When they begin working with me, many of my clients have an intense fear of hearing the word, “No.” As in, “No, we can’t lower the price.” “No, that’s not possible.” “No, that’s not our policy here.” “No, we don’t have the budget for that.”
Many of my clients are so terrified of hearing the word “No” that they wind up avoiding—or postponing—all kinds of important conversations. Conversations about... asking for a better salary package at work, asking for a mentorship opportunity, asking for the chance to lead an exciting project, and many others.
In the field of psychology, there’s something called “exposure therapy.” The idea is, if you expose yourself to whatever frightens you—over and over—without experiencing any serious harm, then your brain re-trains itself. Your subconscious brain realizes, “Oh, it’s OK. I’m safe. This isn’t a real threat, like I previously thought.” Over time, whatever used to frighten you just don’t feel so scary anymore. Your brain lays down new neural pathways to support new beliefs. On a cellular level, you become braver.
This week, I challenge you to do some exposure therapy regarding the word “No.”
Try to expose yourself to the word “No” over and over, to prove to yourself that it’s survivable and non-threatening. Ask for lots of things that you wouldn’t normally ask for. See what people say in response. Try to collect 20 “No’s” by the end of the week.
Here are some “No’s” you could try to collect…
1. At a restaurant, ask if you can have a black linen napkin instead of white.
2. At a clothing store, ask if they’d be willing to change the Spotify station and play your favorite album or song.
3. Ask your cable or Internet provider if they’ll reduce your monthly charge by 20% because you’ve been such a loyal customer.
4. Ask your partner or teenager to handle grocery shopping and making dinner for the next 3 nights in a row.
5. Ask your yoga teacher if she’d be willing to create a class that’s inspired by your favorite quote or mantra.
6. Ask someone in a cafe, library, or airplane if they’ll switch seats with you.
7. Ask the grocery store clerk if they’ll honor a coupon that’s already expired.
8. At the gym, ask the front desk attendant if they’ll put a cool, damp towel into the staff fridge so that you can have a refreshing wipe-down when you leave
9. At the coffee shop, ask the barista if she can write your name in latte foam—inside a heart.
10. At the bus or train stop, ask the person next to you if they can tell you a good joke.
11. At a dinner party, ask a complete stranger to describe their ideal vacation, job, or romantic partner.
12. If you’re checking into a hotel, ask if they’ll put 6 pillows on your bed and 3 bars of soap in the bathroom.
13. Or, ask if you can check-in 2 hours earlier than usual.
14. Ask a colleague if you can have your next meeting outside, in a park, or while taking a walk in the fresh air.
15. Walk into an ice cream shop and ask if they’ll do a “split scoop”—1 full scoop that’s half one flavor, and half another.
16. At a restaurant, ask your server, “If I make a report card for you to fill out, will you give everyone at this table a ‘grade’ based on how delightful and well-behaved they are?” (I know a woman who did this and the server actually said “Yes!” It turned into a hilarious and very memorable night!)
17. Ask your favorite author, blogger, or podcaster if they’d be willing to share their snail-mail address so that you can send some fan mail.
18. Ask your landlord if they’ll install an additional lock on your door.
19. Ask your babysitter or nanny if they’ll do a few extra chores for you—for extra pay, of course—like taking your car to get cleaned, or decluttering your makeup drawer.
20. Ask your best friend to join you for a spontaneous hike, meal, or weekend trip.
If you ask for all of those things, you’ll probably hear “Yes” a few times—more times than you might expect! That’s beautiful, because you’ll be teaching yourself that it’s totally possible to ask for what you want—and get it.
Of course, you’ll also hear “No” a few times—and that’s the whole point of the exercise. By exposing yourself to the word “No,” over and over, you’ll begin to feel more comfortable hearing that word. You’ll become “desensitized,” but in a good way.
Ultimately, the goal is to get to a point where “No” is just a word, just like any other word. Just like “Yes” or “Maybe” or “Later” or “Banana” or “Tonight.” Not scary. Not threatening. Just a piece of verbal information that you can use. Nothing more.
If you collect any “No’s” this week, please email me and tell me about it! I’d love to hear your best rejection story. We can laugh about it together. And remember—with every “No” that you collect, you’re building a new brain, and getting braver and stronger.