“There are only two words that will always lead you to success. Those words are yes and no. Undoubtedly, you’ve mastered saying yes. So start practising saying no. Your goals depend on it!” — Jack Canfield
A pile of documents lands on Eva’s desk while she’s busy answering a backlog of emails. Hours ago, she was lamenting to a colleague how the pressure at work is mounting up. “I can’t keep this up,” she thinks to herself. “Something has to give or I’m out of here.” “Why do I have more work than I can handle?” she wonders, slipping between daydreaming and the reams of stacked documents that drown out her field of vision. “Why can’t I say no?” “Because you want others to like you,” a familiar voice echoes back. Eva’s predicament is one we all identify with because it happens to us often. The common thread in this narrative is knowing when to say ‘no’ instead of giving in to others’ demands.
A life without complications arises when we say no to distractions. Many struggle to say no because of an inherent need to be liked. However, this comes at a risk of being taken advantage of. It is easy to say ‘yes,’ but when was the last time you said ‘no’ to a request from a friend or colleague? We are terrified to come across as rude, so we skirt around the issue and delay our response. Yet, this only makes matters worse. Do you know people who are comfortable saying no to demands? Consider how they take command of the situation and don’t allow others to impose upon their time which they treat as sacred.
A place where our time is often disrupted is the work environment, through emails, colleagues and our bosses’ requests. I often hear people discuss how exhausted they are at the end of a working day, having said yes to many requests. They put their own work on hold to satisfy other people’s needs. I appreciate this message by author Greg McKeown who writes in Essentialism: “Every time we check email, we’re checking somebody else’s agenda.” Consider the strength of that statement. McKeown reminds us to be mindful of our time and not to take on more than we can manage, otherwise we risk being dictated by other people’s agendas.
The Need for Acceptance
“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.” — Paulo Coelho
In a similar vein, it is motivational author Brendon Burchard who urges us to take command of our time when he states: “We must look to the world’s random pushy people, the countless needy people, the people not on our list of those we want to love, care for, and attend to. It cannot be overstated: We must not fear saying, “No, I cannot help you now.” Saying no is a war shield to fend off distractions, so you can focus on what is important. Our time is precious and should be guarded with fierce intensity so others don’t encroach upon our freedom. You’ve probably noticed that every time you agree to something against your wishes, you feel bad about it later. You run through a mental dialogue about how you might have dealt with the situation. Yet, it’s too late by then.
I assure you, saying no has a nobler intent than you might think. It conveys the strength of your vision or goals and you refuse to be distracted. It signifies commitment, passion and purpose on your part and mustn’t be misinterpreted as avoidance. However, beneath our inability to say no lies a strong need for acceptance that dominates our interactions with others. People will not misinterpret no as selfishness, as long as we communicate our intentions. We might acknowledge their request, yet convey we have something important to attend to and do not wish to be sidetracked. We may reconsider it at a later stage once our work is completed. The benefit of saying no is to filter out those who infringe upon our time. For want of a better description, I call them gravediggers because they draw the life out of us.
Saying No Without Regret
“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.” — Steve Jobs
Saying no relieves us of unwanted stress. We don’t have to contend with conflicts where we have undertaken a project or invitation against our wishes. It affords us the time to attend to important life areas. Ultimately, we want to engage in more of these pursuits, instead of being obligated to please others. In some cultures, saying no is frowned upon. There is repressed anger amongst people and family members who are obliged to say yes. Let’s not mix our words — saying no is not disrespectful. We must convey our intentions in an assertive, yet respectful manner to balance harmony and diplomacy. Remember: Whenever we say yes to something, we’re saying no to something else. We’re putting others first before our own needs, which can cause stress.
The key to saying no without regret is to recognise the feelings that arise during our interactions with others. Why? We become familiar where our body holds tension and are more likely to notice it the next time it arises in our contact with people. We are being dictated by negative reactions and so we avoid them by saying yes to appease others. Author Brendon Burchard reminds us once more in The Motivation Manifesto: “We must take a long, unflinching look at our habit of giving our lives and agendas over to others or to meaningless things. We have to say no more often. We have to focus more. We have to fight harder to safeguard our time and our dreams and our souls.”
In Eva’s case, she taught her work colleagues how to treat her, even if she is unaware of it. She underestimated her self-worth by choosing to be liked in place of preserving her time foremost. It boils down to knowing our true worthandstanding in our own power. As we do, others recognise our genuineness and will treat us accordingly. By honouring our authenticity, we move from being powerless to empowered and take command of our life by adhering to our highest values.
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