We live during an age when we are bombarded with hundreds of opportunities every day for ways in which we could spend our money, time, and energy. There are numerous advantages to having so many opportunities right in front of us, including the option to, in the case of choosing a restaurant, make a selection based on whatever we feel like eating that day. But there are also numerous disadvantages, especially for people who struggle to say “No.”
We all know we need to say “No” sometimes, but few of us are good at it saying “No” when we really need to say it. In this article, I’ll be sharing why it’s important to say “No,” digging into some of the reasons why we don’t say “No,” and sharing some ideas based on my experiences to help you develop a strategy for saying “Yes” to the right things and “No” to the wrong things.
Why It’s Important to Say No
It goes without saying that resources such as money, time, and energy are scarce. They always have been and always will be. It’s amazing to think about all the things on which we could possibly spend these resources.
What would happen if we never said “No” to anything? How quickly would our finite resources disappear? I’ll use yesterday as an example. If I wouldn’t have said “No” to anything yesterday, I would’ve built an entire ecommerce website instead of only working on it for an hour, talked with a friend for an hour instead of a half hour, made Amy a three-course meal for dinner rather than something simple, bought hundreds of dollars-worth of groceries, completed two loads of laundry, vacuumed the floors in our house, pressure washed the siding, painted our hallway, and written this article. And those are just the big items; there are plenty more smaller things I would’ve done too.
What would’ve happened if I attempted to accomplish all those things yesterday? I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get them all done, and the things I got done wouldn’t have been done well. And that was only for one day. Think about what would happen if I went for days or weeks or years without saying “No.” How hectic would my life be? I’d be so busy and worn out that I wouldn’t be able to do much of anything. Not to mention that I’d fail to say “Yes” to the things to which I really want to say “Yes.”
This is a place where I’ve found myself and where many of you find yourselves. Some of us have a very hard time saying “No,” especially to good things and/or to people we love. But if we never say “No,” then we’re going to find ourselves completely spent and burnt out to the point where we’ll be unable to function. If we’re going to be able to spend our resources on the great things in life, we’re going to have to learn how to say “No” to everything else.
Why We Struggle to Say No
In order to overcome our struggles to say “No,” we must gain some insight on why it’s so hard for us. So I’m challenging you to do some deep introspection to get to the bottom of why you say “Yes” to some things and “No” to others.
One of the biggest reasons I struggle to say “No” is that there are so many things I want to do. When a friend asks me to go to lunch, I want to do that. When a teammate asks me to play hockey, I want to do that. When Amy asks me to spend some quality time together, I want to do that. When someone asks me to help them solve a problem, I want to do that. All of these things are good things, but I never have the resources available to do everything I want to do. Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”
Another reason I’ve found myself struggling to say “No” is that I don’t want to disappoint people, especially the ones I’m trying to impress. I’ve often found myself in situations where someone will ask me to do something and I really don’t have the resources to do it, but I’ve done it anyway because I didn’t want to disappoint them. Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”
In my former life, I struggled to say “No” when I was asked to do something connected with the church or charitable organizations. For some reason, I had it in my head for many years that I was called to take every opportunity to serve God through serving at my church and serve others by volunteering to help them. We can become so invested in serving God and others that we miss out on opportunities to spend quality time with him. If you’d like to read a more detailed explanation of this topic, I’d encourage you to check out my article entitled Can We Be Too Busy Doing Things for God? Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”
A reason I’ve seen some of my friends struggle with saying “No” is that they feel like they have to say “Yes” in order to continue getting what they want from another person. For example, someone may want acceptance and finds someone who accepts them. But that acceptance may be conditional meaning that the person has to continue saying “Yes” in order to continue being accepted. The moment the person says “No” will be the moment he or she is no longer accepted. Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”
These are only a few of the many reasons why we may struggle to say “No.” Before you move on to the next section of this article, I encourage you to spend at least a few minutes thinking about why you struggle saying “No” to some of the people in your life.
How to Say Yes to the Right Things and No to the Wrong Things
As I watch people attempt to navigate their way through life, I’ve discovered that most people really don’t have a vision for where they want to go in their life. We only have one life. It started at some point and it’s going to end at some point. What’s your objective for the time in between? Since “right” and “wrong” in this sense are relative terms, the answer to this question will determine what’s “right” and “wrong” when it comes to saying “Yes” and “No.”
As a disciple of Jesus, my vision for my life is to look more and more like Jesus every single day. I seek to accomplish this objective by worshiping him every minute of every day through things such as spending time with God, being in community and fellowship with other Christians, and participating with Jesus in his earthly mission. More specifically, I intentionally read my Bible every day, spend time with Amy, spend time with friends, play hockey, build websites, write blog posts, and am on the board at Habitat for Humanity. These activities all provide me with opportunities to worship God through the three things I mentioned above. There are so many other things I could do with my resources, but those are the only ones I’m doing right now because that’s about as much as I can do while maintaining a healthy life.
When I’m asked to do something, this is what I use to determine whether I should say “Yes” or “No.” Currently, my plate is full, so there’s no room to add anything else without removing something. If I decide I want to say “Yes” to something else, then I have to decide what thing I’m currently doing which I will no longer do. It’s very hard to pass up on good things that I’d like to do, but that’s what I need to do in order to continue maintaining a physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy lifestyle; I have to say “No” to good things in order to say “Yes” to the best things.
If you struggle to say “No” or don’t know what things to say “No” to, I’d encourage you to start by determining your vision for your life. I hope you’ll spend more than 5 minutes developing this vision. More than likely, it’ll take you a few months or even a few years to come up with it, which is perfectly okay.
Once you have set your vision, think about how, on a higher level, you might be able to accomplish this vision. For example, I determined that accomplishing my vision was going to involve worshiping Jesus every minute of every day by spending time with God, spending time in community and fellowship with other Christians, and participating with Jesus in his mission. Make sure these items are broad enough to include a wide range of activities so that you don’t limit yourself to only a few activities.
After you determine how you’re going to get there, then weigh every opportunity that comes your way against your objective and sub-objectives. Do you think this new opportunity will lead you closer to your objective? Remember, there are lots of “good” things we can do. But simply doing “good” things isn’t what we’re trying to accomplish. What if you have the opportunity to give up something “good” for something “great?” This is where I’d encourage you to ask whether this new opportunity will accomplish your vision better than something else you’re currently doing. If so, then you’ll probably want to say “Yes” to it and “No” to the other thing.
A Word of Caution
Before I conclude, I want to make a few clarifications on this topic because I could see how this discussion could be misinterpreted. My proposed strategy isn’t intended to be enslaving. If it becomes enslaving, then ditch it. What I’ve presented is intended to set you free; free from the feeling that you have to say “Yes” to things to which you really want to say “No.” By having a vision for where you want to go, you have the freedom to say “No” and have a logical explanation for why you made that decision, recognizing that you’re trading it for something better.
I’m not encouraging you to become inflexible. An inflexible person is someone who doesn’t consider any additional options because his plate is already full. A flexible person is someone whose plate is full, but is willing to consider an option and say “No” to another one when a better one comes along.
Lastly, I’m not encouraging you to ditch your commitments midway through completing them if a better option comes along. There may be times you have to do this, but it probably shouldn’t be the norm. Instead, I’d encourage you to complete your commitment, and then say “No” to similar future commitments. For example, if you’re serving a one year term in a leadership role for a non-profit organization and realize 6 months into it that there’s another opportunity which will help you better accomplish your vision, I’d encourage you to complete your term, and say “No” when asked to serve another term.
What did you learn about yourself from this article? How will you apply the things you’ve learned so that you can be more willing to say “Yes” and “No” when needed?