We all struggle with a 2-letter word not because it’s easy to say but because it’s robust and incredibly efficacious that we avoid saying it at all cost. The cost of saying NO in our minds comes with devastating consequences that we might hurt someone, change their perception of us, or even make us feel less even when we know we’re doing the right things for ourselves.
In life, we are conditioned to believe that when someone says, “NO” they are selfish, unfriendly or not a real friend. I used to be one of those individuals. It wasn’t until I realized that saying “NO” has to do with me and NOT the relationship I have with someone. Looking back, I asked the wrong people for help, or I asked for something that they could not identify with, giving them a lack of understanding to help. Or I would ignore the indirect signs that a person was not interested in what was important to me. Personally, that statement sounds a little aggressive so let me explain.
We often give more power to those in our lives who carry a label of high importance even when it’s not reciprocated. Those labels we assign to individuals often are greater than what they deserve. Wes Moore said it best, “Don’t let people who don’t matter too much matter too much.” Like me, you might need to repeat that to yourself a few times before it sinks in and for it to make complete sense. When it does sink in, you’ll suddenly understand the questions you ask people, their response, and who not to ask for advice or their opinion about something important and that matters to you.
Asking someone who does not matter in your life is fine, but they should not have an influence on the decision you make in your life. Why do we give people so much power over our lives? The decision that you make is not going to impact them, nor anything that they do should impact yours so the essence of “NO” has no bearing on who you are as an individual.
We have the tendency to take on other people’s problems when we don’t say no. This leads me to the point, the complexity of “NO” is a path to self-destruction.
Saying “YES” when you mean “NO” leads you to a place where you suddenly find yourself taking on other people’s problems and making them about you. It’s what I call, transfer of energy and thought! It’s like what Iyanla Vanzant says, “Don’t make someone else’s crazy about you.”
While reading Zen Habits, I came across a statement that will forever change my thoughts about saying “Yes” to everything. “Saying Yes to everything means you’re not saying Yes — it means you’re not setting priorities. You’re not making a serious commitment. You’re not conscious of your life.”
Yes sounds so much more positive because it is much easier to say. The below action plan comes from the website Zen Habits a site I frequently visit for guidance. I believe this is relevant to those of us who struggle with saying “NO”:
Start saying No to the obligations you’ve built up but don’t want to do. Make a list of all your commitments (really do it, it only takes 5 minutes) and mark the 4-5 that are most important. Say No to the rest — actually, call or email people and let them know you can’t do it.
It’s okay to say “NO”! I believe people ask continuously for things to those who are afraid to say no. I used to say “NO” because they never returned the favor but I realize that’s because I said “YES” to all the things that did not matter to me. In return you’re going to find if it matters to you, it will matter to others.
Most importantly and lastly the art of saying No gets easier when picking the right things to say yes too. Steve Jobs summed it up best when he said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”