“No” is the New “Yes”

Too many people I speak to tell me they spend their long days responding to emails, putting out fires, and running around in a constant state or urgency.

Sound familiar? You are not alone.

It’s a problem many of us struggle with – a vicious cycle we cannot seem to solve or free ourselves from. We react to what’s in front of us, whether it truly matters or not.

More than ever, we’re prisoners of the urgent.

We know that setting goals and prioritising help tremendously, but the problem is that prioritizing requires reflection, and reflection takes time. Most of  are so busy racing just to keep up, we don’t believe we have the time to stop and think about much of anything. It is a myth we live by now.

And so too often we default to saying “yes” to everything and everyone. It’s just easier that way. We can avoid conflict, and it takes less time than pausing to decide whether or not the request is truly important. Some believe there’s also an adrenaline rush in saying “yes”. As Tony Swartz writes,

Many of us have become addicted, unwittingly, to the speed of our lives — the adrenalin high of constant busyness. We mistake activity for productivity, more for better, and we ask ourselves ‘What’s next?’ far more often than we do ‘Why this?'”

But as Gandhi put it, “A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

So what does saying “no” actually look like? Well, I think it means:

  • Taking time out to reflect and prioritise
  • Deciding what to do less of, or to stop doing altogether
  • Regularly stepping back from the madding crowd
  • Sometimes disappointing people
  • Fighting the urge to respond to the latest urgent demand or seductive source of instant gratification
Of course, these things are hard to do, and it requires greater discipline and effort on our part. BUT… when we learn to thoughtfully say “no”, we give ourselves the space to reflect on, metabolize, assess, and make sense of what we’ve just experienced, so that we might live proactively, rather than reactively.

And so… in a world of relentless demands and infinite loops, saying “no” just might be the most undervalued skill of our times.

24 Replies to ““No” is the New “Yes””

  1. Good post. I love what John Ortberg says about leadership, “Leadership is disappointing people at pace they can handle”. I think it has to do with the “No” thing!


  2. This is a really well written post. It flows perfectly throughout the post and it not only points out a problem, but provides a solution as well. I also really love the colors in your theme. -But that’s just my personal taste.

    I liked it (:

    -Michaela Jayne


  3. I have been indebted to Lewis Timberlake who introduced the “Wheel of Life” to me over 30 years ago. With it I have established priorities that are easy to remember under pressure and, if recorded using modern technology, ie your computer, are easy to change if needed. In addition to Timberlake, Covey and Mandino are important authors that led to my blog:


    For ideas on effectiveness; describes the life strategies and ideas that resonated with me.


  4. I fully agree. Saying “no” was one of the most important lessons I ever learned. Otherwise I stretched myself to thinly and ended up not being happy in anything as I was to busy rushing to the next thing.

    Such an important lesson. Thanks for posting.


  5. Thanks for the thought. Today, I have decided to say NO to my bad habit of vulgar language. I think I have been using it to gain attention. As of today it is over. Hope this new resolution works for me.


  6. Saying “No” is always a challenge for me, even when I know it’s the right thing to do. Thanks for the reminder, and the thoughts on what saying no looks like. Saying no is definitely easier when you know what your priorities are, and how best to invest time and energy. Learning how to be okay with disappointing people is a tough one – but necessary. Great post.


  7. “…live proactively rather than reactively.”

    That’s huge! It’s not something your taught in school, but one of the most important skills for success in life.


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