5 steps to saying “no” (without feeling guilty)

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a situation you didn’t like because you were too afraid to say “no”? It might’ve been a social event, a favor, a work obligation, or a plethora of other things that feel too uncomfortable to decline.

If you’ve ever struggled to say “no,” whether it’s in your personal life or at work, you’re not alone.

The ability to say “no” confidently isn’t something people are born with – like public speaking or negotiation, it’s a skill that’s developed with practice. With the right framework, anyone can start becoming more confident in this skill and reap its benefits.

This article covers how to say “no” without feeling guilty in 5 simple steps, so you can reclaim your time, become more confident, and improve your relationships with others.

I made a video that covers these steps in a little more detail, check it out! Otherwise, we’ll cover similar ideas below.


When is it important to know how to say “no”?

Saying “no” was something I struggled with – that is, until I started working as a freelancer in the film industry.

This new career forced me to make decisions and say “no” much more often than I was used to. As a freelancer, I was forced to practice the skill much more often. I quickly found that saying “yes” to the wrong project meant being unavailable for projects that were potentially more interesting, provided better growth opportunities, or paid more. Learning to say “no” was one of the reasons I was able to accelerate my career much faster than some of my peers who had started at the same time as me.

Once I started getting better at saying no in the context of work, I also became more confident in saying it in social situations. I found myself feeling happier with how I spend my time, setting boundaries with people who had been taking advantage of my timidness, and building better connections with friends because I could be honest about what I did and didn’t want.  

Think about the situations you might want to say “no” in your personal and professional life….

Social situations:

  • Getting asked to do favors you’re not comfortable with
  • Spending money on activities or events you don’t care for
  • Being asked out on a date by someone you’re not interested in
  • Feeling pressured to drink or do drugs
  • Getting sucked into conversations that leave you drained (like when someone is just offloading their problems on you or gossiping endlessly)

Work situations:

  • Getting pinged by coworkers when you’re trying to focus
  • Having extra responsibilities piled onto your plate when you already feel overtaxed
  • Being given unreasonable deadlines
  • Your manager assuming you can work overtime without asking
  • Your team not respecting your work-life balance
  • Getting placed on projects that don’t align with your long-term goals

This is far from a comprehensive list, but it gets you thinking about all the situations you might feel too uncomfortable saying “no” in.

You might have a hard time saying “no” to these things because you think it would make you selfish. That’s totally normal! We have an evolutionary need to be accepted and liked. No wonder it feels so unnatural and even stressful to disagree with people in our close circles. 

Saying “no” doesn’t make you selfish. It doesn’t mean you’re mean-spirited.

Saying “no” makes you more honest with others so that you can show up as your best self. It protects your time and energy from being swallowed up by obligations and social pressures.

The upsides of saying “no”

Saying no is a skill that creates a ripple effect on many areas of your life. When you learn how to say “no” to people without feeling guilty, you:

Improve your relationship with yourself by…

  • Reclaiming your time and energy and feeling more in charge of your life
  • Having better clarity on your goals and values
  • Freeing up to say “yes” to things that matter to you
  • Becoming less susceptible to peer pressure or people pleasing
  • Showing up with more intention and energy in both your work and personal life
  • Increasing your self-esteem, confidence, and self-respect

Saying “no” also helps improve your relationships with others by…

  • Setting healthy boundaries with friends, family members, and work
  • Providing feedback for other to understand how to help you
  • Building more honest relationships
  • Building trust in others because they see you being authentic
  • Empowering others to speak up for themselves and be honest about what they need

When you speak honestly, you take care of yourself so that you show up more authentically in the world. When you show up authentically, you end up bringing more of your own unique contributions to those around you.

Want to develop this skill? Read on.


The 5-step process to saying “no” (minus the guilt)

1. Remember your reason

Right now, think about why it’s important for you to be able to say no.

There are plenty of upsides to learning how to say no. Figure out what’s the most important reason for you.

Don’t skip this part. Saying “no” to people is uncomfortable. It’s much more tempting to stay in our comfort zone, to constantly agree with others at the expense of our well-being. If you want to overcome that hurdle, you need to have a “why” that is strong enough to outweigh the desire to proceed as usual.

