I was outside at our cabin while my husband was preparing to stain the railings. One of the neighborhood kids walked by and asked, “What are you doing?” My husband replied, “I’m sanding the railings, what are you doing”? The little girl said, “I’m going to the beach to build sandcastles”. My husband said, “Would you like to stay and help me”? The little girl responded, “no, I want to go to the beach and build sandcastles”, and kept on walking.

I thought how cute and then I really started thinking about the deeper level of the conversation. I was struck by how easy it was for the little girl to say “no”. She didn’t give excuses or give any explanation, she just said “no”.

Later that day I was at the market and observed an interaction between a husband and a wife. The woman filled a bag full of cherries and her husband came up and told her to put half of them back as she wouldn’t eat them all. She protested a little and then sheepishly went and emptied out half the bag. As I observed this, I could feel her pain and the significance of this small interaction. For some reason, this woman didn’t feel she could say, “no, I want the cherries and I won’t put them back.”

Some people may say, it’s only cherries and you need to pick your battles, but it’s not about the cherries. It’s about the patterns that we create in relationships and our inability to say “no” when we want to say “no”.

These two examples really struck me, as there was such a contrast between the little girl that had no trouble saying “no” and the married woman who had lost her voice.

At some point, along the way many women I know, myself included, lose the ability to say “no”. When we lose our ability to say “no” to others we begin to develop an unhealthy relationship with ourselves.

Those of us that were never “allowed” to say “no” when we were children have an even more difficult time expressing our needs and opinions.

When we arrive into adulthood without having developed a strong it’s okay to say “no” muscle, we attract relationships into our lives that will continue to give us opportunities to say “no.”

Most of us that have the just say “no” aversion, have developed a pattern. We attract into our lives many opportunities to say “no” and when we’re fearful to say “no” we place our attention on the other person.

For example, the woman with the cherries likely went away and thought what a bully her husband was for not letting her buy the cherries. She likely felt some resentment and anger and shut down. She probably spends a fair amount of time wondering why he’s so difficult to get along with and why he needs to be so controlling.

One of the most powerful and life-transforming lessons I’ve learned is that the answers to my peace and contentment lie in turning that attention and focus back on myself. Why would I allow someone to make that decision for me? Why am I afraid to say “no”? Why is it so important that I please other people? Why do I put other people’s needs ahead of my own? These are not easy questions to ask, but when we don’t ask the questions and change ourselves, the patterns will continue.

For the past several months I have made a conscious choice to become aware of the times in my life when I want to say “no” and don’t. This practice of being aware is exactly what it means to be mindful. I don’t beat myself up over what I observe, I just look at the situation with curiosity and as I do that I open up the door to more possibilities. I’m slowly but surely building my just say “no” muscle and I have to say it feels good!

Do you have a strong say “no” muscle or do you need to strengthen it?