Shrewd decision-making is at the root of success in life. At its core, it comes from knowing when to say “no” to the thing that isn’t right for you. Saying “no” can be a really, really, hard thing to do, and so many people don’t feel great about their ability to do it and do it confidently. Their lives and stress reflect that apprehension.
This is yet another moment in a time for #TheGreatReEvaluation – what do we do for ourselves when we say “no” to the things that aren’t serving us?
I said “no” to a thing I was asked to consider this week. It was hard. Why?
- Other people that I know, like, and respect, asked me to do it.
- Other people hoped and counted on my to say yes.
- Other people thought I’d bring unique value to this project.
- Other people believed I’d do a great job on the assignment.
- It was something I was capable of doing and saw the value in.
It would seem an obvious “yes” since those are good reasons on their face value. And yet, I paused and said, “I don’t know. I have to think about it.”
And so, I did think about it (though I could have ghosted them; that was an option). In a structured way. It struck me that this is often how I weigh decisions in this manner, and that I consider my ability to say “No” to the wrong things has been a secret to my success and happiness along the way.
This method is something that I use with Organizing Clients on deciding what to keep and what to let go. I use it with Productivity Clients to help decide prioritization and how to spend time.
Want a peek inside my brain and see how I got to “No”?
What would saying “yes” do for me? Does it support my goals for the future? Do I see a value in what engaging in this work will bring me?
- It was a worthy project, and many people will benefit from a job well done with it.
- It would be interesting work. I like interesting work.
- I would get paid, though admittedly, I didn’t understand the full contribution on my part to know if I would feel if I was paid “well” because it could be 10 hours of work or 100 and I just don’t know.
- The people asking me are important to me, and I’d like them to be happy.
What would saying “yes” cost me? Are there ways in which there are negative impacts to my life that I can anticipate and don’t want to invite?
- I didn’t get the impression that the work involved was clear enough to me and I thought I might be surprised about the work.
- I fretted that I might end up working with people I may not have chosen on my own or enjoyed working with, and that would cause me stress.
- I was concerned that a project would end up being more burdensome to me in ways I am trying to reduce from committee and team work that I consider to be “extracurricular” to my family, my business, and my core commitments.
- If I didn’t like the project or my workload or my co-collaborators on the team, it might negatively influence my perception of the organization, my colleagues, the people who asked me to consider it, or even my desire to say yes to something in the future. I could sour well and quickly.
What would saying “no” do for me? Am I working to create or protect a boundary or a value that this helps me enforce?
- I’ve tried to be more self-aware of the kinds of situations I enjoy being in and collaborating in, and more importantly, the kinds that end up causing me stress, aggravation, and friction. I was concerned this one wasn’t in my control about which way it would go.
- I have a tendency to take a leadership role in things so that I can set some of that tone or control. That extra burden of time or energy ends up being on me, and the tradeoff for what I get for it isn’t always clear.
- I’ve tried to get more clarity around how I spend my investible currency (my time, money, and energy) on the things that matter most, and this didn’t feel aligned with that.
- I already do a lot of other things for this organization, and am enjoying the current level of involvement that I have, and the nature of that work.
- As a small-business owner, I’ve become less and less comfortable when I need to be accountable for my time and efforts to others.
- I’m not responsible for the happiness of others, the success of this project, or the goals of this organization, and that’s okay and not selfish to say that.
What would saying “no” cost me? Would declining the project damage my reputation, future opportunities, negatively impact my values or sense of identity?
- All that “Other People” stuff from the top of the page? Saying “no” meant I’d potentially disappoint people who were hoping for me to say yes (and I care about those people).
- I knew I believed in the project itself was worthy of good talent, I worried that, without my saying yes, no one else might fill the role, and important work might not get done. Or maybe it wouldn’t be as good as it might have been were I to say yes (conceited much?). I might not want to jeopardize the project happening at all.