What’s the most important reason for you to be able to say “no”? Why does this matter to you? How will your life improve when you start being the type of person that’s comfortable enough to speak up for themselves?

Write your “why” down in your phone. Next time you find yourself tempted to agree with someone or do something you’re not comfortable with, open that note and reread it. Remember why you want to do this in the first place, and the rest will come with less resistance.

2. Take your time

Let the person you’re talking with know that you will get back to them with an answer.

Buying yourself some time and getting some space gives you a chance to do two things:

  1. Think through your decision in a lower-pressure environment
  2. Figure out how to say no (if that’s what you decide)

This may feel uncomfortable if you’re used to agreeing with people right away (lookin’ at you, people pleasers). You don’t need to respond to all requests and invitations right away. It’s ok to ask for some time before getting back to someone.

This can be as simple as “Let me get back to you on that” or “I need to check on some things before I can commit.”

Don’t over-explain. They don’t need to know your entire thought process. Let them know you need a little time to get back to them, and leave it at that. Give a time that you’ll follow up by, especially if the request is time-sensitive.

If you can, get some space from the situation. Walk to another room or step away from your computer. When you physically distance yourself from your worry, you give yourself a chance to get some perspective and think clearly, rather than just reacting.

This isn’t an excuse to dilly-dally or procrastinate – get back to them as soon as you can. But know you don’t have to have an answer immediately.

3. Know your “no”

Once you’re in a place that you can think through your decision, if your gut is telling you “no,” figure out what kind of “no” it is.

It’s important to know what specifically is putting you off from the situation, so that you can communicate clearly and with conviction. Plus, it’ll help you understand what you are and aren’t willing to compromise on, or potentially come up with alternatives.

There two different flavors of “no:”

  • “No” to the timing
  • “No” to the situation (or just part of it)

“No” to the timing

Sometimes we have to say no because we have too much on our plate, the timing is bad, and taking on more would cause us undue stress. Maybe your manager asks you to do a presentation on a project you’re passionate about to your broader team, but you’re spread too thin to take on extra work this quarter. Or maybe a friend invites you to happy hour but you have plans later that night or just need some time to relax by yourself. It can even be your coworker pinging you to chat while you’re in the middle of focusing. 

In these situations, it’s often the case that we say “yes” instead of “not now, but later” because we don’t want to miss out on an opportunity we’re interested in, even though taking it on now would mean adding stress to our lives. It’s important to remember that in addition to “yes” and “no,” there are options like “sure, can we find a different time?”

“No” to the situation (or part of it)

Other times, we want to say no because the situation itself rubs you the wrong way, either in part of in full. This could be a close friend who makes you uncomfortable by constantly gossiping about another friend. It might be your boss asking to push up a deadline by a week, which would make you have to work over the weekend. It could be a family member regularly asking for last-minute rides to the airport, or a distant relative who only shows up when he needs help moving. Maybe your peers are pressuring you to drink more than you’re comfortable with.

Figure out what’s the real reason you’re opposed to the situation. Is someone crossing a line, like in the case of a friend constantly bad-mouthing another friend? Are they asking for too much, like the relative who seems to think it’s normal to demand you drop everything to help them with a favor on short notice? Are your boundaries being violated, like the coworker who messages you with requests outside of business hours? Is what’s being offered just not something you’re interested in, like a date with that friend of a friend you’ve always found creepy, or a social event you aren’t excited about?   

Identify what specifically bothers you about the situation. Are there any alternate scenarios you would be comfortable with? For example, maybe you don’t mind driving your great aunt to the airport, but you need to know about it a week ahead of time and not the day before. Or maybe you’d like to help your coworker, but not outside of work hours.

It’s very possible that the whole situation rubs you the wrong way and that you wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole, even if some changes were made. That’s ok. The point here isn’t to convince yourself to do something by offering alternatives, it’s to know your own boundaries and what you are and aren’t willing to compromise on.

4. Communicate clearly

Once you’ve taken a moment to understand what you’re saying “no” to, you’ll have better clarity on your reasoning and more confidence in stating your grounds. Being internally clear on what you do and don’t want is already half the battle.

Now it’s time to do the thing and communicate!

Communicating “no” clearly comes down to three things: brevity, honesty, and tone.

