Saying No to Yourself

Saying NO to Yourself
Saying NO to Yourself

Originally published here on 13-Jan-2014 at

Not a Simple No… Yes?
When we have a choice, often it is a simple Yes or No.  “Would you like sugar in your tea?” In many other cases, where the choice is not binary, that choice can often be broken into a set of options that then allow a binary choice between Yes or No.  (Try that with “how many spoons of sugar would you like in your tea?”)  Most of us find it difficult to say No to choices that we know are bad for us, or unhealthy, but instantaneously pleasurable.  The reasons we say Yes when a No would be more beneficial are many and varied.  And, quite interestingly, for the same tempting offer, two persons will be unable to say No for a different combination of reasons.

You can Learn it
I am often told that I have levels of discipline that are at an extreme.  That I am able to say No more easily than the average person can is probably not something I was born with.  Until a few years ago I would say Yes to just about anything that was offered to me on a platter.  I believe the change has come about by thinking about the problem of being unable to say No with greater mindfulness.  I also believe that, if you can learn to say No to yourself more easily, saying No to others becomes naturally easier as a follow-on.  Notice how I say “learn to say No”? This is because I believe you can train yourself to be better at saying No.  So how can you increase your probability of saying No easily?

Practical Tips

Considering your health and the choices for rest, exercise and nutrition – here are some practical tips you will find useful specifically when it comes to healthy food and drink choices at social events.

  • make rules before hand – this is the same as one of my favourite mottos “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”.  And it was applied to what I said about buffets in a previous blog.  For instance, I may decide before going to a party “no fried food” (because I love fried food!) and then I am already arming myself with a rule that I have set and has not been imposed on me by some other person.  I may still end up eating some fried food, but the probability of doing so, or bingeing on it will be lower.
  • avoid problematic situations – this can be easier said than done, but one can always look for alternatives.  For instance, if I get a suggestion to meet friends for dinner who pick restaurants with mostly less healthy choices, rather than say No, I might suggest a couple of other restaurants with a larger selection of healthier choices.
  • avoid high risk combinations – a dear friend who loves food and pressurizes you to eat – you end up overeating because you find it difficult to say No – why not just meet for coffee to chat.
  • seek immediate alternatives – you are at a party and are offered yet another fried something drowning in cheese – instead of thinking of No as depriving yourself of food, have an immediate alternative in mind – perhaps that lean chicken kebab or grilled mushroom.  This will not make you feel like you are depriving yourself and will also not upset your host.
  • be better informed – try to look at food in terms of food groups (e.g. fat, carbs, protein).  If you do this at your own dinner table at home, it becomes second nature when you are out.  This allows you to make active Yes and No choices.  Once people respect that there is reason behind what they thought was your madness, the societal pressure to say Yes will also be off you.
  • agree to cheat a little – if you decide in advance that you will cheat a little e.g. “I plan to enjoy a bit of the dessert” then saying No to other things you love (e.g. spring rolls) but are unhealthy (deep fried) becomes easier.
  • think actively about the cost to your health – this one is easier said than done, mostly because we think of the cost being paid very far out in the future – but if you phrase it as “I spent an hour of precious family time at yoga class this evening, let me make that count” – you are more likely to skip the tantalizing offer.
  • use peer pressure positively – in my previous blog I talked about linking your resolution to the goals of others – that approach works here too – decide with a friend you’ve come to the party with that you will both “eat more salad” or “drink more water”.  We have all experienced how the pressure of expectations that others have about us can be very strong – use it to your advantage.
  • the portfolio approach – they say, in finance, “diversification is a free lunch” – and so it is the same here – use a combination or all of the tricks above to make your attendance at social events free of guilt and full of fun but healthy choices.

Above all, remember “the power of miniscule change” and that any learning and training process is gradual and that mastery will come in time, not at the first attempt – so don’t give up!

Remember, if you can learn to say No to yourself first, and convincingly, then saying No to others will be a piece of cake… or a stick of celery!



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.


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