The ultimate guide to saying no: A conversation with Kriss Judd on self-care strategies for setting healthy boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is essential for self-care. Discover effective strategies for saying no and prioritize your well-being with this conversation between Burnout Coach Nicole Havelka and Self-Care Guru Kriss Judd.

Saying no is so flippin’ hard and that skill is crucial as you begin to prioritize self-care in your life. I talked about saying no and self-care with Kriss Judd, the Positivity Powerhouse self-care guru, during Defy the Trend live broadcast on July 25, 2023. We share our own stories of realizing that self-care is important, talk about our difficulties in saying no, simple ways to say no without feeling like a jerk and offer our ideas of what you can do for yourself once you do take the leap and say no.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation. You can listen to Kriss’ podcast, the Positivity Powerhouse, wherever you find your podcasts or more about her at

Nicole Havelka, the burnout coach, sitting in the grass wearing a gray-green dress with pink flowers. Her hair is a purple color and she is smiling right at ya'.

Hi, good afternoon. I am Nicole Havelka.

I am your mindful change coach. And today we are working on recovering from and preventing burnout by talking about really, really real self-care. i.e., saying no. None of you want to talk about that, by the way. The saying no, or want to do it, it’s really what you don’t want to do, including us. And we’ll talk about that as well.

So the saying no saying no is really what we’re talking about a lot today. And I am here with my friend and sometimes collaborator and all-star, awesome human, Kriss Judd of the Positivity Powerhouse. And I’m going to let Kriss introduce herself a little bit more, and then we’re going to dive right into the topic because we know both of us could talk about this pretty much all day, but we won’t do that right now, I promise.

Kriss and Nicole’s self-care journeys

Kriss Judd with a very short cropped hair cut wearing black glasses and a green t-shirt pointing to a poster that says, "YAWP," in the background.

Nicole: All right, let us all know who you are, Kriss. I’m eager to introduce you to the world via this stream.

Kriss: Well, Nicole, I’m a Sagitariaus, and I like long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. When I’m not doing either of those things I am the Positivity Powerhouse. I am a self-care guru. I hate the word “coach” because it puts me in a space where I’m in high school gym class and the gym teacher is one of the football coaches wearing way too short shorts and a whistle around his neck that he keeps blowing for no apparent fucking reason. So I’m not a coach. I’m a guru.

I’m a mentor in the land of self-care. And it’s not the Pinterest perfect bubble bath and a glass of wine and some soft music and candles and just the whole fluffy bullshit self-care. What I’m talking about is really real self-care and changing the paradigm of self-care so that women especially are more empowered to do things like say no, because that is a means of practicing some really real self-care.

Nicole: I love that because one of the things I do in my Defy the Trend community is do the harder work of self-care. And so I think we’re on the same wavelength about that, which is exciting.

Obviously, you care a lot about taking care of yourself and helping other people care for themselves as well. Tell me about how you came to that.

Kriss: Well, the basic, short version is I’m crazy and self-care saved my life. The longer version: I have lived with mental illness since I was about four years old. I vividly remember having anxiety at four. I was experiencing suicidal ideation at six. Didn’t make my first attempt ’til I was eleven. Tried again a few times in my teens. 

And one of my teachers talked to me because I seemed depressed, mostly because I was so tired of acting like I was not depressed. And he took me aside, and he said, “Is everything okay?”

I said, “Whatever.” And he said, “You should just spend this weekend curled up in bed with a good book.”

I said, “What good would that do me?”

He said, “Well, it’s taking some time for you. You need some you time. Not homework time, not school time, not practice time, not athletic events time, not anything, but just you time. And that was my first introduction to self-care. And after I spent the weekend in bed reading books – plural – Monday didn’t seem so hard, and it had always been hard because I’d have to go deal with all these people.

Nicole: Yeah.

Kriss: And I have social phobia. I have for a long time. So, all y’all terrify me.

