This Is Why Saying ‘No’ Defines Who You Are

Because saying YES is so easy

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying ‘yes’ too quickly and not saying ‘no’ soon enough.”―Josh Billings

Saying ‘yes’ is easy.

Adding movies to your Netflix list is just one click away. Accepting new meeting invites is just as easy. Until your life runs out of storage.

And there’s no cloud-based storage to solve for that.

Your choices define the life you want to live.

When you lack clarity, you lose control. Life is full of options. That doesn’t mean you should take them all.

What you say ‘no’ to defines who you are.

You are your choices.

Why You Must Learn to Say ‘No’

Chasing shiny objects is a distraction.

I have a friend that loves bragging about his latest restaurant discovery. He likes trying new places but, most importantly, adding badges to his gourmet reputation.

Exploration is an excellent way of learning. I’m an enthusiast and promoter of taking the road less traveled.

But when the pursuit of the new shiny object is all that matters, we get distracted.

Like it happens to my friend. He hasn’t developed a preference or personal taste. His desire to brag is more important than learning.

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” — Winston Churchill

When you say ‘yes’ to everything, you are prioritizing breadth over depth.

Or, in other words, superficiality over focus. Instead of mastering something you are an amateur at everything.

According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research saying “I don’t” as opposed to “I can’t” allowed participants to extract themselves from unwanted commitment.

The ability to communicate ‘no’ reflects that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life.

Five Ways to Say ‘No’ More Often

1. Let your purpose define your life

“When the why is clear, the how is easy.” — Jim Rohn

Don’t be afraid of being judged. Saying ‘no’ is not just a right. You deserve it.

You only live once. Live the life you want, not other’s people expectations.

How do you wish to be remembered? What imprint do you want to leave in the world?

Focus your choices. Say ‘yes’ to anything that will help you achieve your purpose. Say ‘no’ to distractions and things that don’t matter to you. Say ‘no’ to shortcuts.

Don’t just live your life. Become the best person you can. Unleash your full potential.

“Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.” — John C. Maxwell

2. Focus on what really matters

“And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. […] It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” — Steve Jobs

Having focus is critical. But it’s never easy.

We all lose clarity from time to time. Even when we have it, it’s hard to be focused.

“Saying ‘no’ to loud people gives you the resources to say ‘yes’ to important opportunities.” — Seth Godin

Say ‘no’ to what’s not critical so you can say ‘yes’ to your priorities.

Check out this exercise from my book ‘Stretch for Change.’ It’s a simple tool to help you identify and manage your priorities: ‘Focus on what really matters.

3. Exploration is nice, but you also need depth

“If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.” — Tom Rath

Remember my friend’s example? He suffers from the ‘shiny object syndrome’ This guy is good at chasing the latest fad. But has a hard time finding what kind of food or place he really likes.

Your decisions define your taste. Thus requiring you to make sacrifices. To focus on what you like. Not on what others say it’s cool.

To develop your taste, you need to dive deeper into what you like. Large fishes don’t swim in shallow waters.

Your preferences design your identity.

When you don’t know what to say ‘no’ to, it’s hard to know what to say ‘yes’ to.

4. Speak with conviction

“A ‘no’ uttered from deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Saying ‘no’ is a decision.

When we have clarity, our words have power.

Speak with authority. Turn a maybe into a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’ with conviction.

You don’t need to accept all the invites in your inbox or join every useless meeting just because you are supposed to. You shouldn’t get burned out to please a client or fulfill your family’s expectations.

“Don’t say ‘maybe’ if you want to say ‘no.’ “ — Paulo Coelho

Saying ‘no’ with conviction will help you say ‘yes’ with conviction too.

5. Don’t forget about you

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.” — Paulo Coelho

When an airplane cabin loses pressure, you should apply your oxygen mask first, and then your child’s. A parent without oxygen will pass out before helping the child.

Psychologists use the term“harshness bias” to describe our belief that people may judge us more negatively than they actually do. That’s one of the reasons why we don’t take care of ourselves.

Most people won’t think less of you if you say no for personal reasons.

Interestingly enough, people respect us more when we are able to set healthy limits.

Saying ‘no’ helps set boundaries. Not to isolate but to nurture yourself.

What (and how) you say ‘no’ to, defines who you are.


Gustavo Razzetti is a change instigator who helps purpose-driven organizations create positive change. He advises, writes, and speaks on team development and cultural transformation. Follow Gustavo on LinkedIn, Twitter, or receive his weekly insights.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Gustavo Razzetti

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I help people and teams become the best version of themselves. CEO @ liberationist.org Top Writer. Subscribe → bit.ly/ChangeInsights

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.