Have you ever noticed how the smallest words can cause the biggest problems? For many people, the word NO is more akin to a four-letter swear word than a two-letter word. No is a word loaded with baggage like what people will think of me; I can’t say no, it’s not nice or perhaps, I must do my bit or else, so yes, I’ll work late again come in early.

There’s a lot of pressure around, especially for people in mid-career times when kids, home, mortgage and work targets suck up all available time more effectively than the latest cordless vacuum cleaner.

There’s a truism that goes like this: Do from your being and not be from your doing. In other words, don’t lose sight of yourself and don’t try to get your self worth from what you think you ought to be doing. In the fast-paced and increasingly uncertain world we live in, you need reassessing to centre yourself in the new normal.

Some years ago, a simple experiment was done where two people were walking and talking. The researcher asked the volunteer to start by subtracting 7 from 100 and keep subtracting 7 from each answer, ie.100-7=93, 93-7 =86. The experiment was secretly filmed. Repeatedly what happened was every volunteer slowed down and almost stopped walking.

This showed so elegantly that our brains don’t have the capacity to handle increasingly complex questions while performing other tasks. To continue to do so sooner or later overloads the system and risks coming up with the wrong answer.

  • No is often an emotionally loaded word. No can mean I’m not a team player, for example.
  • No can mean I’m not pulling my weight.
  • No can mean I’m letting my colleagues down.
  • And perhaps ultimately, I’m not a good person.

Saying yes excessively eventually will stop you from saying no to the opportunities down the line.  Saying yes to yet another task puts you on a treadmill without a stop button. It blurs the distinction between the important and the urgent. Urgent crises will always arise. The question becomes then, how much slack do you have to deal with it when it comes.

The writer and speaker  Claire Diaz-Ortiz describes saying no in being honest, firm and not overly apologetic. (The Better Life, 2015). She offers 99 ways of saying NO. Here are a few of hers and my favourites:

  • No, thank you.
  • I have something else, sorry.
  • I have enough at the moment.
  • I would love to, but it’s my time off today.
  • I say no on Wednesdays.
  • I’m not able to make it this week/month/year.
  • Bandwidth is low, so I won’t be able to make it work.
  • I’m learning to limit my commitments.
  • I could take it on but would need to drop something else, any suggestions?
  • Not now.

Saying no to others is hard. Most of us need to improve in this area of our lives. The is an art in saying no and dealing with the accompanying disappointments that the other feels, but at the end of the day, the value you place on yourself makes it a skill worth improving on.

Choosing your yes’s wisely ultimately chooses to align the periphery of what you do to the core of who you are. With that alignment flows wholeness.