So, self-care started becoming part of my routine. And I know the leaps and bounds that my therapists and my psychiatrists and all the meds and everything like that, I know that they have done the heavy lifting, but I also know that when I’m on my self-care game, I am in great shape. If I slack off at any point in time, things get really bad, really fast. So, that’s why I’m so passionate about self-care.

Nicole: Those are such awesome reasons. And thank goodness for that teacher who reached out to you and said, “Hey, why don’t you try doing this?”

Kriss: He’s one of my favorite teachers.

Nicole: Yeah, he’s one of mine, and I don’t even know him.

Kriss: Even before that, he was really awesome.

Nicole: Yeah. I mean, someone who’s willing to say, “Hey, how are you doing, first of all. And actually wanting to know the response and [someone] who can respond. I think I’ll probably have more conversations about this and maybe we’ll even return and talk about this another day, Kriss. That’s pointing toward community care. I almost don’t like the word self-care, although it’s what people recognize. I don’t mind it for ourselves. I would prefer it to be community care. And I didn’t make that word up. If you Google it, there’s articles written about it. It’s the notion that we’re creating communities that care about us in our patriarchal, white supremacist, toxic, capitalist system, which is geared toward urging us to only be doing too much to prove our worth all the time.

And I think that’s what was happening to you even – I think that story’s from high school, right?

Kriss: Yeah.

Nicole: And that happened to me in high school, too. Suddenly you have all of these activities, and there’s all this pressure to get the right grades, do the right things, and that happens even younger, too, but it really amps up in that time frame, right? 

Kriss: Right.

Nicole: To be in the right activities, to get the right grades, to do all the right things. And that kind of pressure never goes away whether you’re in school or not. That pressure is always on us  … Our value only comes from our production, not from our being.

Kriss: Yeah.

Nicole: Right. And what you were saying – that teacher was just like, “I think you just need time for you.”

Kriss: Yes.

Nicole: Just need time to be

You know, my revelation – I’ll just share a little bit of my story. My revelation around my own self-care came not so much at the urging of other people, but for many – I think folks who might be watching this already know that I’m an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. And when I was in seminary … in the early 2000s, we talked a lot about, “How do we care for ourselves so that we can be the most effective versions of ourselves?”

Kriss: That makes sense.

Nicole: Those jobs are public, and really relationally demanding. … And so, there was at least a lot of conversation about that, but anybody who spent even a second, well, even observing the academy, even observing higher education, knows that the pressure to produce is on when you’re in a grad school program. And I didn’t go to med school or something where it makes or breaks you, although there’s some of that. It’s pressure because you’re constantly churning out papers and tests and whatever, plus requirements that you might have for ordination in your denomination. It’s high pressure, and it’s a challenging time.

So, fortunately, just because that was in the water and because I’m like, yeah, this is going to be really hard, I have to figure out how to take care of myself. So it’s a little less dramatic than someone telling me I needed to do it.

But it was soon after that that I discovered yoga and mindfulness, yoga and meditation. First yoga asana – the physical part – and then later I evolved into doing more energy and meditation practices. But that’s when I started doing that because I was like, well, I need to do something, and I guess this is – tag, this is it – It’s something that I can tolerate. [laughs] That’s really where I was at at the time. And 20 years later, I’m so in love with the practice, but at the time I was like, well, this doesn’t drive me crazy. I guess I’ll do it. That was how it started, and, of course, has done a lot of evolving since then.

But anyway, let’s talk a little bit about what the topic really is, it’s not only about caring for ourselves, which is important, but about saying no. And why do you think – or maybe you have some anecdote even about this – why does self-care require saying no? Why do those things go together in your mind? And then I can bounce off of you too, if we get there, but I’m curious about that for you.

Why saying no is so hard and how to do it anyway

Kriss: Well, self-care comes in many forms, comes in many fashions, and saying no is one of the most basic, I think, because in order to practice self-care, you have to make time for self-care. And to make time for self-care, to say yes to self-care, you have to say no to something else. For example, if your boss asks you to work late, “I’m sorry, that won’t be possible.” If your spouse wants to go to a movie that you know you’re going to hate, “Sorry, honey, not feeling it tonight. You go enjoy.” 

