Learning to say “No”

No. One of the first words every child learns, but a word so many grown-ups are struggling with every day. Many of us just never learned to say no. 

Instead, we learned that it is rude to not help someone asking for a favour. We feel committed to friends, partners and colleagues. And we believe we best live up to their expectations by saying Yes to as many of their demands as possible. 

But we all have limited resources. Time, energy and focus are finite and the more responsibilities we take on, the more will those resources be scattered. Trying to do everything can very well lead to doing nothing whole-heartedly. 

We need to say No more to everything that does not matter if we want to do the things well that matter. 

One “Yes” means a hundred “No”s

This of course is easier said than done. Everyone approaches you thinking their request is important. It is therefore up to you what you focus your attention on. You need to know what your goals in life are and what actions will have the most impact on reaching those. And then you need to start saying No. A lot. You should say No to almost everything in life, in order to do be able a few things really well. 

Just think about it. In order to become great in one career we say No to all other possible careers. In order to have a strong and solid relationship with one partner we say No to all other possible partners. In order to master one sport, we neglect most others.  

Excellence comes with saying No. And few knew that better than Steve Jobs. When he came back to Apple in 1997 his first action was to discontinue most of the product portfolio. And yes, he pissed people off. He cancelled products that people had been working on for years. But he felt that this was necessary in order to do just a few things really, really well. And we all know how the story continued from there. iPod, iPhone and iPad took the world by storm, making Apple the most valuable company in the world right now. 

Become a “No” man

So where do you go from here? It is simple: think about the few things in your life you want to invest time in. Not 20 things, not 10. The fewer the better.  And then start saying No to everything else. You will free up time for yourself and for the things and people in your life that truly matter. You owe that to yourself. 


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