Knowing When to Say “NO”: A Guide to Making the Right Decision

Thank you to all who responded to my post!

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James Clear, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits. He writes about decision-making, habits, and life lesson. He posted the article The Ultimate Productivity Hack is Saying No on his website. 

“No is a decision. Yes is a responsibility.” – James Clear

Sometimes I will feel guilty when turning down requests from people, so I end up agreeing and accepting many of their requests even when I don’t want to do so. I find it difficult to say no to people I have a good relationship with, and this is partly due to my personality, which is sensitive and accommodating. Rejection is something that I take personally, feeling that I have made a mistake when I turn down a request. As a result, I am more cautious and feel a sense of duty when working or helping others, while I put my own needs second. I also avoid asking for help because I am afraid of being rejected.

This article discusses the importance of saying “no” and setting boundaries to achieve greater focus and effectiveness in one’s life. By saying “no” to the things that do not align with one’s goals and values, individuals can create more time and energy for the things that truly matter.

Clear provides several tips for how to say “no” effectively, such as being clear and direct, offering alternative solutions, and maintaining a positive attitude. He also emphasizes the importance of recognizing and respecting one’s limits and avoiding overcommitment and burnout. Overall, Clear’s article encourages readers to be intentional and proactive in their decision-making and prioritize their well-being and success by setting boundaries and saying “no” when necessary.


Here are some questions that you can ask yourself after reading this post! Please feel free to discuss and share your thoughts⇓

  • Will saying “yes” lead to overcommitment, stress, or burnout?
  • Have you ever said “yes” to someone even though you don’t want to say it?
  • It is important to use appropriate words to refuse others’ requests. What strategies do you have to politely refuse others?

53 thoughts on “Knowing When to Say “NO”: A Guide to Making the Right Decision

  1. JIAQI LIU says:

    I believe saying “yes” will lead to stress. I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to hurt others’ feelings, so as long as I can help, even a little, I respond with a yes. I always dwell on the feeling that I should be friendly and polite to people I don’t know, which is a way to familiarize myself with new people. On the other hand, since I already knew this person, or we are very close, I feel more responsible to say “yes” because friends always help. If someone asks me a favor and I can’t make it or I don’t want to, I tend to overthink what would happen to him/her and our relationship. So yes, I try to say no in life. Although I know Derek Sivers’ “Hell Yeah or No” method before, it’s hard to really think in this way and refuse others.

    1. Daniel Mo Zheng says:

      Wow! It is great to hear your experience. I think we are kind of same type of people who don’t want to hurt others’ feeling! Also, I’ve heard the book “Hell Yeah or No” before from my friends. I will definitely want to read it when I am free.

    2. EUNHYE KIM says:

      It would be really stressful to say “yes” to everyone’s request. When someone asks a request, you would get a lot of stress even before you answer. This is because you need to think about the other person’s feelings when you refuse the request, and the anxiety that this person will feel bad about you, and if you allow the request, you waste time to use it effectively for yourself.

      1. JIAQI LIU says:

        I do feel stressed even before I ask yes or no. Yes or no is like you want to help people but meanwhile you sacrifice your own time. So here comes another question: should I do this for this person, or should I focus on my own more? This sometimes becomes a moral coercion that you add on yourself. (It seems like things will be much easier if you just say no, lol

    3. XIAOYAO ZHENG says:

      Yes, I really care about other people’s feelings, and what other people think of me. I’m always worried that my rejection will lead to a bad end to my friendship with them. But in fact it doesn’t change much, if there is a quarrel because of a rejection, I don’t think it’s a very good friendship. lol Hopefully we can learn to say no to others on the basis of our own comfort!

    4. MANQI ZHEN says:

      I can really relate to you because I am also the type of person who don’t know how to reject others. I always say “yes” to people I am not really familiar with but I can feel free to reject people I am very close with. I try to help people and it lead to me doing things that I don’t actually want to do. It also lead to people taking advantage of you like the unfamiliar classmates that always ask you to do do stuff because they know you will agree. I think I have gone better; I am able to say no sometimes now. I think it is very important to reject in polite words because it gives people a good impression of yourself. Also, it tell others that there is a reason that you rejected her for and not because you don’t like her.

    5. Qi Chen says:

      I especially understand how you feel. I am also the type who readily agrees to help anyone in need, especially those close to me like family and friends. But then I learned that if they were real friends or family, they would understand me if I refused to help because I was busy with other things.

    6. XIAONIU CHEN says:

      I especially understand your mood and thoughts, because like you, I don’t want to destroy the relationship with my friends, and I often feel anxious about it. I’m also looking for a way to say no to people easily enough.