Any activity like that that you don’t want to do, that you can pass up to somebody else. If you can get your spouse and your kids trained up to clean the kitchen, you can have some self-care time in the time that that would have taken you. And kids can start doing chores when they’re as little as two years old. I’ve got an amazing list, like, this long of chores that kids can do by age. And like, a two year old could do things like wipe down the baseboards or put some knee pads on that are, like, fuzzy and crawl around the house and mop the floor – all the way up to teenagers taking over, making meals and cleaning up after dinner, and all that kind of good stuff. 

But you have to learn how to say no first.

And my favorite way is, “I’m sorry, but that won’t be possible.” That way, it’s not a flat out, “No.” You’re apologizing that you’re saying no, but you’re still saying no.

Nicole: Right.

Kriss: If that makes sense.

Nicole: Yeah. And tell me how people react to hearing that. Do they hear it as a no? Because sometimes what can happen is if we fluff up the no too much, people don’t get it.

Kriss: This is absolutely clear. 

Nicole: Yeah. Because I’ve never used anyone I’ve spoken with.

Kriss: Yeah, no, that’s a clear no. That won’t be possible. Will not be possible. Not. No.

Nicole: Right. I love it. 

Oh, my gosh, that’s so good. I could go on and on about that forever, as well as you. So how awesome is that?

Why do you think, though, saying – maybe you want to say more about your journey and learning how to – I’m guessing that saying no wasn’t easy for you, because it’s easy for almost no one.

Kriss: Yep.

Nicole: So, tell me a little bit more about your journey and why, and just even if you have theories about why, saying no is so difficult. And I did have some responses about this in my Facebook group. I asked about this in a couple of places last night. I heard there’s this sense of obligation to say yes.

Also – and this I’ve heard multiple times in other places, too – the notion of, or people feeling like saying no is mean, or it’ll hurt people’s feelings, and then they won’t like you. 

Kriss: Mm-hm.

Nicole: Right, yeah. And I’ve heard that many times. Someone articulated it really well in the Facebook group last night. But I really think that I’ve heard that in other ways, too.

I’m wondering if that resonates at all – those answers resonate with you, or you have something different, which is great, too, because I’m sure we all have different feelings about saying no. 

Kriss: No, I think we all have the same feelings about saying no, honestly, because it is hard to do. It’s tough. It has all those deep layers of feelings.

My viewpoint is that it’s especially hard for women because we are taught from a young age to be nice, to be kind, to be helpful, to be people pleasers, who can’t say no if their life depended on it.

Nicole: Right.

Kriss: And my parents were the same way. They had very high expectations of me. And as soon as I stopped meeting those expectations, I was being punished when I thought I had done my best – the best that I could do – and that wasn’t good enough. So, I kept trying harder and harder and harder and harder, and kept getting punished and punished and punished and punished. So I finally gave up and said, “No, I’m not going to care about this anymore, because I can’t.”

Nicole: Yeah.

Kriss: And I was in my early 20s when I came to that realization, that I can’t please them. And some years ago, maybe ten years ago, my dad and I were having a conversation, and I was talking about a new job I was looking at and said, “What do you think, Dad?” And he said, “Whatever makes you happy is fine with me.” And that was huge. That was a massive weight lifted off my shoulders, because down below there was Krissy still trying to please Mom and Dad. There wasn’t the Positivity Powerhouse, there wasn’t the self-care guru. There was just this scared little girl who couldn’t make her mom and dad like her. And that also feeds into the not being able to say no, because I didn’t think they would like me if I said no, but the reality is that they did like me and they just wanted me to be happy.

Nicole: Yeah.

Kriss: And with non family members, it’s much easier to say no to them because there’s not that familial obligation to say yes. There’s not, “Oh, yes, you should go help Uncle Jim out with the dishes after Thanksgiving dinner. You have to do that.” And there’s no room to say no.

