How To Say No (Without Being a Dick)

There’s one word that most people would rather avoid.

It’s the word that, as little kids, made us stamp our feet up the stairs and cry our poor, little eyes out in our room.

It’s also the word used by your high-school crush that promptly shattered your world into a million pieces.

If you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about the terrible, two-letter word no.

Walking Into The Fire

The moment we were able to walk, we discovered a new found freedom to move our bodies wherever we wanted to go! As a result, we would don our Indiana Jones hat and become the brave explorer of the new world around us. The concept of danger didn’t exist. If we saw a big, grizzly bear stomping through our backyard, we’d probably want to go give it a hug.

If you’re a parent reading this, you know how tough it is to keep your kid from wandering off into potentially dangerous situations. You probably used the word no more times than you’d like to admit, but all with the best intentions at heart.

As a kid, we soon learn that the word ‘no’ is the worst word in the English language. It often meant the end of play time, denial of our favourite sweet treat, or refusal to sleep over at our friend’s house. The restriction of life’s greatest pleasures.

I believe this is why, as teenagers, most of us rebel against the fascist dictators of our life: mum and dad. We are sick and tired of being told no, so instead, we say yes to everything. We break rules, stay out late, skip school, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, take drugs, and overuse curse words. ‘Yes’ becomes an almost automatic response, and is something most of are struggling with today.

Wanting To Please Others

It’s human nature to want to make others happy. But by approving every request and demand that others make on your precious time and energy, you are, by default, saying no to other things.

The best-selling author of Essentialism, Greg McKeown, sums this up perfectly: “The reality is, saying yes to any opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others.” He also stresses, “if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.” This means if you can’t stand up for yourself and make decisions based on your current priorities, your life will be dictated by the priorities of others.

You need to get over this idea that you’re going to disappoint someone or hurt their feelings when you tell them no. Even if this appears to be the case, it’s likely the other party has not considered all the things you’re going to say no to, so you can say yes to them.

It’s essential to separate your desire to help others with the practicality of being able to serve them at the best of your ability. Spreading yourself too thin doesn’t benefit anyone, and always saying yes will make you the target for more trivial requests on your time.  Once you become the yes man or woman, it will be even harder to stand up and say no.

The Problem With Will Power

Science now shows that we have a limited amount of will power each day. Usually, in the morning it’s easier for us to do the things we said we were going to do, like hitting the gym, planning our day, and meditating. We have enough willpower to say no to that sugar doughnut or funny cat video someone sent you on Whatsapp.

Throughout your day, you are going to make many, many decisions. The average amount of remotely conscious decisions an adult makes each day equals about 35,000. So it should be obvious that your will power will eventually diminish. This means we are more likely to give in and say yes to the things we would usually say no to in the morning.

This is why it is so important to kick start your day with a potent morning routine. To find out what I do every morning click here. When you tick off all your priorities early in the day, you actually get a little kick of dopamine, the reward chemical in our brain, which helps reinforce this behaviour so we repeat it again the next day.

Leaving big decisions and important work to the end of the day can be dangerous. I prefer to plan my downtime in the evenings when I can read, listen to podcasts, or meet with friends. That way I don’t have to make any decisions that require a large amount of willpower and I feel good knowing all my priorities have already been taken care of.

The Art Of Saying No

1 – Ask yourself better questions before making any decision

If you float through life without any idea why you’re making the decision you’re making, it’s only a matter of time until you make the wrong one. First, you must identify your priorities––the things you want to focus most of your willpower on.

Then, create a process to evaluate whether a decision is worth saying yes or no to. You could ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my priorities right now and does this opportunity align with them?
  • Do I have the time and energy available?
  • Does it align with my values?
  • Is it a win-win?

Steve Jobs famously said: “I’m just as proud of the things I have done as I haven’t done.” The guys at the top of their field have to say no to almost everything, but the things they do say yes to turn into something magical.

2 – Don’t be afraid to say no

Stop apologizing before turning someone down. If they take offence, just know it’s not your fault; it’s unlikely they will even remember the conversation a few weeks later.

Just make sure to give them a logical reason why it’s not something you can say yes to right now and they will understand.

3 – Figure out what your time is worth

The reason why you’re taking on too many projects and opportunities is that you don’t fully realize the value of your time.

Do the numbers and try a get rough figure for how much one hour of your time is worth. Then, next time someone tries to get you to organise the pending social event at work, it might be a good idea to consider if that’s going to be the best use of your time or not.

Try It For Yourself!

If you’re saying yes because you feel guilty if you say no, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Your time is your most valuable asset. Isn’t it time to start protecting it and be more conscious of other people’s demands?

I encourage you to use the questions I shared above to get clear on your priorities and what you have space to say yes to in your life. That doesn’t mean you immediately say yes to the things you have time for––a little time to just do nothing is actually a good thing.

Start to say no more often and observe how you feel after. Sure, you might feel a little awkward or uneasy at first, but once you remind yourself why you said no, you should be able to feel good that you’re setting boundaries based on what matters most to you.