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The Power of No

by | Process

What are you saying “no” to in your life?

It’s something. It has to be, because whenever you say yes to something, you are implicitly saying no to something else.

You only have so much energy, focus, and time to go around, so when you decide – which means to “cut off” – it’s a form of saying “no”.

However, what I’ve discovered over time is that many people allow their life to become cluttered with yes’s by default. These are passive yes’s, not active ones. They are living with a decision they made months or years ago, and are not making the effort to re-visit whether it’s still the right decision.

I’d challenge you over the coming week to look at all of your commitments, and ask “which of these is a passive, assumptive ‘yes’ that I need to change to ‘no’ so I have more energy to focus on what matters?”

When you prune, new growth emerges. Practice pruning this week.

Question: What are you going to say “no” to this week? Leave a comment below.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. Emily Sokolow

    Love this advice – came at a great time for me as I’m working to declutter my calendar (and brain) from obligations that don’t put me closer to my larger goals. Thanks for sharing!

    • Todd Henry

      Emily, in truth I was writing this with one finger pointed in my own chest too. :)

  2. Jake Jorgovan

    This is a huge struggle for me currently Todd. I know what you are saying but it is often so much harder in practice.

    For me, the hardest ‘no’ is to paid work. Sometimes it doesn’t align in any way with where I want to go in my life, but it’s so hard to just turn down the money. It’s a great problem to have too much opportunity, but I find saying yes to these scenarios often leads me stray from my true desired path.

    Thanks for always putting out great content!

    • A City Of Bridges

      I personally identify with this. I find it a lot easier to turn down work that is not in line with my values these days – as a direct result of graduating from a paycheck-to-paycheck mentality to that of a net-worth mentality. The money in the bank isn’t buying me things, it’s buying me options, the ability to say no. I do not know your situation, but I always support re-examining ones relationship with finances.

  3. Brandon M

    currently on vacation with my family. My associate texted this afternoon asking if I had time to talk (about business matters), I told him I didn’t. I could have taken the time to talk shop, because my kids were off occupied, so I did have a free moment, but after just reading this post, I made the decision to really set the boundaries of work and vacation. Work will still be there Monday ( I hope).

  4. ellieclemens

    I’m retired, so luckily I have lots more time than back when I was working. But I still find I have to say No a lot. There are things I consider important: I study sciences and math, and I also am a professional artist so I paint. And I’ve spent the last four months writing a novel. Probably another month will finish the first draft. What to I say No to? Pretty much everything except these things. Do I want to go out in the evening? Maybe, but that would mean I’d be too tired to work very effectively the next day. So I do this a few times a year at most. I meet people for lunch instead, but even at that I limit it.

    I do spend some time working on the website for the art society I’m part of but that’s pretty much a once a year task. I work on the novel for two hours every morning as soon as I get up. I then move to my studio to work on art. I fit in the studying in various places in the day, sometime while I’m still in bed in the morning. we record TV shows and watch them in the late afternoon and early evening, and then I read for a couple of hours before going to sleep. I actually find it easy to say No, because I’d much rather be doing these things than anything else. I even begrudge the time spent grocery shopping!

    I think the best strategy is to make No the default. Something other than my interests has to really convince me that it’s worth doing. Luckily, my husband has pretty much the same attitude towards social life. :-)

    • Bob Caples

      “make No the default.” This is smart; inertia is working for you. You have to DO something to say yes.

  5. Bob Caples

    This, in particular, was very helpful to me: “It has to be, because whenever you say yes to something, you are implicitly saying no to something else.” It sort of solves the problem, if you’re a “yes” person.

  6. Bob Caples

    Maybe one should displace the no decision with the yes decision, so you feel like you’re saying yes rather than no. I dunno, maybe.

    • ellieclemens

      Yes, I like that idea. Make ‘Yes’ something special.

  7. Maria Gatling

    I am saying YES to more real face to face time with family and close friends….and that weeds out the virtual world of noise of which very little really matters. Reading your weekly news matters. Great advise and always a good reminder!

  8. Twaambo

    ah the struggle is real. Saying no to being a part of other peoples projects whilst keeping my own on the back burner. This will in turn replenish my soul and get more clear on what I need to do.

  9. Alyson Hinkie

    I started this practice – determined decluttering – a few years ago. The thing I have found is that you have to have the guts to say no to some things over and over again. It’s the constant creep of the yeses, and to keep it at bay, you have to reevaluate your priorities almost daily. Thanks for the great reminder.

  10. Adam Thomas

    When I read this I felt like I swallowed some bad milk.

    I needed to hear this. My life has been me saying yes to the wrong things and saying no to the wrong things for the entirety of my 20’s.

    This week, I will be saying no to a comedy show I was going to perform in, when I should be spending my Tuesday night getting my goals for the week in order. These goals are leading me to create systems that will push me into complete freedom. As you know these things take a lot of work and dedication, and saying yes passively to things based on expectations is an easy way to blindly go through life.

    I will be working on making no the default so that the best opportunities come to me instead of saying yes to what comes by.

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