How to Say No When You’re Used to People-Pleasing

How to Say No When You’re Used to People-Pleasing

On Telling the Truth, Turning Your Yeses into Real Yeses, and Your No’s into Real No’s for the Benefit of Everyone, Including You

“You’re a liar.”

A professional, grown-up woman who’d started several successful companies was on the other end of the phone saying these words to me.

My eyebrows got significantly closer to my hairline as I tried to figure out if I’d heard her correctly.

I’m the kind of person who can’t even lie about something to orchestrate a surprise, let alone something that has more malicious intent.

But as she explained, I realized she had me nailed. It was fairly horrifying.

“By doing things you don’t want to be doing and not setting boundaries, you’re lying,” the coach on the other line told me.

She was right, so I decided to take a crash course in telling the truth. 

I learned how to feel what I was feeling in my body and then “perform” for an audience from that place instead of faking it in Josh Pais’s class, Committed Impulse. (It’s a class originally designed for actors that’s incredibly useful for entrepreneurs…and other humans.)

I did a 300-hour yoga teacher training with Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee and learned to listen to the truth in my body in a whole other way.

And I started telling the truth about what was and wasn’t working for me in my life.

So much so, in fact, that I sold all of my belongings, left my life in NYC, left my business partnership, and took off on a road trip I called The Freedom Tour. (I acquired a handsome driver along the way who’s now my husband.)

This month in my membership, Origin, we’re focusing on letting go.

Letting go of what no longer serves us.

Letting go of tasks and projects that distract us from our most powerful work.

Letting go of habits that are keeping us small.

Letting go of relationships that have run their course.

Letting go of saying yes when we mean no.

12 years ago, the last time I let go of my life as I’d known it, I learned that saying yes because I didn’t want to disappoint someone was the surest way to disappoint myself…and do the other person a disservice in the process.

Who wants to do something with someone who doesn’t actually want to do that thing anyway?

We can all feel it when someone doesn’t want to be doing something but they said yes “to be nice.” It sucks.

I only want people doing things with or for me who want to be doing them.

And I’m more committed than ever to only doing things with or for people that I actually want to be doing. Like full-body, whole-ass want to be doing.

I’m proud to say that I’m no longer a liar. My yeses are yeses, and my no’s are no’s, at least 95% of the time. And I’m gonna just keep showing up for that 5% and loving on her until she feels safe enough, to be honest.

If you know you need to learn to say no, I’m doing a challenge that you’re definitely going to want to join me for. It’s called The No Challenge (nothing like being direct) and here’s what it entails:

For 8 days we’re going to practice saying no to one thing a day.

It’s going to change your business and your life. Buckle up for Flight 111 on Air Liberation.

Sign up for The No Challenge.

Do you sometimes (or a lot of the time) say yes when you really don’t want to do something? What, if anything, feels hard about saying no? Have you gotten better at saying no over time? Let’s talk about it in the comments – this is such an important topic!


  • Andrea Hunter

    Hi Kate, and everyone reading this page,
    I got to know about what you do through the recent Alchemy congress ( Lucie Harnosova) held for her Czech audience.
    I loved your interview and the insights you shared – THE key finding for me was when you said we are trained to manage the wrong resource – time – instead of energy, which is key to having the time we want and need to do anything. I am also a years long supporter of your mum as her books on female health led me to a whole new understanding of feminine hormonal system.

    I am just trying to wrap my head around how best to apply your philosophy of saying no…in situation when I am an employee. I do not like and enjoy my job…but feel I need to do it in order to support myself. Ironically, it is constantly being appreciated by others and my boss that I support them as well as I do. But it is then a whole load of no’s throughout the day which get quickly dismissed by me, as if they were followed, I would have to give notice ;) So kind of ridiculous situation, is it not? I do the job fairly well, get praise, get paid…but ultimately it is by saying a whole load of yess to where I feel nos….is giving notice and losing the only financial security I have the only option, in order to feel I don’t lie to myself? I would be grateful for any insights!!! Thank you. Andrea

    • Kate Northrup

      Andrea – welcome to the community! Here’s what I would say: could you just say no 5% more of the time to start with? I think we often think that people value us for our yes but they may end up respecting you more (and valuing you more) if you have better boundaries. Even 5% more.

  • Love this ! I really relate and super excited to do the no challenge
    Just turned 50 and a recovering productivity addict artist and entrepreneur and this is the best gift ! Gracias !

  • Massive lessons in this the past few weeks. First with friends, now with clients. Painful then liberating. Thank you!

  • I just said NO to my band of 18 years- i honestly should have said no 18 years ago! I stayed in because i was the energetic glue that held us together and I feel like i’m what made us good and it fed my ego- but i’m so much happier now that i’m FREE! I never have to trade my energy and time with my family for a band who isn’t family- i cannot wait to say NO to so much more! Purging my house this spring is gonna feel so good! Make way for the HECK YESSES!:)

  • I thought I’d got better at saying no and then reading this article made me realise that recently saying yes has cost me a lot, in anxiety and financially. Thanks for pulling me up on it. Will go with my instinct from here on.

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