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The power of saying NO

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

Saying no is scary but applying the 'less but better' principle of essentialism could be life-changing for you...

We end up doing everything but not achieving anything, not enjoying anything, not feeling anything and not having the energy we want in our lives. We’re a society of ‘yes’ people, clicking like on the quote on boundaries on Instagram and yet working evenings and weekends, laughing to keep other people comfortable at social occasions we don’t want to attend.

Boundaries and self-care are not (just) bubble baths. We forget and give away our power of choice. And when we do this, other people will make those choices for us - always. How about if saying no was the norm, and there was more play, sleep, clarity and progress in our lives?

Enter the concept of essentialism. Summed up by this ‘less but better’.

I’ve been exploring this concept and it fascinates me. I’m not naive enough to think that these practices will transform my life overnight; in a life and with behaviours that have been conditioned otherwise. But even taking a breath before I say ‘yes’ is a start.

1. Recognise that the vast majority of things are not important

There is this fallacy in our lives where we get so caught up in the minutiae that the little things become the be all and end all. They must be done. We think they are essential. The truth, the vast majority of things are not essential. I find this question helps ‘what are the dire, irreversible, life-changing consequences of not doing this?’. Usually the answer is none! And therefore I get to choose to reframe my perspective around this activity. It might be nice to get done, but it is certainly not essential.

2. Which problem do I want?

There is a trade off in every decision. When we are trying to do it ALL there are trade offs. Yes we might think we can just do both, power through, but the reality is, we’ll miss the deadline, we’ll miss bedtime with the children, we’ll be perpetually late, we’ll lead busy lives we don’t enjoy and we’ll let people down. By saying yes to one opportunity, by definition we are saying no to others. This is the trade-off. We either make the hard choices for ourselves - by design, and not default - or our bosses, families, customers etc will make them for us. And dealing with the reality of those multiple automatic trade-offs further down the line is going to HURT far more long term than the discomfort of the hard decision in the short term.

Take health as an example - if you neglect when you're young and fit, there's no active decision or commitment to it and by default it is always bottom of the list - then the ultimate outcome is potentially poor health in later years. Yes, there may be factors we do not have control over in our health and taking care of ourselves is not a guarantee we won't get sick when we're older, but that doesn't remove the power and impact our daily choices (or lack of them).

3. Explore, play, sleep

The tired, overworked, emotionally and physically exhausted person does not make good decisions. In order to be able to discern the trivial many from the vital few, we need to explore with freedom, creativity and play. We need to rest and sleep. You are not some freak of nature that means your system runs optimally without these. Many people live in such a dearth of them that actually they don’t know how GOOD it feels to actually have a reality with them.

4. Eliminate the unnecessary

In my coaching, I often use the idea of ‘gateway’ decisions. One decision that makes a thousand future decisions for you. It might be changing the size of your plates, or it might be finding true clarity of purpose. If your vision is to get strong, then the myriad of diets and exercise options evaporate - you train heavy, you eat protein and you rest. In building your business, if your purpose is to serve new mums, you say no to every other opportunity to not serve that niche.

Please people, recognise there is power in a graceful ‘no’. I know many, myself included, really struggle with saying no. We don’t want to disappoint, we might fear we’ll lose the relationship, or that we’re a bad person for saying no. Saying no in reality, however, engenders respect, not the other way round. A clear ‘no’ can be more graceful than a vague, non-committal ‘yes’.

Some top tips of how to say no:

  • I am flattered that you thought of me but I just don’t have the availability/capacity right now

  • I would very much like to but I’m overcommitted right now

  • I am going to pass on this

  • Let me check my calendar and get back to you

  • Yes, what should I de-prioritise? (can work well in a work setting; it makes the requestee aware of the trade-off)

  • Count to three before saying anything

  • Practice saying no to email requests/via email first

  • I can’t do it but ____ might be interested

5. The genius of routine

It’s not a coincidence that my business is called ‘the plan’. Because life is better with a plan. Plans or routines allow behaviours to flow and the outcome just becomes an extension of the routine. Take the Olympian athlete such as Michael Phelps; we know many of them have routines and rituals on race day, which involve mind as well as body, and his routine was ingrained over years. Winning just becomes the extension of all of these practices. Routines are not boring or restrictive; there is more freedom in flow. And flow comes from not having to think about the basics.

Are you ready to embrace ‘less but better’? Where will you start?

All of the main ideas from this blog have been taken from ‘Essentialism - the disciplined pursuit of less’ by Greg McKeown (I do not claim them as my own) and I highly recommend this as a read for anyone wanting to delve further into this.



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