“The oldest, shortest words – ‘yes’ and ‘no’ – are those which require the most thought.”- Pythagoras
I was taught that serenity comes from the ability to say yes to existence. Courage comes from the ability to say no to the wrong choices made by others. Yet in life, I have realised that either one of these two words is difficult to say at the time it is needed.
For a lot of people, the most daunting task has been knowing when to say yes or to say no. This frees us to focus and concentrate on the things that really matter in our lives. In this quick post, we will look at why this decision is so important to our day-to-day life and ultimately our purpose. So when can you say yes or say no?
1. Say “yes” until you have to say “no” – Early in your career, you need to jump into every opportunity you can get, so you say yes to everything. Even the things that seem kinda dumb or pointless or weird or inconvenient. You say yes and do them anyway. Because you never know what doors they will open.
Then, as you start building your skills and reputation, you begin to find yourself in situations where you have more opportunities than you need. This is when you begin to strategically start saying “no.”
By saying “no,” you’re able to focus on the opportunities that present the biggest upside and you get even further, faster. Eventually, you arrive at a point where you are forced to say “no” to almost every opportunity. Congratulations. You have now “made it.”
The “say yes until you have to say no” principle doesn’t just work in business, but in many areas of life:
- If you move to a new city and want to make friends, say yes to everything until you’re so popular you can start saying no to invitations to the lamer parties.
- You want to find a relationship, say yes to meeting everyone until you find people you like enough to say no to people with terrible Tinder profiles.
- If you’re trying to figure out what you’re good at or what you love to do, say yes to everything until you’re forced to start saying no. Eventually, you’ll be left with what matters most to you.
2. The skills of saying “yes” and “no” – I’ve found that most people tend to naturally be good at saying “yes” or saying “no” but few people are naturally good at saying both.
Those who struggle to say “no” turn into people-pleasers. They will have a busy social life and lots of career opportunities, but because they can’t cut out what isn’t important to them and they’re unwilling to disappoint others, they often feel “trapped” in a life they didn’t choose or want.
People who struggle to say “yes” are contrarians and loners. They often feel smart and superior because they are correctly able to spot bullshit. But because they’re unable to fully trust and commit, they struggle to build something they’re proud of. These are the hipsters and has-beens of the world.
Being unable to say “no” will give you plenty of short-term opportunities but gradually wear you down in the long run. Being unable to say “yes” will eliminate most short-term opportunities, but it occasionally pays off by allowing you to spot something everyone else missed. The secret sauce is knowing when and how to say (and hear) both.
3. Too much awareness or not enough? – I believe that we’ve become too aware of all of the problems in the world and this has generated widespread feelings of guilt and self-righteous moralising. At some point, we’re too aware of all that is awful in the world. However, the problem isn’t that we’re too aware of the problems in the world—the problem is that we’re too unaware of all of the great solutions also happening in the world.
Put another way: our awareness of problems has compounded, whereas our awareness of solutions has not. Perhaps we can make an effort to focus more on the latter.
It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no. From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. Or said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. Maybe also said yes to find and keep friends.
We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do. We think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist. And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.
Yet the solution to most of the world’s problems is probably saying no. Deciding to add the word “no” to your vocab is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about. But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.“There are often many things we feel we should do that, in fact, we don’t really have to do. Getting to the point where we can tell the difference is a major milestone in the simplification process.” Elaine St. James Tweet Me
3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No
1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially if you haven’t done it much in the past, you will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that. If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.
2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time
When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one. Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.
3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters
When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.
Until next week, begin to flex your yes and no muscle and see how it goes for you. Share with us your thoughts in the comments section or via email. As always, hope you and yours are safe.