers, and even well intentioned askers who could zap all your energy if you let them, take heart! Here are a few fun, simple techniques to get your mind and mouth to work in tandem to repeat after me: NO!

1. Smile and shake your head.

You’ll find this, the most basic form of body language, to be a sweet, nonverbal way to communicate this sentiment: NO WAY.

2. Fill your calendar.

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Fill up your daily planner with prior commitments, like long, hot bubble baths. That way, you can say, “No, sorry, but I have an appointment for that evening.”

3. Run out the clock.

Distract the person who’s asking for your time, change the subject, and stall until it’s time to say good-bye.

4. Tape your mouth shut.

You can do this figuratively (or literally!) until you learn how to say: “no,” “nope,” “sorry,” “can’t,” or any other variation. If you don’t say anything, you can’t say, “Sure, I’ll do it!”

5. Let the phone ring.

Just because someone is calling doesn’t mean you have to pick up. An even better method: turn your ringers off. That way you won’t even know that you are saying no!

6. Post a sign.

Think, “Do not disturb” or “Personal Time. Thanks for understanding!” Project to those around you that you’re in privacy mode.

7. Press “send.”

After you have finished composing a polite regret to yet another request by a pushy friend.

8. Walk away.

Put one foot in front of the other until some distance has accumulated between you and the persistent nagger.

9. Volunteer someone.

Find a better person for the job (namely, someone who has more time than you). If they can’t do it, it’s up to them to say no for themselves.

10. Hide.

This is a stronger version of “post a sign” and “walk away.” If you’re still feeling tempted by “yes, I can do that” (when you really can’t), build a metaphorical fort around yourself. Become invisible and completely inaccessible until the users are gone.

Just Say No: 10 Steps to Better Boundaries

Therese J. Borchard

Therese J. Borchard is a mental health writer and advocate. She is the founder of the online depression communities Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue, and is the author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist. You can reach her at or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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APA Reference
Borchard, T. (2018). Just Say No: 10 Steps to Better Boundaries. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 Oct 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.