It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped. - Tony Robbins
There is no decision that we can make that doesn't come with some sort of balance or sacrifice. – Simon Sinek
If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. – Greg McKeown
Learning to Say, "No"
I’ve experienced too many times when I’ve been dog tired and feeling burned out because of taking on too much work. This has been entirely my own doing. No one forced me to accept a speaking engagement, an invitation to write an article, or an offer teach an extra class. In fact, I love to do all of these activities. The problem was that I lacked a process for making decisions about what was best. I was so committed to living out my mission that any opportunity that seemed good in the moment received a “yes” from me. The result was that I became a prisoner of my own success. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked on a project or sat in my seat moments before being called to the front and simply wished that I had never accepted the opportunity. Other times I’ve received epic opportunities, but because of my already scheduled activities I either had to turn these down or literally shoehorn them into a calendar with little margin for the rest of my life. I managed to pull these off but I often found myself under the weather, burned out, exhausted or wondering if I could have performed at a higher level if I had not been so overcommitted. Moreover, I missed out of much joy of enjoying these moments because I was always distracted by what I had to do next.
Learning to say, “No” is key for living the life of God’s dreams. If we don’t learn to say, “No” with intentionality, we will lose the freedom to say, “Yes” when a truly great opportunity appears. Of course, there will be obligations on which we must take action that involve work mandated by a superior or certain family commitments. These are not my concern here. I desire to reflect on avoiding my mistakes hinted at in my earlier confession.
My Process for Discerning “Yes” or “No”: Default to “No” Except for these Exceptions
Here is my current process for discerning. My default answer is now “No.” It is rooted in the following principle and then filtered with three additional ones.
First, set this rule in stone. If the opportunity does not align with your goals and values, you must say, “No.”This rule assumes that you’ve established clear goals and know your core values. Jim Rohn wrote, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” If you don’t know what you want and who you are, you will default into people pleasing or dollar chasing.
Second, just because an opportunity aligns with your goals and values does not mean that you say, “Yes.”This is particularly true if you are in a religious vocation when most invitations and opportunities will line up with your calling.
How do you say “No” when there is an opportunity to do something good that aligns with our mission? This is the problem. Therefore we need additional filters.
From my reading and reflection, I ask myself these three questions:(1) Would I want to participate in the activity/project/event tomorrow?
This question is crucial. If you would be too busy or tired to enjoy the opportunity tomorrow, you will likely feel the same way 3 months, six months, or a year from now. This means you should automatically say, “No.”
Derek Sivers writes, “When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than ‘Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! [Heck] yeah!’ — then say ‘no.’”
Learning to recognize one’s limits is critical. I try to divide my year into four quarters. I’m at my best when I’m only working on a couple projects per quarter. When I set goals for the next year, I try to spread out work and projects. Then I can reasonably accept an additional opportunity or two per quarter without burning myself out.
This makes life much more enjoyable and allows us to be at our best when we do say, “Yes.”