By Justin Brown, Senior Art Director

For those who don’t know, I have a 14 month old little boy. He’s our buddy and he thinks we’re hilarious. But the days are making him older, and it’s now time for redirection.

Enter the power of “No”.

Have you ever noticed truly successful people have little trouble saying “No”? They do it politely, but they do it and do it often. “No” is a control word, a word that has real power. When we use it, we’re in control. When we don’t, we’re open to the control of others. By saying “No”, we guard our time, our efforts and even our money. When we say “yes”, or even “maybe”, it can make all three vulnerable.

“No” is such a simple word–only two letters–yet saying “No” out loud is hard for most people. Most of us said, “No!” quite well when we were two. After all, it’s the two-year-old’s job to say “No.” The authority figures in our lives at the time, our parents, expect us to say “No.” (But I’m not looking forward to it…)

However, many of us grow up to be people pleasers. We void “No” from our vocabulary, and we substitute ways to be agreeable and keep the other person happy. Saying “No” to authority figures or clients is not expected. Underneath it all we believe that saying “No” will cost us something of value.

Our Reluctance to “No”

  • We want to please others
  • Saying “Yes” is easy; saying “No” opens up questioning
  • We don’t like confrontation
  • Saying “No” indicates you’re not a “team player”
  • We learned to hate hearing “No” when we were small children and never outgrew it

“No” Problems

Not saying “No” complicates our lives. Its infrequent use takes us away from our goals. It also has the potential to complicate life by involving us in situations we have no business being in. Consider problems we bring on ourselves because we don’t want to say “No”:

We over-extend. How many obligations can you manage? The more you say “Yes”, the more obligations you take on. We only have time and energy for so much, and if we get pulled in too many directions we quickly become part of the problem, not the solution.

We lose focus. Focus is an under-appreciated concept. The more directions we’re pulled in, the less focus we have. The less focus we have, the less successful we’ll be.

We set ourselves up. If you’re a “Yes-(wo)man”, then others will have undo control over your time and efforts. Some people can never do anything on their own while others are perpetually needy. You can’t fix that and helping them will never improve their circumstances. The best thing you can do for them is to cut them off and let them learn to fend for themselves.

We damage our self-esteem. What usually happens when we say “Yes” to someone is that we give them our time and efforts. If we say “Yes” to all requests, we then degrade our own time and effort. In most cases, we’re giving away our resources—time and effort—for free. If we’re giving them away, then they effectively become worthless. When what we have to offer doesn’t have value, we begin to question our own worth.

Benefits of “No”

Let go. Each of us can only wear so many hats and still be effective. When we say “No”, we’re getting rid of them. No matter how talented you are, you can’t do it all. It’s just a delusion, and once its gone life gets more productive.

Change expectations. People have a way of coming back again and again to those who help them. While it might feel good to be needed, it’s not always productive. If you stop trying to put out fires, people start respecting your time.

Increased concentration. Each of us have so much time and energy to live so it’s necessary we spend it on activities that will have the greatest impact. It’s better to accomplish one or two goals completely than a dozen halfway.

More free time. We all like free time, right? Accomplishing our goals is important to our well-being, but so is having time to enjoy life. The more we say “No”, the fewer obligations we have, the more time we have for everything, like a little R&R. It’s a win-win: the better rested we are, the more effective we can be at what ever.

Sometimes it may seem we wander through life blind. We have so much coming at us that we feel overwhelmed. It’s not that we can’t handle it—most of us can—we just can’t handle so much at once. One of the best ways to get control is by entering in the power of “No”. It’s a simple and direct form of redirection. It blocks distractions, intrusions and manufactured obligations that can slow us down. Practice saying “No” more frequently and see if you don’t find yourself having more time, energy—and success.

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