Saying Yes, Saying No

This weekend, I said “no” to socializing, seeing shows, and working. I said “yes” to walking, reading, and writing. Saying no brought up some FOMO (fear of missing out) and self-judgment (I should be able to do it all). But saying no also cleared the space for my yes. Saying yes brought me discovery of my neighborhood, an inspiring book, and immersion in my creative project. The yeses were worth the nos.

If you are an overachiever, a people pleaser, or, dare I say, a female in society today, you may have trouble saying no. Many of us have been raised with the philosophy, “I make other people happy, therefore I am.” The Liz Lemon syndrome–“I can have it all!”–is pervasive.

Learning to saying no isn’t easy. The experience can range from uncomfortable to painful. How do you navigate this? Rename your no as the yes it inherently is. In every no there is a yes, and in every yes there is a no.

The word “decide” has its root in the Latin decider, literally “to cut off.” To be a decisive person requires a steady hand on the shears. What we read, what we watch, with whom we socialize, what we eat, how we exercise–all these micro-choices add up to who we become. The most successful people say no a lot.

As we make empowered choices, as we decide, let’s resist self-judgment. Philosopher Mark Nepo says, “We must give up what no longer works to stay close to what’s sacred.” What’s sacred can also mean “what matters.” Yesterday’s choices were not wrong, they just “no longer work.” As we shed and emerge, let us not shun and shame ourselves. “We cannot bypass the human experience,” he says, “It is the cocoon that releases our spirit.”

Here is a tool from our Next Level Leadership programs that has helped our clients make empowered choices and take doable, impactful action:

Journal Activity: Saying Yes, Saying No

  • Draw a line vertically down the center of your page.
  • On the left, write “Saying Yes” and on the right, “Saying No.”
  • What is one thing you want to add into your life? Think in terms of keystone habits–habits that will lead to other positive changes. Getting more sleep, exercising, and meditation are all examples of keystone habits.
  • Write this desired activity or behavior on the left side under “Saying Yes.”
  • Take a moment to reflect on what adding this to your life will bring. How will you feel? How will it affect other aspects of your life?
  • Now, write down three things to which you can “say no” in order to “say yes” to this.
  • One of these nos can be a feeling—i.e. saying no to feeling guilty.
  • At the bottom of your page, complete the sentence:

“I am saying no to____ to say yes to_______.”