  2. SHI YA WANG says:

    I believe saying “yes” causes stress. I generally seldom say “no” to my acquaintances. I don’t want to hurt the feelings between our friends because of my rejection. Although saying “no” is unlikely to hurt our feelings, I can’t help it. Think too much about what the consequences will be. And sometimes I am too used to thinking about problems for them from the perspective of the other party, not myself. Later, because of a private conversation between my friend and me, I began to know how to refuse other people’s requests. First of all, consider whether you have the time, such as whether you have solved your problems first. If the other party needs your help, you can try to help the other party. Second, if you are very busy, you can refuse because you have a lot to do and cannot help. After all, sometimes in this society we still need to be selfish, otherwise, we will be regarded as “soft persimmons” and forced to help each other one day, and we will die of exhaustion sooner or later.

    1. EUNHYE KIM says:

      That is so true. It’s important to keep good relationships with friends but, you need to care more about yourself. If you accept every request from friends, it will be a lot, it will make you feel exhausted. Saying “Yes” is not the only way to keep good relationships with friends. You can make good relationships in many other ways.

    2. XIAOYAO ZHENG says:

      I used to be very envious of my friends who could reject others without pressure, which was too difficult for me. Yes, the prerequisite for us to agree to other people’s requests is whether we have time. Especially when saying yes to something and then finding out you don’t have the time to do it and being hesitant to say no will make it that much harder. In society, people will always bully some weak people and be afraid of those brave people.

    3. RUOYAN CHEN says:

      Always agreeing to any request of others is indeed easy to be taken for granted by others. Unconditional obedience is not a good way to maintain a friendship. You are right, people in this society should always be a little selfish. After all, if you’re not thinking of yourself, who do you expect to think of you? However, the way of rejection is also a science, and the way of rejection that is too blunt is really not easy to accept.

    4. WEN Long CHEN says:

      Hi SHI YA WANG, unlike you being more afraid of saying no to your friends I am more able to decide between answering a “yes” or “no”. There are times when I know that it ok to say no and when to say yes, where our relationship also can be a factor. But it turns to my parent or elder request it is very hard to so “no” to them.

    5. ZHILING PAN says:

      I share your fear of hurting the relationship between friends because of my rejection. But in fact, really good friends do not let their feelings fade because of rejection, they will understand and appreciate your rejection. If the feelings fade, it only means that the friend does not really want you to be a friend, the other party may just use you or do not care about you.

    6. Qi Chen says:

      I have similar thoughts and feelings as yours. I’m also afraid that when I refuse to help my friends, they will be upset or feel like I don’t consider them as a friend. But I realize that not all requests require consent to help. If we’re friends, then I think they would understand that sometimes I refuse to help for other reasons.

    7. JIAQI LIU says:

      I agree with you! We should solve our problems first so that in both ways we can help people better and we won’t get in any trouble because we may forget something important or necessary due to this unplanned-help thing.

  3. EUNHYE KIM says:

    I used to be a person who couldn’t refuse requests from friends or people around me. But I decided to say “No” because this excessive kindness and dedication made me a person who couldn’t take responsibility for my work. When someone asks me a favor, I first think about whether I can help without difficulty, and if it is a difficult request, I apologize and say that I am too busy to help. It’s not hard to say “No” now because most people don’t actually feel bad about being refused a request. Saying “No” to someone’s request when you don’t want to is not bad.

    1. RUOYAN CHEN says:

      I used to be like you, a person who couldn’t say “no”, and now every time I look back, I feel foolish. Now I am more free-wheeling, and I will say “no” to things that don’t have time or are very troublesome. After learning to say “no”, it really helped me solve a lot of troubles.

    2. FABIOLA ARIAS says:

      I agree with your thinking because saying yes always means one is not responsible for their work. The example of a strategy you have to say no to a request is another proper way to say it because it is simple and straight to the point that you are busy and can not help. It is easier to go and tell someone no and straight to the point because it can let them know you are a responsible person who needs to finish their work. Some people can misinterpret the answer when refused because how you say it can affect how they think of you.

    3. WEN Long CHEN says:

      Hi EUNHYE KIM, I think your decision of saying no can’t be any better than always answering yes. I agree that saying yes would only make us “couldn’t take responsibility for our work”. This is clearly like what the “Saying yes costs you time in the future. No is a form of time credit. You retain the ability to spend your future time however you want”. I think from now I should also be more careful and clear about my decision of saying “yes”or “no”

    4. ZHILING PAN says:

      It’s easy to say no, and the person doesn’t feel bad about it or have a bad relationship with you. Committing too much and too heavily will only affect your life and work, and you should only commit or help when you feel comfortable or appropriate. Otherwise, when you are in deep trouble yourself and have to help others, you will only be more exhausted and broken.