Nicole: Yeah.

Kriss: And the obligation is strong, but it’s overcomeable. If that’s a word. I’m making up words.

Nicole: I love that word. I don’t care if it’s not. [Both laugh]

Exactly. It’s overcomeable. I think it’s like anything, particularly things that are uncomfortable for us, for

whatever reason – the more you do it, the more comfortable you will get with it.

Kriss: Yes, absolutely.

Nicole: And I think as we evolve, and if we’re doing our own work, as we evolve, we get less and less attached, I think, to what other people are going to think.

Kriss: Right. And the reality is that people think about you a lot less than you think they are. So their opinion doesn’t really matter.

Nicole: Right.

Kriss: And if they don’t like you, then that’s on them. That’s not on you.

Nicole: Yeah.

Kriss: That’s their worldview, that you’re an awful person for saying no.

Nicole: Right.

Kriss: Nothing to do with you. I read a book once called – shit, what was it? What You Think [of] Me Is None of My Business [by Terry Cole Whittaker].

Nicole: That’s helpful. I’ll have to look that one up and drop it in the notes when –

Kriss: That’s a good one.

Nicole: Yeah. I haven’t read that good one. Adding it to my list. Say that again.

Kriss: I think it’s, What You Think of Me Is None of My Business.

Nicole: Yeah. I love it.

Kriss: And I wish I could tell you who the author was, but I don’t know.

Nicole: No, I’ll look it up after this, and we’ll drop it in our show notes.

Kriss: Awesome.

Nicole: Yeah. I love it … is none of my business. I love it.

So, let’s do a quick brainstorm. You mentioned one really good way that it sounds like works really well for you to say no. What are some other ways? If people are looking for quick suggestions on how to say no – what are some others that maybe you’ve used or you’ve suggested to others?

Kriss: Sure.

Nicole: I’ll add some things, too. I will say one of them – this is not so much a no as much as it is at least a delay is, “Hey, I need to look at my calendar first.” So that isn’t necessarily a no directly, but at least you’re forced – if you’re someone who has a lot of trouble not saying yes – if your default setting is always to say yes when someone asks you to do something, whether you have time or not, like, do that, like saying, “Okay, I need to check my calendar.” And these ideas actually come from a book I like a lot, if we’re talking about books, is Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Kriss: Okay.

Nicole: I know the title because I’ve read it fairly recently, and I’ve used it in some online trainings that I’ve done, which talks about, like, an essentialist is someone who hones in on priorities and does only that.

Kriss: Yeah.

Nicole: And a big chunk of the book is devoted to talking about how to say no, because if you’re clear about your priorities, you’re going to have to say no to those other things.

Kriss: Exactly.

Nicole: So he about that, and he will also say, “My priority right now is doing X. Maybe after that’s done, I could consider that.”

Kriss: Yeah, that’s a good one.

Nicole: After no, but you’re not necessarily saying, “I’ll get back to you in six months,” either. So if you want you can  come back to you in a few months. He was using a book project. Like, “If I’m writing this book,” that he was writing, he’s going to need time to do that. There’s no way – you’re not going to finish a book, usually without programming a little time in your day, right?

Kriss: Exactly. 

Nicole: Yeah.

Kriss: And another trick to help with that –

Nicole: Around saying, no, because I know people might be curious about that.

Kriss: Sure. I heard somebody say a long time ago, if it’s not a “hell yes,” then it’s a “hell no.” So if you’re not really feeling it, then it’s something you don’t need to be doing.

Nicole: Yes.

Kriss: And I think “let me look at my calendar” is a great one. I think it’s even better if you pull up your calendar right in front of the person and you’ve got everything time-blocked out, including housework and commute time, and time with kids, and time with spouse and kids’ doctors appointments, and just everything all scheduled under your calendar. They can see from a glance your calendar is pretty goddamn full, so you don’t have time to do anything extra for this person. I don’t care if it’s your boss or not. You don’t have the time. 

