Over the past two days, multiple sources (blog articles on LinkedIn, memes, customers at my workplace) have told me that one of the biggest keys to success is the habit of saying “no.”
This gives me pause.
I have spent most of my life saying “yes” to just about everyone and everything, with mixed results. When you need money, you will say “yes” to just about any legitimate-sounding offer of work. When you are lonely, you will go along with someone else’s ideas of fun. In my experience, these “yes” moves have mostly introduced me to things I never would have tried and brought good things into my life. I’m glad I said “yes.”
But, what about saying “no”? I look back at some of the biggest moments I have said “no,” and see those might have had an even more profound effect on my life than the times I have said “yes.” There was the time I decided not to go to my parents’ alma mater for college, or the time I ended a very serious relationship that had been headed toward marriage. Those “no’s” were dramatic, but I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t said them.
While saying “yes” has brought hope and possibilities into my life, saying “no” has closed doors and burned bridges, which helped me identify what I really wanted out of life. Saying “no” helped me move forward by taking away the anxiety of having too many choices to make.
I’ve always been reluctant to say “no,” except on the topics I consider “unquestionable,” such as my faith and what I believe God has told me to do. Lately, I’ve been seeing that I need more and better boundaries. A lack of good boundaries have left me feeling off-balance, and parts of my life have been brought to a standstill by indecision in these moments. Maybe, (and it is even hard to write this) I should be saying “no” a little more often.
I recently read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, and Unashamed by Christine Caine. Both books reinforce this concept in their own ways, and called some areas of my life into question.
I decided to push back, and start saying “no” when I was justified. This has turned out to be a harder project than I realized.
I started small, by donating a lot of belongings I owned because of guilt or “making do” or “because someone else insisted” (I may blog about this soon). I signed up for a dance class, started learning FreeCAD software, and checked out books on grant writing and e-publishing because I had let habit and lack of experience take the place of real decision making. I have started to redraw some life boundaries and say “no” to some things when I had been putting that off. I’ve started very, very small, but I’ve started.
Even though I’m not the expert on “no,” and I’ve got a long way to go, I thought I’d share some questions I’ve been asking myself when trying to decide whether to say “yes” or “no.”
- Am I saying “yes” just to please other people? God has called us to be kind and accommodating to our fellow man, but He didn’t tell us that we cannot say “no.” Let me say it again! “No” is not an unchristian word! Being afraid to displease others can be a kind of bondage that ties us to their whims and sets us against our own consciences sometimes. God has given us free will, but He did it so we could trust and obey Him, and achieve the things He prepared in advance for us to do.
- What will I lose when I say “no”? It’s biblical to count the costs, but I have a problem with exaggerating them in my mind. This question is good for giving yourself some reality therapy. A decision to ignore some well-meant but misguided advice on a trivial matter should not (in normal events) end a relationship.
- What will I gain if I say “no”? If, in the last example, saying “no” ended that relationship, perhaps you gained some freedom from a toxic relationship. Most of the time, the benefit is seen more in free time to do other things or clearer goal-setting, and these are very valuable in my efforts to reach my full God-given potential.
- Why am I afraid to say “no”? This question has helped me figure out what was holding me back in relationships, in career choices, and even in small lifestyle decisions like sorting clothing to wear or to give away. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV).
- Have I said “yes” to avoid something else? I’ll admit to having said “yes” to things, simply because they would be nice distractions from the task at hand, which I didn’t want to face. This question is to help me refocus on the goal and deal with why I am actively avoiding it.
I think there is truth in this statement that “no” is the key to success, but I’m still working on it.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, including any revealing questions you’d like to add to my list. Leave me a comment!