  4. FABIOLA ARIAS says:

    If I say “yes,” it will lead to stress depending on the situation I am accepting or to how many I say yes. I would not say yes to every request people ask because it would make me overwhelmed since I have my own life that I have to handle.
    I have said “yes” to someone even though I didn’t want to say it because of the same reason you gave, which was that I did feel guilty if I turned it down. I’ve been in a similar scenario with family and friends, and I’ll be honest, whenever they ask me to do something, I gladly agree and am powerless to refuse because I want to feel helpful and express my gratitude.
    It’s crucial to use the proper wording when declining other people’s requests since doing otherwise might give the impression that you didn’t want to assist them or that you’re simply someone who doe snot want to be disturbed. Some strategies I have to politely refuse others is to kindly and smoothly refuse the requests saying, “I understand you have a lot in mind and need help, but as soon and when I finish my priorities, I will see if I can assist you, if not I apologize I might not be able to help.” Another one is to tell the person that you do not have time due to the workload, and you need to focus on finishing it and that you can’t accept.

    1. Daniel Mo Zheng says:

      Yes you are right! It is a good sentence to turn down the request from others, which make a line with the meaning of “No is a decision. Yes is a responsibility.” I might start to think if I have the ability to take responsible before saying yes to the requesters.

  5. XIAOYAO ZHENG says:

    From my experience, I would say yes, saying “yes” adds to the pressure, but I feel a sense of guilt when saying no to someone, even though I know I’m not wrong. Once I promise to do other people’s things, I need to do well, and even completing other people’s things will take more thought than my own. To be honest, I have been in many situations where I have been embarrassed, when I have said ”yes” to people. I am worried that they will feel bad for my rejection, so I always force myself to say yes to something I don’t want to do. Well, I’m still not done breaking the habit. But after I realized that it bothers me a lot, I started trying to put my feelings first. I found that when I said: “I’m so sorry I don’t have time”, my friends don’t mind, they will tell me “it’s okay”. So try to say no, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, it’s just an optional thing. I usually keep polite when rejecting people, add some sorry but sincere words, and hope that my rejection doesn’t disappoint them with me.

    1. MEITING WU says:

      Agree, once I said yes to my friend, it formed a promise, there is a lot of pressure to force you do something. Therefore, I am always rejected those request if that unnecessary. It sound like I am cold but that much more relaxable in the life.


      Hi Xiaoyao, as your friend I have asked you countless times about my homework and sometimes I talk to you when I’m in a bad mood, I know you are very kind and every time if you can help me you do your best to help me. I know you are also busy with your own school work so after that, I also try not to have the habit of asking you when I have a problem, I want to rely on myself, so I want to say that even if you are sometimes very busy trying to reject me I will not have any complaints and you are still the kind girl I am grateful for.

  6. RUOYAN CHEN says:

    Overcommitment can lead to stress and burnout. In the past, I was always unable to refuse anyone’s request. I always felt that saying “no” seemed to hurt them. Even though I was tired or annoyed, I still couldn’t bear to say no to them. So, my friends also started to get used to asking me. They began to think that this was what I should do. As long as I refused, they would get angry. And when I was a kid, I was afraid of not having friends, so I said yes to them even when I didn’t want to. Later, I didn’t know when it started, I felt that my previous self was foolish, and I always wronged myself for considering others. Now I have some friends who were very similar to me in the past, and they always wronged themselves by saying “yes” to others. So, I will talk to them and tell them to learn to say “no” because I don’t want them to be as tired and wronged as I was before.

    1. Daniel Mo Zheng says:

      It’s admirable that you want to share your insights with your friends and help them avoid making the same mistakes you did. Just remember that everyone’s journey is different, and what worked for you may not work for them. Be patient and supportive as they learn to set their own boundaries and say “no” when necessary.

      1. CAMILLA JIANG says:

        I feel the same way as you sometimes because I want to have friends and I feel bad when I don’t want to help them. I feel that actual friends will stay with you even if you can’t help them. You can slowly build up your boundary with your friends and slowly do what you want to, instead of saying yes.