Brevity

Keep it short! When you’re saying “no,” you can give as much or as little reason as you want. Most of us want to give some context, but we sometimes over-explain if we’re worried about the other person being disappointed. When we do this, we come off as less confident. Giving too much detail can also backfire by making it look like we’re trying to convince the other person of something (i.e. we’re making up reasons).

Share that you can’t make it, give a short reason why, and move on.

Honesty

Be honest about your limitations, and about what kind of “no” this is. If the timing doesn’t work for you because you need to take some time to yourself, say so. If a project is off-putting because you’d rather focus on a different area of the business, be honest.

Most people are understanding and want to help you feel comfortable. When you’re honest about what’s bothering you, you give others a better understanding of how to work with you. It’s feedback that they can incorporate in the future.

Be honest, but don’t be brutally honest. Sometimes we don’t want to do something because we just don’t like the person who’s asking. If that’s the case, you don’t necessarily have to say that to their face. Tell them you’re unavailable. No need to add reasons if the reasons will just cause drama.

Tone

Speaking with confidence and a sense certainty tells the other person that you are firm in your decision.

How do you convey a confident tone? Put a period at the end of your sentences.

If you’ve gotten all worked up and can’t remember what it feels like to speak confidently (don’t worry, I’ve been there), here’s a trick you can do. Go into a room by yourself, look in the mirror, and say the following out loud: “two plus two is four.”

Hear that conviction? That’s what it sounds like to be absolutely certain of something. Now, using the same tone, practice your “no” response.

5. End on a positive

End your “no” statement on a positive note, especially if this is a relationship that’s important to you. Remind them that even though you had to decline or enforce a boundary, that they matter to you and are appreciated.

This might be:

  • “…but thank you so much for thinking of me”  
  • “I really appreciate the invitation”
  • “Thank you for reaching out and including me”
  • “I hope we can work together soon”

If you have an alternative you’d like to propose, this would be a great time. Otherwise, if it was a hard pass, you can just leave it on a friendly note.


Now, I want to know from you:

What situations do you have a hard time saying no to? Leave a comment below and I’ll reply with my thoughts.

7 Ways to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Manage Stress (Right Now)

Are you drowning in your to-do list? Do you feel like you’re always behind, no matter how hard you work? Are you constantly wishing your had more time in the day?

You don’t have to muscle your way through stress. In fact, gritting your teeth and bearing it is a really great way to burn yourself out. If you want to maintain a steady flow of energy, focus, and creativity despite external pressures, you have to learn to manage stress.

In this article, we’ll cover seven ways to stop being overwhelmed and manage stress right now. Of course, you can mix and match your favorites, but I suggest starting with just one or two of these strategies, then coming back to this article once you’ve mastered them and trying another one. It would be counterproductive (and frankly, a bit too ironic) to become overwhelmed by a list of ideas on how to stop feeling overwhelmed.

If you’re on the go, I made a video covering this topic. Check it out!


Stress Management vs. Time Management

Before we get into it, I want to clarify that it’s not enough to just manage your time well. Stress management and time management are two sides of the same coin, but they are different.

Time management is about prioritizing tasks, optimizing your day, and working efficiently so that you can own your to-do list. Stress management is about managing your emotions, maintaining your energy, and preventing burnout, so that you can keep your to-do list from owning you.

Look, no matter how well you time-manage or how hard your work, there will always be something left on your to-do list.

It’s not enough to just figure out how to maximize your time, because the truth is, there’s no way to squeeze everything into one day. There will always be more things you wish you could’ve done, no matter how much you hustle.

If you want to get the most out of time management — as in, if you want to keep a steady flow of energy and focus and prevent burnout — it’s important to learn to manage not just your time, but also your emotions. Plus, the better you can manage your mental health now, the more you can enjoy what’s in front of you, rather than having to wait for a day where the to-do list will hit zero (a day, as we know, that will never come).

We manage stress by (1) accepting that there will always be something left to do on our list, and (2) learning to be okay with it. This means figuring out how to be present in the moment despite external pressures. Below, I’ll share the ways I’ve found to be most effective in stopping feelings of overwhelm and managing stress.

Ready to stop feeling so overwhelmed? Read on.

(Side note: If stress, overwhelm, or anxiety are a chronic issue, it might be worth trying therapy to get to the root of the problem, in addition to these tips.)


