The Power of No

I have a confession to make. I have a bad habit that I’ve have been struggling with for years. It is something so small, yet so pervasive that it can slowly wreak havoc on your life. It can affect your health, your happiness and your overall well-being.

I am plagued with the inability to say ‘no’.

It’s true. I’m a ‘yes person’. I’m not quite sure how this happened exactly. Perhaps it’s genetic. After all, my Mother rarely said ‘no’ growing up. She wore many hats (and still does) — she balanced four kids, church events and school activities, all while helping my Dad on the farm.

Or, maybe my struggle with saying ‘no’ comes from working at a long line of jobs where we always said ‘yes’, no matter how impossible the task or time frame.

No matter where this habit came from, I have learned how challenging it can be and the difficult effects it can have on your life.

The Trouble With Yes

Yes, I’ll bake cookies for the bake sale.
Yes, I’ll volunteer my services for your project.
Yes, I’ll go to lunch and let you pick my brain.
Yes, I’ll host the party at my house.
Yes, I’ll write a guest post for your blog.

Wait a minute. This sounds good, right? Not exactly. The problem with constantly saying ‘yes’ is that it can leave you tired, burned out, frustrated and give you an overall feeling that you’ve been used. It’s like everyone keeps taking from your well of resources and then there’s not a drop left for YOU.

The more you say ‘yes’, the less joy you have in doing the things you agreed to do. Think about it. When you ‘yes’ to everything, it has a trickle down effect — your schedule becomes packed and you start running out of time to cross off all of the items on your to-do list. You start staying up later to get everything done. Maybe you quit exercising or you sacrifice time with your family or friends so you can squeeze in one more activity. You become resentful because you are giving so much, but feel you’re getting nothing in return.

You see the trouble here?

Why You Should Say No

So, why is it so important to start saying no?

It allows you to say YES to the things that really matter.

Let me repeat that — Saying ‘No’ allows you to say ‘YES’ to the things that are truly important to you like your family, friends, hobbies and things that make you happy.

If you’re like me, you love to give. It gives you great joy to help others. And, we love the response we get from others when we do it. Those are all good things.

However, saying ‘yes’ is easy. It gives you instant gratification — like eating a candy bar now and regretting it later.

Saying ‘no’ is much harder because we don’t like to disappoint people. We don’t want to ruffle feathers and we hate confrontation. But if we want to grow, to move forward and not settle for the status quo, we have to learn how to do it.

With my marketing business, I have a principle for determining when to take on a new client. I choose to only work with people I enjoy and businesses I believe in. Does that mean I will say ‘no’ to some potential clients that will come my way? Sure. But, that allows me to work with businesses I’m excited to help, which means I will give each client my all and be able to really make a difference for that business.

When to Say ‘No’

How do you determine how or when to say ‘no’? Here are three questions you should ask yourself before saying ‘yes’:

1. Will it help you reach your goals?

When an opportunity presents itself, consider the vision you have for your life. Ask yourself how this activity will impact your journey to get where you want to be. Although we shouldn’t always think about what’s in it for ourselves, we should also avoid taking on things that will prevent us from accomplishing our goals.


2. Will it give me joy?

Oftentimes, we agree to take on tasks because we feel obligated to. Don’t. This will only make you resent the task or the person who asked you. Say ‘yes’ when you are excited to do so. You’ll be much happier to do the task that way.

3. Do I have the time?

If you truly don’t have the time to take on one more activity, speak up. Be honest and let the person know if you don’t have time. Or mention that you would like to help, but at a later time. Agreeing to do something that you don’t have the time to do will drain your energy and you’ll be on the fast track to burnout.

Saying No Gracefully

Even if you have determined that you should say ‘no’ to something, it’s much harder to actually pull the trigger. However, there are a few things you can do to say ‘no’ respectfully:

  • Thank the person for thinking of you. If someone has asked for your assistance, it means they respect you and your abilities. Acknowledge that and thank the person for asking.
  • Explain why you’re saying ‘no’. You don’t have to offer a lengthy explanation, but let the person know why you’re declining. This helps the person better understand your situation so they know your time constraints or priorities the next time around as well.
  • Offer an alternative. Suggest someone else who can help or provide another resource for where they can find assistance. You are still being helpful if you can suggest a way to meet the person’s needs, even if that person isn’t you.

Admittedly, I haven’t perfected the art of saying ‘no’, but this is something I am working on so I achieve the life I want for myself and my family. Learning to say ‘no’ is a big part of that as it will allow me to be healthier, happier and more focused in 2011.

Do you have trouble saying ‘no’?

What about you? Do you struggle with saying ‘no’? When is it hardest for you to say ‘no’? Is saying ‘yes’ too much holding you back? Share your thoughts and questions and let’s tackle this together!


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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

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