  7. BINCHI WU says:

    Usually when some friends who are playing well ask for help, it is difficult for me to refuse because when I refuse someone else’s request, I feel guilty, even though I have not done anything wrong. But I still associate myself with how they perceive my behavior, leading to stress. When I don’t want to commit to this, saying “yes” will make me feel burnout and instinctively make me feel the cost of consuming my time. I have said a lot of “yes” to others, but in reality, I don’t want to commit. So after I said “yes”, I will begin to regret why I didn’t refuse others at that time, which makes me annoyed. In my opinion, it is necessary to refuse others in a polite and respectful tone, while honesty is also important. Explain why you cannot meet the requirements and be clear about your limitations.

    1. FABIOLA ARIAS says:

      I agree with this because I would stress over “no,” so I would regret saying that to a friend or family member. I have to remind myself that I have other important things to do for myself that are priorities. I should always take care of what I must do so that I can say “yes” more and know that I will no longer feel guilty or stressed. I agree that politely refusing others is very important, and knowing your limitations for a clearer view can help with personal growth.

    2. Daniel Mo Zheng says:

      It’s understandable that you feel guilty when you can’t refuse your friends’ requests, but it’s important to recognize that it’s okay to set boundaries and prioritize your own well-being. Saying “yes” when you don’t want to can lead to burnout and regret, so it’s better to be honest about your limitations and politely decline when necessary. By being clear and respectful in your communication, you can maintain healthy relationships with your friends while also taking care of yourself.

  8. MEITING WU says:

    I had no idea how to say no in the past. I always answer Yes to my friends’ invitations or requests, but it makes me tired, because I don’t really want to do it, and it takes a lot of time and energy. So now, I refuse to accept them outright. It makes life easier for me, not need to use Yes to maintain relationships.

    1. Daniel Mo Zheng says:

      Happy to hear your thought. I agree with you that not need to use yes to maintain relationships. Also, by refusing invitations or requests that don’t align with your interests or priorities, you can free up time and energy to focus on the things that truly matter to you.

    2. XIAONIU CHEN says:

      I don’t know how to refuse people all the time. I usually agree to friends’ invitations, and the idea depends on them. But as time goes by, I feel that too much of my own time and energy are wasted. I can use this time to make my own matter.

  9. WEN Long CHEN says:

    Of course, saying “yes” will lead to overcommitment, stress, or burnout. From the beginning, it is not our business, but after saying yes to other people’s request their business becomes your’s business. With it becoming your business it is just going to add to your to-do list which going to pressure or overwhelmed us with more stress in our daily life. How I have experienced this situation of saying “yes” to someone even though I don’t want to say it. It is a classmate who just come to me and ask me to add his phone requesting me to teach him about a math problem he doesn’t understand. For some reason, I wasn’t able to say no because I want to make friends but I feel like it was not the kind of relationship I used to have with my friends.

    1. Daniel Mo Zheng says:

      I went through a comparable situation where a classmate asked me to help them cheat on a midterm exam. Given the gravity of the situation, I immediately refused their request. While it’s important to want to be a good friend and offer assistance, it’s also crucial to establish boundaries and decline respectfully when the situation calls for it.


    1. I think when someone asks me a request, my priority is to consider whether I have the ability and time to help him complete the task, and then consider the difficulty of the request, if the request is simple and I have enough time, I will be happy to help him complete. Otherwise, I would politely refuse.

    2. I used to not know how to refuse people’s requests, and I felt a strong sense of guilt for refusing people and worrying about a lot of things like what they thought of me. But after growing up, I know that the priority of every decision is to consider their own interests and welfare.

    3. Whenever I say “no” to someone else I use a very non-direct and euphemistic approach, such as “You know what I wish I could but, I’m kind of in the middle of somewhere or sorry I am also struggling about this, I’m don’t have enough capacity to help with your needs. etc”.

    1. Daniel Mo Zheng says:

      It’s great to hear that you’ve learned to prioritize your own decision and life. Saying “no” can be difficult, especially when we want to help others, but it’s important to remember that we can’t always say yes to everything.

  11. AI CHIA HO says:

    Hi Daniel! Thank you for sharing this article as this week’s discussion board and I like your discussion board format BTW><. I really like your topic because I also have a problem of saying no to others. I think saying yes will lead to overcommitment, stress, or burnout. When somebody ask me can I do something, I always feel that although I don’t really want to do it, it is hard for me to refuse, so I just agree it, after that when I am doing that thing, I feel sick and tired to help them and regret why I didn’t say no at the beginning. I think when you agree to do something for someone, if you do a good job, others will not necessarily thank you because they might think it is what you should do, but if you don’t help them or fail to satisfy them, they will definitely be angry about you. Also when you start saying “yes” to help others, this kind of “extra work” will definitely happen again and again. I have said yes to someone even though you don’t want to say it. For example, one of my classmates wanted my homework answered because he didn’t want to do it, so I said yes for the first time and when my answer was wrong, he asked me how I could be wrong about this basic question. The next time he asked me again, I tried to use the excuse that I haven’t done it yet to refuse him, but he never gave up and still came to me for homework ten minutes before class. Of course, this should only be a special case. It is impossible for people all over the world to be this bad though. It seems like I am a person who knows how to say “No” because I don’t like to help others(?), but I still can’t learn the correct way to say “No”, that’s why I still have so many complaints:)

