The Importance of Saying No
In the very extreme, saying "yes" to everything leads to not really doing anything. How can you get anywhere, or accomplish anything, without any focus? How can you be happy and healthy if you put yourself last?
Why do we say "yes" when we should say "no," and what can we do about it?
Reason 1: Guilt. This is from the belief that doing a certain thing makes us good and another thing (like saying "no") makes us bad.
Well, if you believe as I do that we all have the same intrinsic value, then logically it's not possible to make ourselves better or worse by what we do. It only gives us the feeling of being better or worse. We are on earth to fuck up and learn from it. Doing good is a bonus, but also very difficult to determine—have you ever tried to help someone and realized later it would have been better if you didn't? Maybe they needed to learn how to do it on their own? Maybe you created a codependent situation that is harmful for everyone? Or maybe you screwed something up and it turned out badly?
But then, if you fucked up and learned, ultimately it was good and you fulfilled an important purpose.
It's obvious that with our limited perspectives as non-omniscient beings that we have no business predicting what will be best. That flight to Hawaii you're furious about missing might crash. That annoying detour might lead you to the love of your life. But mostly, you will probably just never find out the full consequence or benefit of different events and your reactions to them.
The best we can do is to just do what feels right and honest and trust that things work out.
But what if your guilt is not about feeling like a bad person, but feeling like you're letting someone down? Ask yourself if that is the truth, or just arrogance. Be brutally honest. Will saying "no" truly harm that person? Or are you just trying to play God, with judgments about what is best for everyone? Sometimes helping someone is great and sometimes it's keeping them from growing and learning how to help themselves.
So my second reason is arrogance. This is the belief that other people can't make it without us.
Reason three is an imagined lack of power: this is about the belief that another person has so much power over our lives that saying "no" to them will cause a disaster. Think about how weird that sounds—if they have so much power over your life do you really want to preserve that situation?
The only one who TRULY has power of you and your life is yourself. We can choose to pretend we don't have power, but we always do, and it's always the same amount, in all circumstances.
If you can face your fear and embrace your power—to choose, to speak up, to say "no"—others will recognize your power too, and it will get easier. You may even find the people you once feared give you far more respect. It's easier for others to show you respect when you respect yourself.
So if you're afraid that saying "no" to someone important will ruin your life, ask yourself if this is really true. Will you be ruined, or freed? How you experience it is completely up to you.
What are the best times to say "no"?
• When you want to say "no." Especially if saying "yes" will cause you (or someone else) real harm. This can include compromising your health and wellbeing with stress, trauma, unhappiness, burnout, or other things. Even the idea of doing something meaningless or soul-sucking should be considered harmful.
When should you say "yes"?
• When you can give an enthusiastic "yes!" Even if you're a bit scared.
If you aren't sure which one it is, say "maybe" until you figure it out.
That's it! You may think that leaves a large grey area, but if you apply this you will learn to realize how little of the time you really should be saying "yes" to anyone but yourself, and how truly unproductive it is to maintain the illusion of productivity.
When you say "no" to almost everything you are focusing your attention on the very specific things you need most—the things you must do to realize your potential in all areas from wellness to work. You become like an arrow speeding straight at the target that is your true purpose, your dream life, your most effective self.
But what will happen to the people that you say "no" to? They might find someone else to do things for them or they might notice your positive example and learn how to be more empowered too! It's up to them.
So, learn how to say "no" for everyone's sake. Learn how to say "no" to your fear, your anxiety, your limiting beliefs.
Say "yes" to your excitement. Say "yes" to your truth. Say "yes" to self-compassion and self-love.
The joy and empowerment you find will be exponentially more helpful and inspiring and empowering to those around you than any tasks you complete out of fear. In your enthusiastic "yes" you may even find a true calling that helps people in the most profound and enjoyable way imaginable.
When you learn how to say "no" you are finally free to say "yes" to everything that really, truly matters.
What matters most to you? What will you start saying "no" to so you can focus on it more? I'd love to hear your story!