How to stop feeling overwhelmed and manage stress right now

Here are 7 things you can do to manage stress and stop feeling overwhelmed right now. A reminder: You don’t have to do all of these at once. Pick one or two items from this list to focus on in the future. Come back to this article once you’ve mastered those and try one or two more.

1. Stop the scroll

When we’re overwhelmed, we often reach for our phones as soon as we have a break.

We open email, check Facebook, scroll on Twitter, peek at Instagram, catch up on Reddit, kill some time on TikTok, then start again from the beginning. Our phones — and in particular social media — flood our brains with dopamine. Those hits of dopamine feel especially good when everything else feels like it’s out of control.

It might feel like scrolling on your phone is taking a break because it’s a distraction, but you’re not truly letting your mind rest. Instead of allowing yourself to take a mental break and truly relax, you continue to be in a reactive state of mind, relying on external influences to set the pace of your mind. Scrolling isn’t going to put you more at ease when you have to come back to your work.  

What you need to feel grounded and manage overwhelm isn’t more stimulus – it’s less. Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone between meetings, spend a few minutes doing nothing. Feel what it’s like for your mind to not have anything to do for a few moments. It’s a little awkward at first, it forces you to get a little perspective and slow down.

What can you do instead of reaching for your phone when you want to relax?

2. Take a 10 minute break to slow down

In order to regain control of your mind and emotions, you have to intentionally set your own pace, rather than just reacting to everything that’s happening around you. Proactively create a more relaxed state of mind by slowing down.

Take a 10 minute break in your day. This can be after a long stint of work in the afternoon when you find yourself reaching for your phone, or between meetings. Schedule it if you need to.

“But Tali, where am I going to get 10 extra minutes? I already have too much to do as is without a 10 minute break!”

Look, I get it – I know what if feels like to be drowning at work. Taking a break feels selfish and irresponsible. But if you want to think clearly and have more control over your emotional state, you need to prioritize your well-being and make time to get grounded.   

Step away from your computer, your work, your phone, your obligations. Create a little distance between yourself and all the stimulus that’s adding to stress.

Slow down your breathing. Take fuller breaths to bring down your heart rate. Pay attention to how it feels to slow down and regain control of your breathing and pace. Bring that sense of calm and peace with you as you go about your day.

Some ideas on how to slow down:

  • Take a short walk around your block.
  • Go sit in another part of your building and just look out of the window.
  • Walk as slowly as you can around your floor. 
  • Do some light stretching in another room.
  • Do a free guided meditation.
  • Follow along with a 10-minute office stretching or yoga video.

3. Make a brain dump of all your worries

Ah yes, my personal favorite way to lower stress – the good ol’ brain dump.

When we feel overwhelmed, it’s often because there are too many things floating around in our mind, and we feel like we can’t get a firm grasp on them.

Instead of trying to manage all your thoughts and tasks in your head, get them all out on paper, where you can see them. Make a list of everything you’re worried about, all the things you need to do, everything you’re trying to keep track of mentally.

Just the act of writing down the things that are stressing you out makes them more approachable. By labeling our worries, we take them from being abstract and turn them into more concrete things that we can manage.

When you make a list of your worries and tasks, you keep those things from just swirling around in your mind and stressing you out. Once you finish writing your list, you realize that it’s more manageable than you thought; the tasks, projects, and worries that felt so overwhelming actually fit on an 8.5×11” sheet of paper.

An added bonus: When you see your tasks and worries on paper, you can compare them and decide which ones are important (and which can go on the back burner).

4. Figure out your top 1-3 priorities for the day

Psst. This strategy pairs really nicely with a brain dump.

When you’re overwhelmed, you feel like you have to tackle everything all at once. It becomes difficult to think clearly because every task is vying for your attention. Everything feels urgent.

But in reality, some things are more important than others. Sure, in an ideal world, everything would be considered equally important. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We are constrained by time, and so we have to prioritize our activities relative to each other.

If it feels like you’re drowning in your to-do list or spreading yourself too thin, figure out the 1, 2, or 3 most important things you need to work on today. Focus on chipping away at those items.

Take everything else off your plate if you can – order takeout instead of cooking dinner, ask for an extended deadline on admin work, let people know you’ll get back to their request once you complete this pressing item.