    1. Daniel Mo Zheng says:

      Hi there! Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts on this topic. It’s common to struggle with saying “no” to others, especially when we want to be helpful or avoid conflict. Here are some ways that I found on the internet to say “no” to friends politely, hope this can help you a bit with your struggles:
      “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to help with that. I have other commitments that day/week.”
      “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m going to have to pass this time. I need to focus on some personal things right now.”
      “I wish I could help you out, but I have to prioritize my own needs at the moment.”


      Hi Ai Chia, I very much agree with you but the example you gave is only a very small group of people in this world, normal people are not so extreme and shameless. Although I have met people who keep asking questions and then blame the other person when the answer is wrong, these people are rare (I’ve only met one or two in my life). Most people are grateful and don’t blame you even if your help ends up being useless or wrong, and many people don’t take the help of others for granted and don’t shamelessly keep seeking help from the same person. I hope you can meet a friend who can rely on each other and knows how to be grateful.

  12. ZHILING PAN says:

    Saying “yes” to someone does make me feel overcommitted and stressed because the “yes” may not be what I really think. I did say “yes” to people before, but not anymore. I used to be afraid to say no to people because I was afraid it would make them hate me or hurt our relationship. But after I said no once, I didn’t get hated as much as I thought I would. After that, I realized that rejection is so simple that it doesn’t change. When you want to say no to someone, you can just say you don’t have time or you have other tasks that need to be done.

  13. Qi Chen says:

    Sometimes saying “yes” actually will lead to overcommitment and stress, especially if you promise to help someone do something beyond your ability. I frequently say “yes” to someone even though I don’t want to. When my friends ask me if I have time for help with a question or homework, I usually will say “yes” and help them find the answer right away or maybe later if I’m busy with my own business. I seldom refuse to help and when that happens, it’s simply because I really have no time or don’t know the answer to their questions. To politely refuse others, I will offer them a reasonable explanation.

    1. CAMILLA JIANG says:

      I think you are right because actual friends will stay with you even if you aren’t able to help them. I think offering others a reasonable explanation is a good thing because it helps them understand that you can’t help them because you are busy. I think your method of helping friends when you have time is a good thing because it doesn’t stress you out too much.

    2. ZHEN NI LIN says:

      I also agree with you that I think it is understandable for good friends to say no to each other. Because many times we also need to be busy with our own things or like you said zh hungry one is beyond our ability.

  14. CAMILLA JIANG says:

    I feel that saying yes to others will lead to overwhelming stress. I find it extremely difficult to say no to others, especially when people come up to me for donations. I also find it difficult to say no to friends because I feel bad. Saying yes to people will often cause necessary stress and work that I will have to do. If I don’t do things right or well, I would also feel bad. I think one thing that can help you with saying no is by thinking about the stuff or troubles that will be brought on to you and it is too much responsibility because if you do something for yourself, it is okay to not do so well. If you are to say yes to other, it will put pressure onto yourself to do the best.

  15. XIAONIU CHEN says:

    In fact I don’t know how to deny someone’s request. I also often feel pressured to reject others. For example, friends who have a good relationship with me, if they ask me to do something, I will always agree to do it. In a matter, it is easy to agree to others, but it is really difficult to refuse others, because I need to find a suitable reason. If it is really something I don’t want to do or I don’t have time to do it, I will refuse, but at the same time I will feel very guilty. I don’t have any good skills to say no, I’m waiting for your methods.

  16. ZHEN NI LIN says:

    I’m actually a person who has a hard time saying no to people even if I don’t want to but I mostly accept. Because if I refuse someone’s request I feel bad, there is a feeling of pressure. For example, in high school I didn’t like to share my homework that took me a long time to finish, but one of my friends asked me for it and I was reluctant to give it to him, but I gave it anyway. So I think it’s important to politely say no to people, but I’m really lacking in this area and I’ll say no in a more direct way, which doesn’t look good.

    1. MEITING WU says:

      It’s common to feel pressure to say yes , even if you don’t want to. But I think it’s important to prioritize your own needs and boundaries. Saying no can be difficult, but it’s a necessary skill to learn in order to maintain your own well-being.

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