Believe It or Not, Success and Happiness Requires a “No”

Are you the kind of person who says “yes” to things before you know if you have the time and energy for them?  If so, you’re in good company. Lots (and lots) of people make commitments they probably shouldn’t. They do it for reasons that make sense in the moment…they want to help, don’t want to be a disappointment, feel the need to prove something, FOMO (fear of missing out) or just plain old fear of saying “no,” and suffering a negative consequence. Most often, we say “yes,” with good intentions, an easily delivered commitment makes us look and feel good in the moment. Yet what if it really does the opposite? What if I told you that your freely given “yes,” might actually be the thing standing in the way of your own personal success?

A “yes” is a promise – and overpromising can have negative consequences throughout your life, including limiting your career. Nobody wants to disappoint others, yet trying to do everything asked of you and please all your stakeholders all the time will lead to burnout and mediocrity. Overcommitment can also lead to deeply rooted feelings of insecurity, resent, stress and insufficiency.

Improper commitment has negative consequences. I’ve highlighted just a few examples below, yet the list is really limitless…

  • A “yes” to the wrong thing…
    • Steals time away from doing the right things.
    • Takes more energy for you to complete.
    • Creates stress and frustration.
  • A “yes” for the wrong reason can…
    • Lead to resentment that can interfere with a healthy relationship.
    • Create a situation which highlights a weakness.
    • Leave you with unmet expectations.
  • Too many “yesses” at work and…
    • Label you as tactical, not strategic – limits advancement.
    • Not enough time for self, family and friends – creates guilt, isolation and stress.
    • No ability to focus – making it difficult to deliver your commitments on time, target and budget.
    • You let people down – building a reputation as nice, yet unreliable.

Time is a resource we say we value, yet give away without regard. Let’s change that. When you begin making commitments with real consideration for all of the implications, a lot of positive things begin to happen for you. You FEEL better about your commitments, you spend more time doing the things you actually WANT to do, you have ENERGY for your tasks, you have TIME to think, your family and friends get a BETTER, less frazzled slice of your time. Over time, a steady habit of healthy promises gives your career a competitive edge, too. You become more personally confident and trustworthy to others. People trust you for important things and you become a trusted advisor to your boss, team members, clients and team.

Commitment is a good and healthy thing, you simply want to focus your commitments on the ideal activities, events and people. So the key becomes knowing what to say yes to and how to say no when you have to…or want to.

Determining what to say “no” to is the most important step. First and foremost, always give yourself time to reflect before making a commitment. It can be five minutes, five hours or five days depending on the size of the request – just build a habit of giving yourself space from the requestor – literally get out of their presence so you can process the request and respond optimally. Build up a repertoire of phrases like these:

  • Neutral –  “Let me think through that for a minute and I’ll let you know if I can commit.”
  • Positive lean – “I’d like to do that, give me time to double check my commitments and I’ll confirm whether I can or not by…X time.”
  • Negative lean – “I believe I am already booked, however let me double check my commitments and see if I can help.”

Getting clear on what constitutes an ideal “yes” may take some time at first, yet it really isn’t hard. Even better, it’s kind of fun to think of what you will say “no” to. I am a reformed over-committer, and when I started building up a better habit; I was at a point where I didn’t have a whole lot of options – and with that kind of “permission,” making the choices were really easy. About five years ago I received a cancer diagnosis and I knew immediately that a.) it was a yellow light, not a red one. And b.) I needed to make some strategic choices – fast.  As a business owner and coach, I literally couldn’t afford to take months off to get healthy. Instead, I had to genuinely value my time and make the most of it so that I could attend my responsibilities AND get healthy. It took me about 30 minutes to decide what (and who) stayed and what went. I graduated clients who didn’t need me anymore, I cluster booked the rest so that I only worked alternating weeks, I reduced all non-essential commitments and I created time for family, friends and health. As I made these changes, I wrote out the pros and cons of the decisions and made each into a permission slip – I called them my Pink Permission Slips – the things I wanted to do and the things I didn’t.  Here’s the wonderful thing: I went about executing my changes and no one pushed back, no one even asked why I was no longer as flexible or available as I once was and no one knew I had cancer.  This was a powerful lesson for me; I thought I would need to play the “cancer card,” but I didn’t.  So I am passing this jewel on to you that you may shine brightly doing the things you love — you don’t need to have cancer or be ill in order to make value-oriented decisions about your time.

“All you need is to decide what to do with the time that is given to you.” Gandalf, LOTR.