Two letters that form a one syllable word that carries the weight of the world’s expectations on it.
‘No’ is the word that can make faces fall quicker than a dropping rock. ‘No’ can sour relationships, create conflict in families, and cause sleepless nights.
‘No’ can also set you free. It can create white space on your calendar and in your life. It can brighten up your day and make your imagination soar. It can also nurture the most important relationships in your life while clearing the clutter of everything else.
Leveraging the true power of ‘no’ involves an uncomfortable, disquieting level of honesty with yourself.
It involves acknowledging and solidifying your true desires and dreams — and deleting everything else. It forces you to write down all your aspirations in life — and then ruthlessly cross most of them out — in true Warren Buffet style. It forces you to acknowledge your own humanity.
No, I am not superwoman. No, I do not have more than 24 hours in a day.
No, my body, brain, and soul do not have unlimited, robotic capacity to check off tasks while staying refreshed and standing firmly on an even keel.
Learning to say no — quickly and decisively — is something I struggle with.
I, like most others with a high achievement orientation, instinctively feel a crawling urge to say ‘yes’ to everything that comes across my desk. When I say no, I feel guilty. I feel like I have fallen short. I feel that I am letting people down. I feel that I am cheating myself of my true potential. Saying ‘no’ is not a good feeling — in the moment.
Once the storm in my head passes, I always feel better. My day feels longer. I am more fulfilled.
And when I say yes against my better judgment, I am stressed and overwhelmed. I deliver half baked work for the sake of just finishing the task already. I feel even guiltier for not doing a stellar job. I cringe when people need to follow up with me. I curse myself for the day that I said yes to this thing which only partially interested me.
Saying ‘no’ creates more space for saying ‘yes’ to the things that really matter.
“If it is not a hell yes, it is a no.” — Derek Sivers
This well-known quote speaks to the importance of approaching our projects with wholehearted enthusiasm. If it doesn’t make you leap out of bed in the morning, be unafraid to say no.
“Will it make the boat go faster?” — Ben Hunt-Davis
Ben Hunt-Davis created laser focus in his life towards his single-minded goal of winning Olympic gold by focusing on essential activities only, regularly measuring performance, and tweaking continuously.
There is an important lesson here. Ask yourself— How will this task or project help me achieve my ultimate goal? If it doesn’t make the cut, delete without second thought. Also, check out this great story from Benjamin Hardy, PhD that talks about this quote.
If you continue saying yes all the time, you will eventually collapse under the weight of momentous expectations.
Stop gritting your teeth through life as it passes you by. Learn to say no. It will only hurt in the moment — like that pinprick at the doctor’s office you’ve been dreading.
The more you say it, the easier it will get. You will gain confidence and feel fulfilled. You will feel in control. And most importantly — your boat will race across the water, barely skimming the surface, on its way to a satisfying destination created just for you.