If you can’t drop other responsibilities, ask for help. Depending on the situation, this can be from your manager, team, partner, family, or friends.

You don’t have to be a superhero and do everything yourself. It’s OK to deprioritize some things and ask for help. When you know the most important things to focus on, you can be more confident in delegating and pushing out the rest.

5. Keep a “done” list

This is an idea I’ve adopted from Brendon Burchard, who studies and shares habits of high performers.

If you feel like you’re always playing catchup with your to-do list but never quite making a dent, start tracking the things you get done throughout the week with a “done” list. Every time you complete a task (no matter if it’s big or small, planned or unexpected), write it down in this list.

This might feel redundant if you’re already keeping a to-do list. After all, isn’t this the same as crossing off a completed task, or checking off a box from your existing list?

Yes and no. A to-do list is a great way to keep track of what you have to do, but it visually keeps your focus on everything that’s still remaining. When you look at a to-do list, you’re not looking at all the things you’ve crossed off, you’re looking at what’s still left over (and subsequently feeling like you’re no closer than when you started).

A “done” list is different because reminds you of everything you have completed, rather than focusing on what’s remaining. It’s a reminder of how far you’ve come, even when you still have a ways to go.

I started keeping a list like this a few months ago, in addition to crossing things off of my to-do list. It takes an extra minute or two each day, but it ends up serving as a really good reminder that I am making progress every day, even if sometimes it feels like my list of tasks is never ending. Being able to see what I’ve already done helps me keep overwhelm at bay, which in turn keeps me confident and motivated to tackle the next item.

6. Adjust your expectations

If you find yourself constantly working but never quite making a dent in your daily to-do list, you may have unrealistic expectations about what you can accomplish in a single day.

We aren’t robots – no matter how much we time manage and optimize our workflows, there will always be a limit on how much we can accomplish in a day. We are limited in how much time we have, and in how much energy we can expend. And unlike robots, we need time to rest. Yes, we need time to sleep and eat, but we also need to socialize, process the events of the day, and recharge by taking our mind off things.

When you put too much on your plate, you not only feel overwhelmed because you can’t accomplish everything, but you also burn yourself out by not giving your mind time to rest and recharge. You come back the next day feeling tired and demoralized, with even less focu and energy.

If you’re trying to do 5 things in the evening after work, reduce it down to 1 or 2 things instead. Chip away at your list consistently throughout the week, rather than trying to cram as much as possible into a day.

This might feel like you’re slowing down or getting less done, but in reality, you’re keeping yourself from burning out. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re better off keeping consistent at a slower pace than sprinting through a bunch of tasks but then losing time when you end up overwhelmed or burned out.

Take the pressure off of yourself to accomplish everything right away. Adjust your expectations so that you have an easier time meeting them consistently, and so you aren’t setting yourself up for failure.

7. When all else fails, do one (small) thing

Sometimes we end up with so much on our plates that we feel paralyzed and avoid our responsibilities altogether. We get sucked into our phones and seek out comforts like TV to distract ourselves.

When your responsibilities feel like too much to handle all at once, do just one small thing. Find the smallest, simplest task on your list and just do that today. That’s it. Don’t try to do a bunch at once. Once you do that small task, you can rest, eat, socialize, watch TV, play video games, or continue whatever you were doing in peace.

When there’s so much to do that you don’t even know where to start, it helps to start with something small. Give yourself a small win to feel confident about. Once you take that first step, even if it feels small, it’s easier to start gaining momentum the next day. 

You don’t have to do everything at once. In fact, you shouldn’t try to do everything at once, because it’ll just lead to feeling too overwhelmed to do anything at all. Learn to be ok with doing a little at a time. Start with one small thing to show yourself you can do it.


Take the pressure off of yourself

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide how much pressure to put on yourself. You might not always be able to control how much there is to do, but you can control how you approach it, and how kind you are to yourself in the process.

Managing stress is better for your productivity in the long run because it keeps you energized and prevents burnout. More importantly, it allows you to enjoy your time and find more peace in your day-to-day life. When you learn to stop being overwhelmed and manage stress, you lessen the power external forces have to affect your outlook and well-being. You take ownership of your mental state and become unshakeable.

