How Saying 'No'​ Frees Us & Why We're Uncomfortable With It

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Unsplash: Manasvita S

How many time have you found yourself saying yes, yes, yes to everything that comes along, only to find yourself overwhelmed or overcommitted? Perhaps it's guilt and obligation that drives you to overcommit?

December in particular can be one of those months where we are completely overcommitted.

'No' is one of those words that many of us will have a negative association with because it was said to us more times than we wanted to hear it during the formative stages of our lives.

We would do well to find the power in this tiny little two letter word.

The more you say yes to things, the more you split your attention and your energy. The risk is that you stretch yourself too thinly and please no one in the end, least of all yourself. The rise of multi-tasking appears to have coincided with the rise of the internet era and if you google multi-tasking you will find more than 50 million results. Just looking at that number makes me shudder.

There is so much value in learning the art of saying a powerful No and switching the mindset from FOMO to JOMO (joy of missing out). The latest research referenced by Kendra Cherry is suggesting that multi-tasking and over-committing ourselves is having a detrimental impact on brain health and that multitasking is actually ruining our productivity.

At its most basic, your inability to say No may lead you to waste your time on things that don't really matter or doing things from a sense of obligation or guilt which layers a deeper emotional impact on an already harried mind.

While we can make more money or do more things, we can't recover lost time. Daniel Goleman reminds us that 'a wealth of information actually leads to a deficit of attention' and that lack of attention is costing us dearly in rest, resilience and overall well-being. For me personally, if it isn't a HELL YES! It's definitely a HELL NO!

This yes, yes, yes mentality can also show up in unexpected ways; like starting to read an article, getting distracted by a social media notification which leads you to a promotion and online store and suddenly you've used 4 apps on your phone or laptop and lost what you were doing in the first place. Saying No also means saying Yes to doing one thing at a time and limiting our propensity to be lured away into distraction mode.

When we say No, we free ourselves to focus on the things that really matter. In my own experience it has actually felt like a relief to have said No to a bunch of things that were on the periphery but felt more obligatory than aligned. This also requires us to let go of any feelings of guilt about not doing everything and to treat ourselves with a certain amount of kindness and acceptance. Given enough notice and respect, people do actually understand.

You can start to by clarifying who and what are important to you - get really clear on those activities, tasks and relationships that will make the difference between success and failure, joy and stagnation, or freedom and feeling stuck - whatever it is - and bravely say a polite No to the rest.

Set aside time for those important tasks and activities and where possible limit distractions by going device-free or, for digital work, turn off notifications and consider using a distraction free word processor for writing tasks. On Safari on mac you can use 'reading mode' to strip away the adverts.

It may be tough at first, but when done with respect and sincerity, people will respect you for it and you'll love yourself more too.

If saying No is a step too far right now, perhaps check out Jari Roomer's ABCDE method for prioritising tasks. It's a useful way for clarifying what's really worth spending your time on.

This article is from Tim's monthly newsletter "Igniting Your Potential" and you can sign up here.

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