I’ve discovered these super cool new powers lately; saying no, and asking for what I want.
I’ve always had these tools at my disposal (obvs), but I’ve spent the majority of my life doing neither of these things – and feeling utterly resentful about it, constantly blaming everyone else for my unhappiness.
In my head, other people were demanding too much time and energy from me.
What I didn’t realise (or want to admit to myself) is that this happened because I didn’t set clear boundaries for myself.
And I never, ever asked for what I really wanted and needed.
First of all, I had no idea what I wanted. And second of all, I didn’t know how to ask for it.
The power of asking for what you want
We have to understand our own desires before we’re able to communicate this to others, and therefore ask them to help us fulfil our needs.
Self-awareness is crucial here.
For example, sometimes I just need space.
As an introvert, I recharge my batteries with alone time (especially when I’m menstruating); and often, all I want to do is watch a movie by myself, dance in my living room with zero inhibitions, or even just lay around.
So when I’m craving space – but I haven’t tuned into this desire – I might be irritable with my partner, and not understand why (and neither will he).
But when I know what the issue is, I can express this in a way that actually helps me resolve it, which is incredibly empowering.
The way we ask for it matters
Now that I feel comfortable asking for what I want, I wield this power often.
However, it ain’t always sunshine and rainbows.
Since I’m still learning how to express my desires – and the people around me are only just getting used to me doing this – quite often, I run into conflict.
Just this morning I requested that my partner give me space while I practice yoga in the living room.
I was doing a lot of kundalini work and felt a little self-conscious (there was a lot of body shaking going on) so I wanted privacy.
He got annoyed that I was asking him to move to another part of the house, and then I got annoyed at his resistance to my request.
The point is that it’s not enough to simply ask for what we want, but also to:
- Builf self-awareness
- Express ourselves in “feelings and needs”
- Understand that the answer might be no
Here’s how to do this so we can start gettin’ our desires fulfilled.
1. Figure out what you want and need
Nobody ever really teaches us how to be emotionally literate.
In some ways, women actually have an advantage over men in this arena; as a general rule, we tend to be more naturally empathic, and more easily attuned to our emotions.
Plus, we’re often not ‘punished’ (e.g. told we’re weak) if we express emotion, in the same way men are.
Having said that, we might know how we feel but not necessarily what we need.
Here are our most common needs, when we’re feeling out of whack:
- Physical well-being
The Centre for Nonviolent Communication also has a full needs inventory – I encourage you to take a look, and see which need resonates most with you right now.
Our needs act as the bedrock for our desires; when we ask for what we want, we can focus on our needs, and how we’d like our needs to be met.
In my own example, I could have said:
“I really need some space for my practice right now, as I feel embarrassed that I’ll be doing a kundalini shaking meditation. I’m telling myself you’ll laugh if you’re watching, and I might feel self-conscious – but I really want to let go here. Could you move to another part of the house, just while I do this?”
If I’d connected to my feelings and needs before asking for space, it would have totally changed the way it played out.
Try this: take a moment to close your eyes and tune into your body. Place one hand on your heart, and one hand on your belly. Ask yourself “what do I feel right now?”, pause, then ask “and what do I need right now?”. See what comes up.
2. Ask for it in the right way
Clearly, I didn’t ask for space in the right way.
My request actually went something like this – “I really need some space and privacy right now. Can you move? You’re looming over me, for god’s sake!”.
It’s not really surprising that my partner got irritated, since I also managed to slip a little criticism in there (which admittedly, I’m a master at).
The key to successfully asking for what we want is to keep it all about us:
- Using “I”-focused language (e.g I need, I feel, I want)
- Being aware of what we’re communicating non-verbally (through our tone and body language)
- Avoiding criticism or judgment (yep, this one takes practice!)
Another helpful addition is to give a couple of options for how your need could be met.
For example, I could have said:
“I’d really appreciate it if you sat facing away from me, or maybe moved to the bedroom area, just for a few minutes whilst I finish my yoga practice.”
The way we ask matters.
This is especially true if we’re brand new at flexing our assertiveness muscles.
If you used to be a bit of a doormat (like I was), and all of a sudden you’re asking for what you want, it’ll take a little while for people to get used to it (and if they don’t, it might be time to question your relationship with them).
Try this: tune into your feelings and needs, and make a small request that will help you fulfil your desire, using the tips above. How does it feel? What’s the outcome? See what comes up.
3. Expect ‘no’ as a possible response
As much as I love my newly discovered superpower, it comes with a caveat.
People can still say no (shocking, I know).
We can totally improve the way we ask for what we want, but we can’t actively manipulate people into doing what we ask.
So whenever we make a request, we have to acknowledge the possibility that we may not like the answer.
Besides, if we’re not willing to accept a “no” to your request, then it’s not a request at all.
It’s actually a demand.
And when do demands ever go down well?
This is the most common trap we fall into when we first discover the power of asking for what we want.
The key to avoiding making demands is to ask yourself, “will it be ok if I receive a no?”:
- If the answer is yes, then (yay) it’s a request. Go ahead and ask your heart out
- If no the answer is no, then (uh, oh) it’s a demand. Take a time out, and reflect on how you could ask this in a different way
When we feel safe enough to ask for what we want – and the people around us feel safe enough to give us an honest response without consequence – the world becomes just a little bit more lovely.
Try this: take a moment to pause before you make any requests at work, at home, or anywhere else. Check in to see whether you’d be okay with a “no”, and if not, breathe, reflect, and adjust your request. See what comes up.