I want to hear from you. Which one or two strategies are you going to focus on first to stop feeling overwhelmed? Are you going to start with a brain dump, or with a 10-minute walk around your block?

Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Now, take that strategy out into the world and start taking back control over your mind.

You’ve got this.

5 Reasons Why Therapy Didn’t Work for You (and how to fix them)

Have you been disappointed with therapy in the past? Maybe you tried it once, but it didn’t feel like it was right for you. Or you went to a few therapy sessions but stopped scheduling follow-ups because you weren’t feeling any better.

But life gets hard again. The idea of seeing a therapist keeps popping up in your mind. You experience anxiety, stress, or depression (or maybe you just feel stuck), but you’re wary of going through going through the same disappointment again. So you grit your teeth and keep chugging along, hoping your issues will sort themselves out on their own.

If you feel like therapy didn’t help in the past, you’re not alone. Since I was a teenager, I’ve tried therapy five separate times. Some of those sessions were helpful, but for the most part, it was nothing to write home about. It took me several attempts over the course of a decade before I finally figured out how to make therapy work for me.

This article covers five reasons why therapy may not have worked for you in the past, and how to approach it instead to see better results. I’m sharing these common mistakes (and how to overcome them) because I want to encourage you to try therapy again if you’ve been thinking about it. My hope is that these tips will help you get more out of therapy, sooner.

Let’s dive in.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or therapist. I’m just someone who went through a bit of trial and error before seeing significant results with therapy. The information on this site does not substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a medical professional if seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.

Table of Contents

If you prefer to learn by listening, check out the video version of this article!


My trial-and-error experience with therapy

My first few times in a therapist’s office was as a teenager, when my parents were getting divorced.

After college, I wanted some support after leaving a long-term relationship, so I took advantage of my company’s Employee Assistance Program to get five free sessions with a new therapist. I liked this second therapist, but she eventually stopped being in my insurance network.

I still had some issues I wanted to work through, so I found a third therapist. I met with her every few months for a total of ten times, but I never felt like she “got” me. Something about her made me feel this weird need to impress her and prove I was a “good” client. So I looked for a new therapist.

The fourth therapist I tried was, frankly, the most awkward human being I’ve ever had an interaction with. She was clearly new in the industry and had this awful eyeliner that made me feel like I was talking to a preteen. Now look, I’m about the farthest thing from a makeup snob you can get, but this was just the icing on the cake of the awkward impression she made on me. She was not someone I felt comfortable sharing my deepest fears and anxieties with. Needless to say, I didn’t return after our first session.

Finally, on my fifth attempt, I found a therapist I liked. She was a virtual therapist, so all of our meetings were over video call. But even though we’d never been in a room together, I felt a lot more comfortable with her. She felt like someone I could trust and talk with naturally. With this therapist, I felt like I was actually learning how to better deal with my problems outside of our sessions, not just dealing with my issues on a case-by-case basis.

It took me a few different tries to figure out how to make therapy work for me – to both find a therapist I liked and fix the mistakes I’d been making in how I approached it. If you’re considering trying therapy again, I want you to get to that point faster than I did. Read on and explore the possible reasons why it didn’t work, then give it another shot. You got this.

Here are five possible reasons why therapy didn’t work for you in the past, and why you should try it again.

Therapy leaving you feeling frustrated? Read on, my friend.

Why therapy didn’t work in the past (and how to approach it instead)

1. Your therapist wasn’t the right fit for you

If you felt like therapy wasn’t helpful in the past, odds are, you probably didn’t really like your therapist.

I’m not saying you disliked them, but maybe you didn’t feel much of a connection, either. It’s not enough to simply not dislike someone when you’re doing this kind of work. Your therapist shouldn’t feel like your best friend, but they do have to feel like someone you’d naturally have a conversation with.

One of the misconceptions people have about therapy is that all therapists are the same. Once you’ve met one, you’ve met them all. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I don’t have to tell you that you won’t always get along with everyone you meet. We naturally have more chemistry with some people than others. Some people rub us the wrong way; conversation with them feels awkward or forced, or maybe we just don’t vibe with them for whatever reason.

This is the same with therapists. Yes, all therapists must go through training and get certification. But that doesn’t mean they all walk and talk the same.

