When someone suggests a food we don’t enjoy or our kiddo reaches up to touch the hot surface of the stove, No intuitively rolls off our tongues. We don’t hesitate. We just say it.
But it gets a little hairier when it comes to opportunities and invitations that are appealing. Perhaps a spot opened up on the board of an organization you support, or a potential client just reached out in the hopes of working together. They sound like yes-worthy occasions. Problem is, we’re yessing ourselves to death (or, at least into anxiety-ridden existences).
As an executive and life coach, I witness a whole lot of hemming, hawing, and ultimately regret when it comes to our inability to just say no. Because the hard truth is this: Saying yes to any and every half-decent opportunity that comes our way leaves us overcommitted, spread thin, and burned out. We end up disappointing ourselves and the people who matter most.
Ultimately, if we want to fully participate in our lives and find joy and fulfillment in our jobs, relationships, and everyday responsibilities, we must be willing to turn things down so we can make our yesses count. I’m here to help with three potentially life-changing questions to help you just say no.
Ask yourself these questions before ever letting a yes or no out, and you’ll set yourself up for happy.
1. Does this align with my core values?
Walking away from appealing offers becomes a whole lot easier when we have clarity of purpose, which means we understand and honor our priorities by saying yes only to those things that align with our values.
What are yours? Consider the eight areas that make up the life wheel: family, work, money, personal growth, health and wellness, spirituality, community, and living environment. Pick three, and commit to them, giving yourself permission to say no to the requests, events and openings that fall outside.
This, of course, is nuanced. In this season of my life, I put personal growth, work, and family first. Consequently, I turn down quite a few pro bono speaking opportunities (i.e. community-related offers) because they interfere with time I’d like to spend growing myself, growing my business or with the people I love most. Instead of giving my time, then, I give financially to the causes that inspire me. And I make the occasional exception when it makes sense for my work, or simply because it’s compelling, but not without considerable thought.
Know your core values—and let them guide you.
Walking away from appealing offers becomes a whole lot easier when we have clarity of purpose…
2. If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?
When values compete, saying no gets a whole lot harder. So we have to be vigilant about pinpointing what we’re giving up when we say yes to something—and what we’re gaining by saying no.
Despite my familiarity with this truth, I admittedly still struggle with it. I recently made an exception to my no-pro-bono rule. I agreed to a speaking engagement because the cause inspired me, and I knew I could make some meaningful connections at the event. But as the day approached, I found myself feeling more and more dread. I hadn’t stopped long enough to think about what I’d be giving up: precious weekend time with my family.
When you’re considering something, take a moment to ask yourself what’s at stake. What are you subconsciously telling yourself and those around you when you begrudgingly say yes? (You don’t value your own time or needs.) How will you feel about what you’ve given up in exchange? (Frustrated, depleted.)
As emails flood your inbox at the end of the day and you feel compelled to stick around and reply, pause and consider the cost. If that means missing dinner at home, something you’ve done before and regretted, perhaps the emails can wait.
When you’re considering something, take a moment to ask yourself what’s at stake.
3. How much do I actually want to do this?
We can also more easily avoid regret if we take the time to consider how genuine our desire for something is. I call these “the shoulds”—things we do because we think we should, not because we’ve actually stopped to consider our true feelings.
One of the simplest ways to measure our true desires is to follow Greg McKeown’s 90% rule. In his book Essentialism, McKeown suggests ranking opportunities on a scale from 1 to 100. If the invite or request ranks below a 90, move it to a 0 and politely decline. “If something is just or almost good enough,” he writes, “then the answer should be a no.” This allows you to filter out your watered-down yesses so you have a clear purpose behind each decision.
And I’m here to tell you that this pays off. I once turned down an invite I’d ranked an 87. It was appealing, but it teetered on the edge of being something I really wanted to do. A few weeks later, a total 100 came along. Had I said yes to that 87, I would’ve had to turn the 100 down. It solidified my belief in this rule.
Saying no to the 87s, 65s, and 23s leaves room for the opportunities that significantly impact our lives, and the lives of those around us, in positive ways.
Saying no… leaves room for the opportunities that significantly impact our lives, and the lives of those around us, in positive ways.
As you become more liberal with your no’s, don’t be afraid of “making excuses.” You aren’t—you’re simply speaking your truth. Because ultimately, if you can’t say no, your yes doesn’t mean anything.
I hope you’ll consider these three questions as you navigate this cool thing we call life. And I hope they enable you to honor your values, be more present for the people around you, and feel more confident in your decisions.
Regan Walsh is an executive and life coach, and Forbes contributor, who proudly guides clients worldwide through personal and professional transitions so that they may participate fully in all life has to offer. If you struggle with setting boundaries, download her free guide to shedding the shoulds.