I love the saying, “Say no to the good, so you can say yes to the best” by John C. Maxwell. What exactly does this mean and how can you start using no as your superpower?
It has taken me decades to get to the point where I say no to pretty much everything; I know you are thinking, how boring?
Please allow me to explain.
I used to be the “yes” person, no was not in my vocabulary.
The girl who said yes to every invitation, yes to every event, yes to working late and going to endless meetings, yes to another bottle of wine, yes to doing every single task on my to-do list regardless of priority, yes to listening to all the opinions of others and not my own, yes to eating crappy food, donuts, and just one more snack, it was yes yes yes all the time. This behavior was exhaustive and it also gave away my power to external things and people in my life. I felt out of control, stressed, and didn’t understand what was happening.
It had to take many iterations of this cycle until I realized I was saying yes to everyone else’s needs and disregarding my own. This looked like prioritizing other’s emergencies and must do’s at the forefront of my existence; not to mention fueling my worthiness from the accomplishments for others. Talk about feeling exhausted and out of sorts!
This slowly began to change when I started my personal development and spiritual journey after stepping down from managing a large nonprofit where I was in continuous yes mode. Consequently, I had A LOT of time to reflect on what is important to me in this season of life (I had a newborn and a pre-schooler at the time) and start getting curious on what was next for me. Before this big step, I felt like everything was already laid out for me and I would continue down this path. Very closed and fixed minded thinking on my part.
It took years to flex this newfound ‘no’ muscle.
Why it took so long I now understand; I was lacking clarity and specificity on what I wanted. I even wrote a blog post about clarity here. I was operating from a complicated system of outdated beliefs, scarcity, and grinding to execute what felt exhaustive to me. This was very perplexing as I am highly organized, very structured, and disciplined in certain areas of my life. I had no idea that my lack of clarity and inability to say no was keeping me from taking action in the places where I wanted to gain serious traction.
So how do you put this saying no business into practice?
The first step is to do a big brainstorm, what I call the brain dump. This is where you write out all of your current tasks, responsibilities, duties, activities (don’t leave out the fun/hobbies), and wants on a big sheet of paper. This is for the present season in your life. How you capture this time period is up to you, however to get started I recommend weekly intervals. You may want to do this for a day, a month, 3 months, a year. There’s no wrong way of doing this, really. I also encourage you to WRITE and not type. This is a special energy release doing it this way. Don’t overthink the brain dump and do it when you have the mental and emotional energy. In other words, don’t try this when you have only 5 minutes to spare. This is a practice which takes patience and time so go easy on yourself.
Once you feel like you have captured the above in your handwriting, and if this is applicable, write out the deadlines for these items.
Scan your list and look at everything that is an immediate no. This should be relatively easy; an automatic NO won’t make a difference on whether you get it done this week or put it off for a week or a month. It may keep popping up for you and you know in the back of your mind that it doesn’t have to be addressed, immediately. When you say no to these tasks, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get to it, it’s just not a priority right now. You can look at these no’s as obstacles standing between you and the work that you really want to accomplish. There will be items on your list that you really want to say no to but you will start making excuses and defending why it’s a yes.
Next step. Notice when you are saying no to something, how does your body respond? Observe how it feels. Do you get butterflies in your stomach, or knots and twinges of guilt? Does your heartrate elevate? The first thing is to notice the physiological responses in your body and then move your awareness to what is happening in your mind. Are you making excuses? Are you putting other’s needs in front of your own? Are you choosing to do something instead of this work because you have ridiculously high expectations of the outcome and are afraid it won’t be good enough? All good questions to consider.
One of the biggest productivity killers is procrastination. Procrastination happens when you put something off. Sometimes it’s a matter of simply not ‘feeling like it’ or reluctance to start or keep going because you are so tied to the outcome and the results, the thought of messing it up or failing is paralyzing. Maybe its disappointment, or it not being good enough.
Perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand, and as a recovering perfectionist, I am here to tell you, you will rarely feel like doing the thing. The hype and the mind drama leading up to the minute before you make it happen, is ALWAYS more challenging and worse than just doing it. I used to lay in bed ridden with anxiety because I was so wound up about all the THINGS I needed to do in a day. I lacked prioritization and couldn’t say NO to anything. No wonder why I didn’t want to get out of bed, I was already exhausted just thinking about everything that needed to be done.
Take a moment and consider how much time you think about what you should be doing versus what you are doing and taking action. If you have been putting something off for days or weeks, think about how much time you wasted replaying the thought beginning with, “I should be doing this …. “ and then the barrage of negative feelings that accompany the thought flood your system. You could be finished or on your way to finishing in the time you took making excuses and putting it off.
When doing this work with my life coaching clients, some of them come back with a legitimate reason. Deadlines. They say, I have so much to do for my children, or how do I say no to my boss and the people that rely on me? It’s a great question. Of course, it’s going to be a yes because most likely they are a priority to you. I want to offer you this – it’s not about saying no to everything. It’s weeding out the low grade/value noncontributing tasks that free up space for you to focus your efforts on moving the needle towards completion. Even if you create an extra hour in your day, imagine what you can do with that newfound time. You can use it to accomplish OR use it to do something that fulfills your soul and happiness. Try it, it’s amazing and feels very empowering.
Tap into your superpower and start saying no to the menial stuff.
Say yes to what pushes you forward. If you are ready to start saying no, begin with the easy (no-brainers) first and practice practice practice, because it takes repetition in saying no. Especially if you are someone who says yes to everyone and everything.
Need some guidance and support in flexing your no muscle? I have a lot of practice and want to help you say no to the good, so you can say yes to the best – which is YOU.
Work with me here.