It seems counterintuitive at first to consider saying ‘no’ could be the key to a higher quality life, but as Greg McKeown shares in his book Essentialism, ‘If you don’t prioritise your life someone else will.’
You may have heard about the ‘fight against the glorification of being busy.’ I often reflect on how most of what I know about people is how busy they are – surely being busy isn’t the goal?
I ask people I care about, how are they are or what they’ve been up to? The answer is some variation of ‘oh man flat out’, ‘crazy busy’, ‘under the pump’, ‘busy, but coping’ and I wonder ‘surely that’s not success?’.
Pete Schibili, (Europe based JumpShift facilitator) gave me a different answer to that question about 5 years ago when he responded, ‘I’m trying to be productive, not busy‘. This really helped me to look at this from a new perspective.
In Susan Brady’s book ‘Mastering Your Inner Critic‘, Richard Leider sheds some light on what the ‘goal’ or ‘success’ really is when he explains why it is ‘purpose’ that counts in this life. He writes; ‘Knowing your purpose is essential; it is not a luxury or only for the affluent or wealthy. It is in fact, fundamental to our health, our healing, our longevity, our productivity and our prosperity.’
Having more purpose can provide clarity from the mental clutter that finds its way into our lives. It is the beacon designed to help us make decisions and set our priorities, it helps us deflect what everyone else wants, what society wants or what our conditioning wants and just say YES to what matters most. Greg McKeown describes as the antidote to the negative impact of ‘success’ (which manifests as a change from the focused drive towards achievement) as being the practise of moving from an ‘undisciplined pursuit of more to a disciplined pursuit of less.’
The Personal Shield tool from Adeption was critical in my own understanding of my (evolving) purpose, helping me focus on who I am, what I want and what matters to me. Including, of course, what I am not, what I don’t want, and what just does not matter to me.
The process and work of connecting with purpose itself can sometimes be developed in the opposite way too, for example through a ‘Maria Kondo’esk’ internal audit: asking yourself what the tasks, events, mindsets, beliefs, habits, obligations, and people (gasp!) in our lives that no longer serve us or those that may have a negative impact. By clearing the clutter, we allow for clarity to enter and answer what we really want and are uniquely here to do. The question changes from ‘what can I do to be successful?’ to ‘what can I stop doing to be successful?’.
In my observation; the challenge in our ‘polite’ and sometimes ‘people pleasing’ society is getting confident enough to say ‘no’. It feels wrong at first, especially if we are expert ‘people pleasers’ to begin with (guilty!), fear can kick in when we create stories about the consequences of not being all things, to all people, all the time.
I have found like all skills; it is a practice beginning with saying ‘no’ to small things, like the networking event that doesn’t add value or drinks with that group of friends who make you feel crappy. Building up to bigger things like saying ‘no’ to a well-paid contract with an organisation whose values do not align with yours and because of the impact to your mission it just not worth it, leaving space for better things.
Let’s say, we know what we want to say ‘yes’ to and have gotten clear on what we don’t want, it becomes about so how do we say a graceful ‘no’… this is likely to be personal and something that shouldn’t be prescribed, however I have found it can in fact be done while preserving people’s feelings and the relationship.
At the end of the day, if people cannot accept our positive boundaries and efforts to pursue our higher goals and purpose then perhaps the relationship could do with being re-evaluated anyway?
The result of this is feeling more space in our lives, and even if we have days full of purposeful action as there is now a sense of choice (again something to get used to and at first you may feel guilty for not being ‘full on or under stress’ all the time). It brings more mental clarity, more positive results as we honour a few things by doing them really well and we achieve better results, less stress, less resentment and more happiness as we become aligned with our core and free to be authentically ourselves.
In today’s world where we are so flooded with information, where there is a constant fight for our attention and mental illness is the epidemic of our time, it is more important than ever for us to become ‘unbusy’, mindful and discerning, and get really good at saying NO – with love 😉
Thanks for reading!
How to say no to taking on more work – HBR.
Tips from HBR on how being polite but firm can help you say no while maintaining good client and work relationships.
The art of saying NO, TED talk. Kenny Nguyen passionately speaks about the power inherent in saying “no.” Find out how saying no can prepare you for the perfect time of saying YES.