- Not a risk for me, but it checked in on it during my thinking: What if I miss my chance? What if I don’t get an opportunity to play a role in this space again in the future. This might be a risk for some people — that saying no now means not getting a chance to say yes in the future — but I genuinely felt that didn’t apply to me or in this case.
What else was in the mix?
A deadline and the accountability of my decision impacting others.
A deadline can force the thinking, the clarity, the answer, and the delivery of the answer. When I’m working with my clients, there is often NOT a deadline to make an individual decision. What’s one more thing in a box to move to the new house? What’s one more item that stays in a drawer or in a closet or on a surface to be considered another time? What’s one more item on my to-do list that’s easier to say yes to than to deal with the damage control that might come from saying no?
Accountability of decision to others means that my decision factored into a bigger process, and the decision I made would have downstream implications. When we’re organizing or making choices about productivity, that might come into play. Maybe we’re making a decision on whether to keep something, and one person in the house has one goals for a room (I want this to be a calm and functional space) and the other has a strong attachment to an item that interferes with that. Or maybe we’re making plans on a broader project, like “until you make a decision on whether or not to keep the bedroom set, we can’t schedule the person to come in and clean the carpet.”
And the choice was truly mine to make, which can be a luxury or privilege.
We don’t all have the luxury of weighing everything that comes to us and feel that we have 100% say in whether we decide a yes or a no. In this case, this was just about me, but it could have been something else — a decision to be made between spouses, as a family, by your boss or coworkers, something your clients demand of you, etc. It could be driven by an external force we can’t imagine being stronger than and facing. In this case, I did not have to factor that in. But I’m not always so lucky, and most people have that challenge at some point, too.
So, what drove my final decision?
Ultimately, I think I spent the most of my time in the “REGRET AVOIDANCE” bucket. I focused on “Would I regret saying yes?” as what I wanted to carve out and protect the most. I just wasn’t sure that I could feel as good about my concerns in this bucket, or at least not in a way that offset the rest of the buckets. I felt that I could potentially end up with more regret that would interrupt my life than I’d feel positive about the rewards from the motivation points might. I decided to sacrifice the “value of saying yes” for the elimination of potential pain I might find myself in later.
The flip-side of that bucket, the empowering side, is the “SELF-PROTECTION” bucket. This is the part that allows me to say, “I can make myself and my values a priority when I can see them clearly, and if I don’t manage for that, no one else is going to do it on my behalf.” This ask felt like it could be a compromise and the FEAR AVOIDANCE, the consequences of saying no, weren’t enough to make me tip in that direction. In this SELF-PROTECTION bucket, I could see how saying “no” is really a victory for me, of saying “yes” to the things that are more important in this moment.
After coming to that decision, and feeling confident with it, I was able to go back to those “other people” I’ve mentioned. Like I said, ghosting them was on the table, but that wasn’t the relationship or values I have around this. I reached out (okay, in a text) and said, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I realized that the main reason I would be saying yes is because you are asking me, and I’ve sat with the decision and realized that’s just not the right reason for me to say yes. So, I’m going to pass this time, but thank you!”
I heard back positive reinforcement for my decision-making, which made me feel valued, appreciated, and supported.
What do I want you to take away from all of this?
We all face decisions every day, but don’t often think about what’s jamming us up, standing in our way of making a decision confidently, and communicating it. I often think about the holiday season, when people have so many pressures on them — ones they put on themselves and ones others put on them, and balancing the many many decisions that come their way. It can be easy enough to sacrifice your more important buckets in order to avoid conflict, disappoint someone else, or feel like you’re bucking the system without a reason you’re able to articulate. But we all also know the cost that saying “yes” to everything can bring, and I’m hopeful that if there’s one silver lining that has come out of navigating through a global pandemic, it’s that we’re able to re-evaluate what we say yes to and why.
#TheGreatReEvaluation is everywhere.
Find your “no” and love what you’re saying “yes” to.