Even in a professional setting, we get a sense of a therapist’s personality. One therapist might be quiet and reserved, the other loud and boisterous. Their posture might be formal, or relaxed. They might smile a lot, or be difficult to read. Therapists are still people, at the end of the day. You’re going to gravitate towards some more than others.

We decide whether to like and trust our therapist not because of their diploma, credentials, or professional experience, but because of the impression they make on us as individuals. And if we dislike this person (or something just feels off), all the professional credentials in the world won’t convince us to trust them with our deepest thoughts and feelings.

How to approach therapy instead: Shop around!

Instead of going with the first therapist you meet, shop around for someone you naturally gravitate towards.

Think of finding a therapist as dating – you wouldn’t just blindly marry the first available person you find. Trust your first impression. If a therapist doesn’t click with you, don’t force the relationship, try someone else instead.

Like dating, therapy might be a little awkward at first; it’s not always natural to talk about our feelings! But past that initial discomfort, you should feel a sense of trust and connection with this person on an individual level. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself talking about surface level issues and not trusting what they have to offer, no matter how qualified they are.

It’s going to be really hard to make any headway if you don’t naturally get along with your therapist.

2. You didn’t give your therapist feedback

If you didn’t agree with something your therapist said in the past, did you tell them? If their approach wasn’t working for you, or if they steered you towards a subject that wasn’t relevant, did you let them know? Or did you just nod along with everything they said, regardless of whether you it was helpful?

If you didn’t give feedback to your therapist, it would’ve been difficult to get much out of your sessions. For therapy to work, you need to be honest – not just about your emotions, but also about what’s working about therapy and what isn’t.

It took me a while to realize I had to proactively give my therapist feedback. For a while, if my therapist said something that didn’t really land with me, I’d brush it off. If we started a session talking about relationships but I was dying to talk about work, I’d just roll with it. If they offered analysis or a suggestion that didn’t feel right, I’d force myself to take it as truth or swallow my objections. I’d nod along to everything the therapist said, regardless of whether it was helpful, because I didn’t want to embarrass or disrespect them.

Here’s some tough love I had to give myself that I’ll pass onto you: If you feel like you have to agree with everything your therapist says, you’re not working on your issues or getting your needs met, you’re just people pleasing.

My therapy sessions became significantly more helpful once I started telling my therapist when something wasn’t working. Not only did I gain confidence by vocalizing my concerns, but I also started trusting my therapist more because she was eager to hear my feedback and adjust her approach accordingly.

How to approach therapy instead: Give feedback

Therapists are trained professionals. They customize their approach based on the needs of each client. But they’re not always perfect, and they can’t read your mind if something doesn’t feel right. They have no way of knowing if there’s something you disagree with, or if you want to discuss a different topic than what they’ve suggested, if you’re just nodding along.

If something isn’t working for you, give your therapist that feedback! A good therapist will be open to feedback and flexible in trying a few different approaches. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings or making things uncomfortable by telling them something isn’t working. And certainly don’t bottle it in and then give up on therapy altogether.

Don’t be afraid to let your therapist know what is and isn’t working.

3. You didn’t trust your therapist

I alluded to this previously, but a big reason why therapy didn’t work for you in the past could be that you didn’t trust your therapist.

If you thought your therapist was judging you, you probably held back emotions that might’ve made them think poorly of you.

If you thought your therapist didn’t actually care about your success (or that they’re just in it for the money), you probably didn’t let yourself open up about deeper issues.

If you thought your therapist was trying to lead you to certain conclusions, you probably filtered the thoughts you shared.

How to approach therapy instead: Trust your therapist!

Now, don’t force yourself to open up to anyone and everyone. You should be hesitant to trust people when it comes to sharing your deepest thoughts and emotions. That gut instinct to protect yourself from people you don’t trust is valid. If you didn’t trust your therapist because you didn’t like them, or they rubbed you the wrong way, or they weren’t receptive to your feedback, by all means, find another therapist.

But once you find a therapist you get along with naturally and are comfortable feedback to, you need to trust that they have your best interests in mind. That means getting out of your own way and not making up stories about why you shouldn’t work on your issues.

If you want to get lasting results from therapy, you need to be able to trust that your therapist isn’t judging you, that they’re invested in your well-being, and that they don’t think they’re better than you. Otherwise you won’t be able to be fully honest or truly make lasting changes in the quality of your life.

