Well, the holiday hoopla is ramping up. Displays of sparkly red and green stuff has taken center stage in our stores, catalogues are arriving in droves, internet sites are offering deals, discounts and sales on every imaginable product. Magazines at the grocery check- out display unbelievable glossy covers of gorgeous people, in gorgeous houses, serving gorgeous food. Now with the sudden drop in temperature and the promise of snow this week, the reality that the holidays are descending on us is unavoidable.

It feels impossible to slow this down or simply get a grip. It is like being swept up in some tinselly tidal wave. I don’t want to shop yet, I still am cleaning out the garden! Yet, as the heat clicks on, and my sweaters and even gloves begin to take center stage, it cannot be denied. Here comes the holidays.

Much has been written about how to maintain our sanity through the holidays- hints of shortcuts for meals, warnings about overeating and over-drinking, and financial gurus pleading with us to set limits on our spending. All of these techniques are designed to make the holidays more manageable and more enjoyable and to avoid January regret when the bills and the scale indicate much too much indulgence.

This week a group of women met to discuss the difficulty of saying “No”. Those “No’s” were directly externally- mostly focused on people who asked us for things we either did not want to, or could not, do. The group agreed while NO is tough, they all are now experiencing the empowerment that comes with setting limits that comes with simply saying “No”. While we may “feel bad” disappointing another, many of us have not considered that, according to Psychologist Judith Sills, PHD, “‘No’ guards us against exploitation.” Wow! Such a small word can wield such power. We can choose not to be taken advantage of simply by saying no!

As the holidays approach, it occurs to me that we need to ramp up our NO skills, not just our exercising it with others, but within ourselves as well.  When we are tempted by that drink, that gooey dessert, to stay up too late, or spurge on the overpriced yet perfect gift, we are called on to practice saying, “NO”. This time it is not to a persistent child, an over-demanding boss or even a cranky clerk in a store testing our boundaries. Now it is about learning to say “NO” to ourselves. NO at the holidays is mostly an “inside job.”

The denial elves dance around in our brain, urging us to say “Yes” to everything we crave, feeding us rationales that really are denial. They say things like, “I deserve this drink (or dessert)”, “One more won’t matter” or the line made famous by Scarlett O’Hara,” I’ll think about that tomorrow”. The truth is this- you deserve to be healthy, one more WILL matter, and thinking about it tomorrow is merely procrastination. Well placed inner NO’s honor and empower us: we learn the joy that comes with self-discipline and not giving into immediate gratification. It helps us develop patience, resilience and ultimately to reach our long term goals.

The Dali Lama , in the book “The Art of Happiness” speaks about the difference between pleasure and happiness. Eating the gooey dessert, buying an overpriced gift, indulging in drinking too much or other excess behaviors may bring us a moment of pleasure. But happiness, true happiness, is not acquired by giving into those impulsive pleasures, but by recognizing that happiness is, in truth, about setting boundaries, accepting limits and finding joy in empowerment rather than indulgence.

Visualize what you want to be dealing with in January-a closet full of expensive stuff, jeans that don’t zip, credit cards that will take months to pay down, or a sense of peace and accomplishment as you move into the new year with less clutter, no  debt and a scale that is not your enemy. Saying NO now, will bring a big healthy “YES!” later.


Having trouble with “NO”? Consider this: the more we choose the healthy path, the easier is becomes. Plus as we behave in new ways, we are rewiring our brains- and the payoffs are invaluable. If you find you are struggling with “NO”, consider a self-help group such as a 12 Step Program or working with a trained counselor or therapist. Getting support and positive feedback for taking care of yourself can be the best gift of all-the gift of self -care.


© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

Leave a Comment