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  • Kayte Thomas

Cognitive reframing and saying no.

Sometimes, how we view a situation can really impact our perception of it. The power of perspective is so strong that it can even change how you feel altogether. The way that we think can be compared to the way we take a photo – each one of us will see things from a slightly different angle depending on where we are standing. The snapshot we take (or decision we make) can look mostly the same as someone else’s, or it can hold an entirely different perspective altogether depending on our outlook. And just as sometimes our perception of art, photography, and beauty can be rigid - or we can feel certain that our way of appreciating something is the only way – our thoughts can have similar issues. Learning a cognitive technique called reframing can help to shift your perspective.


Cognitive reframing helps you to take a step back from a situation and consider it from another point of view. Just like taking multiple photos from different angles, this technique encourages you to view an issue from other perspectives. It doesn’t mean that the way you automatically frame things is incorrect, it just means that there may be other ways to look at it as well. Today, we’re going to specifically focus in on how to reframe your thoughts regarding the word “no”.


“No” is difficult for many people. For some, it’s hard to accept that someone is refusing to do what is being asked of them. For others, it can be challenging to say no because they hold a fear of disappointing someone or are concerned about negative ramifications. In both instances, there are problems with setting boundaries. However, what you focus on will impact the way that you handle the experience. And every time you say no…there is still a yes involved as well. It’s just usually silent.



So, what does this mean? Well, it’s simple. When you say “no” to something, you are simultaneously saying “yes” to something else – we just don’t always think about that. Think about it this way: when you are asked to pick up an extra shift or stay late at work and you say “no”, you may be saying “yes” to going home and being with family. When you are out with friends (remember when we could do that safely? Sigh….) and you say “no” to staying out a little later, you are saying “yes” to feeling refreshed in the morning. When you say “no” to a child who wants something they shouldn’t have, you are saying “yes” most likely to health or safety. When you say “no” to activities during a pandemic, you’re saying “yes” to mitigating risk. This is how boundaries work, but we don’t often think of them in these terms.


It is a common misconception to feel that setting boundaries is selfish. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! There’s a phrase I love which says “boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously” and I think this is so true. Beyond interpersonal boundaries though, this is true for situations in the workplace and even with regards to yourself. Being able to say no effectively can ensure that you continue to enjoy your job because you don't feel unappreciated or overworked. Setting limits for yourself can help you stay on task and accomplish goals. Remembering to be mindful of your own needs and what works best for your life really matters. It is so important to consider your own well-being as a priority, because after all – you live with yourself. If you are overwhelmed and overextended from not being able to say “no”, this only wears you out more. And learning how to reframe your perspective can help contribute to your ability to communicate your needs and thus overall well-being also.


In order to do this though, it’s important to be able to identify your underlying value system. Ask yourself a few simple questions such as “what do I feel is most important in this scenario?”, “which item do I choose to prioritize here?”, or even “what matters most to me and why?” This can help you to think through your decision and provide ways to communicate it as well. Often I find that intentionally reframing thoughts in this manner and asking yourself what saying “no” to actually enables you to say “yes” to helps with alleviating guilt, increasing confidence, setting boundaries, and improving general life satisfaction because it allows you to focus on what you are able to do and what you prefer in the situation.


So the next time you say no to something, take a moment to pause and ask yourself what this enables you to say yes to. For me, I’m saying no to staying up late tonight so I can say yes to some extra sleep. What will you do for yourself today?


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© 2020 by Kayte Thomas, MSW, LCSW.