Nicole: Yeah.

Setting priorities and saying no for setting healthy boundaries

Kriss: Another thing that I’ve recommended is, “I don’t have the bandwidth right now. Let me get back to you when I’m done with XYZ.”

Nicole: Right. 

Kriss: Or, if you’re in the spoony community, you will know that, you’ll recognize this reference. “I don’t have the spoons to do that.” And that’s a way of explaining chronic illness, especially chronic pain conditions to people who don’t have them, is that you start with a certain amount of spoons every morning, and you have to spend your spoons on each individual thing that you’re doing during the day. So, like, getting out of bed takes a spoon, and getting into the bathroom takes a spoon, and taking a shower takes a spoon, and doing this takes a spoon. Doing that takes a spoon. You have to spend all these spoons, and you don’t have that many spoons to spend after that.

Nicole: Right. Yeah, no, I like all of that a lot. And we’re talking a lot about the things that I do both in my community and in my Time Boss online retreat, which is, first of all, hone in on just figure out what the priorities are, because I think a lot of us aren’t clear to begin with. And that means that every shiny new thing or everything that seems like an emergency that crops up is going to get my time in the moment, because I’m not clear about what I need to be working on and what the priorities are. We’re just not taught how to do that. Honestly. I mean, it’s really none of our faults. We are taught to produce at all costs. That’s the only thing we’re taught. 

Kriss: Yes.

Nicole: We are not taught how to manage our spoons. I like that idea, the managing our spoons or our bandwidth or whatever, or even articulate that, “Hey, this project is my priority right now. I’m saying no to everything else.” I had to do that in July. Now, obviously, I’m doing a public thing. This is the one thing I’m doing all month. But I am with the support of my community in July – and I’ve done this the last three years – I’m not teaching my regular yoga class. I’m not doing my regular group coaching session this month. And I said no to a handful of other, actually a couple of other volunteer things that I probably would have said yes to in other months as a way of both catching up on my business work – like, some of it is catch-up work – but also that I don’t have those public and the things that I have to do on a grind. And it really has freed up a lot of space for creativity that I don’t have when I’m so pressured every week to get particular things done and do particular things. So, anyway, that’s a little side note. That felt really good to me, and I actually mentioned that to someone in a conversation, someone who I didn’t know very well, someone who worked in corporate America, and she said to me, “Well, I wish I could just not do things like that.” And I didn’t –

Kriss: Well, alrighty then.

Nicole: Exactly. It wasn’t in a context where – I didn’t know them well enough to know how to challenge that person, because I totally will. I’m willing to do that. But this was someone I had just met.

But I want to challenge you, who might be listening right now, is that you actually can make those choices.

Kriss: Absolutely.

Nicole: We think we cannot, but we can. There may be consequences of doing that in our job or in our personal life or whatever, but there’s consequences to doing everything that your boss wants you to do, too.

Kriss: Yes.

Nicole: And it’s usually at our expense.

Kriss: Exactly.

Nicole: That’s not okay. Right?

Kriss: Right. You talked about priorities and having your priorities in order. The number one priority on Earth to you should be you. You are the number one priority because – pick your cheesy metaphor. You can’t light an empty lantern. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You have to put on your oxygen mask first before you can help anybody else. Take your pick. 

But the way I was taught in my direct sales business was to put your faith first, your family second, and your career third. And what I believe is you put yourself first, then your family, then your faith, then your productive work, whatever your productive work has going on in it. But you have to put yourself first. You’ve got to. 

Nicole: Yeah, well, and I think in what you were just saying there is kind of answering the last question already. I just want to do some so what are the things that we can say yes to if we’re saying no to those other things that are not priorities, or the things that we might feel obligated to, or that we feel we need to say yes to because we’re afraid somebody won’t like us, or Whatever the thing is that’s the reason why it’s not saying no or that we’re saying yes to it?

What kinds of things can we say yes, if we make time?

Kriss: Some things to say – 

Nicole: Maybe just that you like to say yes to for yourself, Kriss.