4. You weren’t comfortable being uncomfortable

Real talk: Your therapist isn’t going to figure out your problems and fix them for you. You gotta do the work.

Society often touts therapy as a one-stop-shop solution to life’s problems. TV and movies often portray therapists as mentalists and mind-readers.

Our main character walks into the office. The therapist takes a good hard look at them and seems to instantly understand what’s going on. Within minutes, the therapist is revealing things about our character’s past that haunt them, exposing their deepest fears, and telling them their hopes and dreams.

We absorb that messaging and start to think therapy really works that way. Feeling depressed? Go see a therapist! They’ll figure out what’s wrong with you, make you feel better, and you’ll be on your way home feeling good as new.

Obviously that’s a an exaggeration, but the underlying belief is there: therapy is where you go to have your problems fixed, and your therapist is the keeper of the answers to life’s questions. So of course if your issues are still there when you leave, it’s going to feel like therapy didn’t work.

You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
Except the water is introspection. And you’re the horse.

How to approach therapy instead: Own the work

Unlike going to the doctor, where your provider does most of the work to diagnose and treat an issue, the majority of the work done in therapy has to be done by you, the patient

Your therapist facilitates and guides your introspection. Their role isn’t to figure out what’s wrong with you or fix your problems. They might ask questions to explore different perspectives, share patterns they observe, or offer suggestions.

But ultimately, it’s up to you to do the hard parts. You have to be honest about your thoughts and feelings. You have to challenge yourself and your old ways of thinking. You have to be open to change and invested in a better future.

Most of us would rather bury our issues and get on with our day rather than face them. Being vulnerable, admitting our flaws, and facing our demons is hard work.

To get results from therapy, you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Challenge yourself to want more. Push yourself to keep looking under the hood. Decide to be an active participant in your therapy sessions, and be proud every time you choose honesty over comfort.

5. You expected too much too soon

If you tried therapy before, you may have been disappointment by the lack of “progress” after one or two sessions.

This might sound familiar… After months of toying with the idea, you decide to bite the bullet. You find a therapist and schedule a consultation. You finally get to that first therapy session, only to walk out feeling like you barely touched the tip of the iceberg. You come back a second time, but still haven’t made any headway on your problems. You don’t see any results after a few sessions, so you decide therapy isn’t for you.

How to approach therapy instead: Adjust your expectations

Look, you need to go to therapy at least a handful of times for it to start working. It takes time to get comfortable with your therapist and for them to get to know you. It might take a few sessions just to uncover the heart of the matter, let alone come up with solutions.

More importantly, it takes time to change behaviors and thought patters. Even once you have total clarity about why you feel a certain way and what to do about it, it takes a lot of repetition to train yourself to start behaving or thinking differently.  

It’s similar to physical therapy: You wouldn’t walk into your PT’s office with a knee injury one day and expect to leave with it completely healed the next, right? Depending on how severe the injury is, you’ll probably need to come in regularly for a few months (and do daily exercises on your own time) before you start seeing progress.

It’s the same with therapy. You’re not going to walk out of your first therapy session feeling like a brand-new person. It’ll take a few sessions to get in a good rhythm with your therapist and get to the core of the issue before you can start incorporating changes and seeing significant differences in your life.


Don’t give up.

If you’re considering trying therapy again after having a negative experience with it, take a moment and just be proud of yourself. You already understand that your well-being is worth the effort of trying again. Don’t give up just because you haven’t found your stride yet.

The truth is, you will benefit more from therapy now than in the past simply because you’ve grown since you last tried.

Think about it, aren’t you a different person than when you first tried therapy? Haven’t you learned some things about yourself? Chances are, you can articulate your thoughts better now. You’re probably more aware of your feelings. You should try therapy again for no other reason than you’ve changed and learned as a result of the experiences you’ve had since the first time.

Go find a therapist you click with naturally. Give them feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. Trust that they’re there for you. Take charge of doing the work. Be patient with the process, and celebrate the small wins along the way.

At the end of the day, therapy is about you. You deserve to live more fully, to grow, and to have more peace in your life. Don’t give up on yourself.

Now I want to hear from you:

Which of these reasons resonated the most with you?

Or maybe you have a reason I didn’t cover.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below.

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