NO. Two letters with a whole lot of strength.
YES! gets a lot of coverage. Yes, supports courage, possibility, adaptability and an approach to life that is expansive and positive. No, however, gets a raw deal. No is misunderstood, it is often construed as negative and as a consequence, often shunned in a way that is unhealthy.
At its core, NO, is a declaration of independence. A clear boundary between oneself and the influence of others. Ask any parent of a young toddler, no doubt they will ‘celebrate’ their tots moment of clear choice, their declarations of independence as they figure out how their actions can shape their world!
Yet along the path to adulthood, many of us absorb the equally powerful truth that No is not a warm send nor is it always easily received. There is often immediate gratification and popularity in saying Yes. We learn to shy away from asserting our clear position in favour of the path of least resistance.
The problem with this approach is that when you cannot say No to others, you disappear. You allow yourself to be diverted from your own values and goals by the opinion of others. In effect, NO is a self-responsible, powerful but lonely acknowledgement. It clearly asserts ‘this is who I am’ and 'this is what I stand for'. While yes is generally associated with being liked by others, “liking yourself sometimes comes only from saying No,” says Dr. Judith Sills PhD in her wonderful article on the Power of No.
It took me a very long time to come to appreciate the beauty of NO. If I’m honest I was forced into it. The increasing demands of a life with a with a big family, a career and my own high expectations of myself led to a period in my life where I was overstressed and unhappy basically because I was spread way to thin. While outwardly I was thriving, inwardly I was constantly frustrated and irritable feeling unable to fulfill any of my commitments to a level that I was satisfied with. So, I moved away. I physically eliminated many of the distractions in my life so that my only focus could be my immediate family and my work. It worked! It was also a bit of a cope out.
The simple truth is that excellence is hard. If you want to set yourself to a high standard, it takes work, practice and a lot of time. It requires that you specialize rather than being average (or even good!) at everything. It demands the self-discipline and space provided by the limits of NO. While it implicitly brings loss- you may miss out on things you’d like to do in the short term- ultimately it takes personal responsibility for your priorities, goals and values. Ironically, the rewards are less hard fought, productivity and a greater peace of mind naturally flow from a place of focus.
In my own quest I am still taking baby steps. I often say “let me think about it” in part to give myself time to think reflectively but also to soften the blow. I try to remember that no makes yes more meaningful. Says organizational psychologist Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, “when we say Yes thoughtfully, because we are giving in our area of expertise, rather than saying Yes out of a need to be liked, we are far more apt to feel satisfied by giving”.
Little by Little. Regret is always worse than the risk.