Kriss: I like to say yes to coffee chats with, you know, virtual strangers, like you, Nicole, whom I have never met, you know, belly to belly. I like to say yes to exercise. I like to say yes to paying the water bill. I like to say yes to going to work to earn the money to pay the water bill, because that’s really real self-care. Going to work is self-care. Paying the water bill is self-care. Doing your taxes on time is self-care. All of the mundane, boring bullshit of everyday life that benefits you in any way, shape or form can be self-care. 

Nicole: Yeah. 

Kriss: Any of it. So those are the things that I like saying yes to. Things that either move me forward financially, or move me forward physically, or entrepreneurially, or – I’m totally making up words today – or spiritually. Things that fill you up and light your soul on fire are fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not the big self-care. The big self-care is the little shit. All of it.

Nicole: Well, I think that’s good. That’s a good place to leave our conversation. And we have gone – I wanted to keep 20 minutes – We’re a little over that, but this is too good to stop. But I will. But maybe we’ll come back and have some secondary, another conversation off of this, because we have many topics related to this I’m sure that we can tackle.

Kriss: That would be awesome. I’d love to come back.

Nicole: That would be great. Thank you so much, Kriss. And so tell friends where they can find more of you.

Kriss: They can find more of me at if you’re just listening and not watching, it’s And you can find all that you ever need to know about me there.

You can also find me in the Positivity Powerhouse podcast, which, if you listen to enough back episodes, you’re going to get into Tarot card readings for like three months, and then you’re going to get a couple of months of mindful productivity coach stuff from when I listened to a bad business coach. But the most recent 14 episodes are Positivity Powerhouse episodes, and they are worth taking a listen to.

Nicole: Hey, well, I’m looking forward to that. That’ll be awesome.

For those of you who, if you’re on my channels, you may already know this, but in August, I am celebrating saying no. This was a perfect time to talk with Kriss about this topic, because in August, I will be celebrating saying no for my birthday month of August, and Kriss will be one of my collaborators there.

Kriss wrote one of the emails that you will receive – 31, once a day – you’ll get some inspiration or tip about saying no/saying yes, like we’ve just been talking to – you’ll get those via email. Also, you’ll get an exclusive invite to my restorative yoga classes, which will resume on August 9.

And then I will also be holding – this is a separately ticketed event, but you’ll also get an invite to it as well if you sign up for the main event. But I am doing a group napping experience, so say yes to whatever you could be doing on Sunday, August 27, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time and instead join me online. So, you can nap in your own bed and be online. How great is that? So we’ll start with some affirmations, probably a little bit of journaling, maybe a little bit of yoga movement, very simple stuff that’ll help you settle into deep relaxation. And myself and some of my other fellow Reiki practitioners will be sending Reiki your way while you are sleeping. So it’ll be a deeply restful, deeply healing, I hope, practice on August 27, and also stay tuned. I do have a physical space in Columbus, Ohio, for that. So that is going to be a hybrid event. I don’t quite have all the details out for you yet, but that will be coming probably next week. [NOTE: Registration to the “Loving yourself enough to take a nap” event is open online and in-person.] 

Kriss: That sounds amazing.

Nicole: I know, I’m so excited about that. That’s why I spent a little too much time on it, but I’m just that excited about my napping event. Join us online – or in person if you happen to live in Columbus, Ohio, you can do either one – and more will be available by that, but please sign up on my website if you go to If you scroll down a little bit, you’ll see the description of all the birthday month stuff and a pop up will come up for that as well, so you can see it there. 

Well, again, thank you so much, Kriss. You are literally the bomb, and I’m so excited that you came and had this conversation with me and I hope we get to do it again with each other. How great would that be?

Kriss: That would be awesome. I am so glad that we have this opportunity to talk.

Nicole: For sure.

Have a great rest of your day everyone, and thank you so much. We’ll see you very soon on Defy the Trend Live. My next time that I go live is August 8, [2023].