Why Saying No More Isn't Always the Answer


There’s been a lot of talk in the self-development space and the entrepreneurial space over the last few years about saying No more.

It can be an important thing to practice, especially for those of us who say yes too much, who over-extend ourselves, and who happen to be Obligers.  Obligers tend to meet expectations from others, and resist expectations of ourselves, which, if not proactively managed, can be a recipe for exhaustion, burnout, and even resentment if it goes on too long. (If you’d like to explore your own tendency, Gretchen Rubin has a free, and super quick quiz here, as well as a whole book about this framework. I highly recommend both.)

That said, if we focus only on saying No, we miss another, perhaps more important question:

What are we saying Yes to?

I believe this is the question that matters most of all.

Before we start saying No, we first must start saying Yes – to the things that matter most, to the things that align with our values, and to the things we want to create more of in our lives.

Then, from this place, figuring out what to say No to becomes easy. We have filled our time, our calendars, our weeks, and our lives with the things that truly matter. In this model, saying No is less of a difficult decision, and more of a natural outcome.

Here is a process that I find helpful for doing so.

  1. Write down your values. At the end of the day, what matters most to you? What are the things you hold dear? When you strip it all away, what is most important? Write these things down; make a list.
  2. What are the things you’d like to create more of in your life? What are the things that aren’t as present today, but that you wish were?
  3. How can you create the greatest impact? What are you doing when you provide the most value and are operating in line with your purpose?
  4. Now, for all three of the areas above, write down what these things look like in action. What do you do to honor your values? How do you know when you see them? What do they look like on your calendar or in your life? What will it look like when the thing you want more of is present? What will be different? And what do you see when you are aligned with your purpose?

Here are just a few select examples from my list of “things I’d like to create more of in my life.”

What I'd Like to Create More of In My Life

  • Ease

What It Looks Like in Action 

  • Asking “what would this look like if it were easy?”
  • Asking “how could this be simplified??
  • Being mindful about avoiding back-and-forth scheduling nightmares

What I'd Like to Create More of In My Life

  • Time with my family and my sweet nieces

What It Looks Like in Action

  • Combining work travel with family visits when possible
  • Blocking out family visits in advance, and not scheduling over this block
  • Impromptu “let’s meet in XYZ place” meet-ups

What I'd Like to Create More of In My Life

  • Spontaneity

What It Looks Like in Action

  • Avoiding coffee meetings scheduled 6 months into the future and instead meeting up spontaneously when schedules allow
  • White space on my calendar that allows spontaneity to occur
  • Texting girlfriends to say “want to go for a walk?” or “want to grab coffee?”

This year, for example, I have been focusing on creating ways to see my family and my nieces more. Without this intention, this wasn’t happening as often as I’d wanted it to. Last year, my mom and I tried to find a day to bake Christmas cookies together - something we’ve done on and off through the years since I was very little. I couldn’t find a single free day on my calendar prior to the holiday to do so; each day prior to the holiday was booked with something – meetings, client events, or travel. We even tried changing it to “baking Valentine’s Day cookies” and I had a similar challenge. Ultimately, we never baked the cookies together because I couldn’t manage to find one free/unscheduled day in December, January, or February. Around the same time, I had a similar experience when trying to schedule coffee with one of my best friends. I could not find an hour to have coffee on my schedule for weeks….with someone who has been my dear  friend since I was four years old. These situations were not okay with me, and they were a bit of a wake-up call; they prompted me to make some changes in the way that I’m working, the way that I’m scheduling, and the things I’m saying Yes to.

A natural outcome of saying Yes to more time with my family and my nieces is that there are certain things I sometimes need to say No to. For example, I have drastically reduced the number of “can-I-pick-your-brain-coffee-meetings” that I say Yes to (more on that here). While I love meeting new people and truly desire to be helpful, the truth is that by saying Yes to so many coffee meetings over the years, I was being forced to say No to my family and my best friends – an equation that was not okay with me. Today, I focus first on what I’m saying Yes to (the people closest to me in my life – my family, my friends, and my clients), and then, from there, it becomes clear where there might be alignment for another Yes, and where the answer needs to be No. It’s less about the act of saying No, and more about the values-based Yes.

These are just a few examples in my life. For me, this is an ongoing process and is always a work in progress.

The Resonant Yes and the Enlightened No


My invitation for you is to think about your lists. What are your values, and what do they look like in action? What are the things that you’d like to create more of in your life? What are you doing when you’re having the greatest impact? And, are there any areas where your equation is skewed, as it was for me with my mom and my best friend?

Through this process, we create the opportunity to focus on what I call the Resonant Yes and the Enlightened No. The Yes that aligns with the things that really matter, and the No that feels aligned and clear.

What do you think? Are there any Yes's you’d like to create more of in your life? And any No's  that need to take place to make them happen? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.