Make your yes count by saying no

Steve Jobs has a quote about focus being not the ability to say “yes,” but is instead the discernment and power to say “no” to everything else that takes you off your course.

This is a slight shift in the interpretation of focus, but it makes a huge difference in the way leaders allocate their time and choices if they wish to accomplish their goals.

“Learn to say ‘no.’ It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin.” ~ Charles H. Spurgeon

Take a quick inventory of the time you spend each week doing something for someone else. While you’re at it, think also of the choices you make that are not in line with your values or your goals. How much of your time is spent pursuing someone else’s opinion of what you should do or can be?

Most of us hate to say no.

Whether it’s because we want to be liked or because we fear that we’ll appear weak, many of us struggle with giving voice to that small, but significant syllable. Some of us have deep, systemic “people pleaser” issues that are born of low self esteem. When people pleasers say yes to projects or volunteer opportunities, it’s usually because they seek approval or want recognition.

Some of us wish to appear as though we are super-human, efficient go-getters. But this facade is also based upon insecurity: if we say no, we fear being passed over when promotion time rolls around. Or we’re letting someone down. Especially in the age of social media, iPads and smartphones, people are expected to be accessible all of the time.

But what happens when we dilute ourselves to the point of being unrecognizable and inefficient?

“Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” ~ M. Scott Peck

Take another look back at your week. How much of it can you actually remember? Was most of it spent in a flurry of busy-work that seemed to blur into one big To Do List? Did you feel as though you were a hamster in a wheel?

Or did you set conscious, measurable goals and jettison anything that didn’t align with your intention? No week is perfect, and there will always be unforeseen obstacles that present themselves. There will be days that go off the rails shortly after you’ve had your first cup of coffee.

That said, if we hope to become independent, we must discipline ourselves to set and stick to an overriding set of goals: immediate, intermediate and ultimate. When faced with a request from someone that doesn’t dovetail with what we’ve determined to be our goal, we must summon the courage to say no.

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

The day I internalized this quote was the day that my schedule magically opened up. After I read a book called Your Money or Your Life, it was literally as if the biblical scales fell from my eyes. My choices and time commitments stood out in stark relief. I could see with perfect clarity where I needed to focus my time and what I could let go.

Once you reconcile the fact that every choice you make costs energy (time, money, effort), you start to view your commitments and investments with an entirely new set of eyes. Only you will know what has value and what does not.

• “How much of my life am I willing to pay for this choice?”
• “If I say yes to the PTA meeting, I’m saying no to playing catch with my daughter.”
• “If I say yes to buying this $50K car, I’m saying no to a good chunk of my retirement planning.”

Furthermore, every commitment or yes that takes you farther from your presumed goals also keeps you from independence. You are ultimately beholden by the choices you make.

“Review our priorities, ask the question; ‘What’s the best use of our time right now?'” ~ Alan Lakein

Again, none of us are perfect and there are going to be days where you have the ambition of a slug. However, this must be the exception and not the rule if you wish to be free. Discipline creates the paradox of freedom. Create habits and touchstones in your day to keep yourself on course for the times when you’re experiencing free fall:

• Before you leave your office/end your work day, write down three things that you need to (MUST) tackle first thing the next day.
• Block off one hour per day to take stock, realign your choices or perform course correction.
• Exercise. This must become a non-negotiable. In addition to multiple physical benefits, exercise is a commitment to yourself that pays mental dividends.
• Practice mindfulness. When you’re juggling three things at once, become aware of what you are doing. Ask yourself, “What’s the best use of my time right now?” Delegate or stop doing the unnecessary, or something that can be done equally well by someone else.
• Follow through with your decisions.

“Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you don’t let other people spend it for you.” ~ John Dryden

When we find ourselves mindlessly saying yes to everyone else, we are saying no to ourselves. Our hopes. Our goals. Our dreams. There’s a difference between self-care and selfish. Saying no doesn’t mean that we are selfish.

If you’ve seen the movie Bruce Almighty, you’ll remember what happens when Bruce (as God) wills everyone to win the lottery. Everyone wins a few cents. The same thing happens when saying yes to everyone at the expense of what you really desire. It’s an underwhelming, diffuse sort of effort/payoff. Just think of how much more you can help people when you say no when necessary so that you can spend your time on that which truly fulfills you.

Your effectiveness increases. You live a more abundant life. You’re able to truly give from a place of security and sanity. Give yourself permission to say no.

When was a time that you said no and lived to tell the tale? How did your decision affect you? the folks around you?


Molly Cantrell-Kraig is a woman with drive. Possessing an innate sense of purpose and a pragmatic, solution-based approach to empowering people, she fused these two traits in order to establish Women With Drive Foundation. Based upon its founder’s personal history, Women With Drive Foundation is a means through which Cantrell-Kraig may effect change on both a micro and macro level. By providing women with something as essential as personal transportation in order to transition them from poverty to prosperity, she, through Women With Drive Foundation, seeks to empower women to help them help themselves. Through this action, the individual applicant benefits, as does society as a whole. Follow Molly on twitter as @mckra1g or @WWDr1ve (Women With Drive Foundation)


  1. says

    I went through a very similar situation. In fact, I’ll be honest, I still go through it, because when you wake up to see all the choices you have, it’s hard to focus back on what you want. I wrote about it here:
    I just heard this bit from Tony Robbins…we must have a list of “must have’s” and then “should have’s”. I remind myself of the must have’s when I get distracted. I ask myself..”how are you going to feel when you don’t get this done?” And when I imagine that, it’s a terrible feeling, and it drives me to do the work.


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