Oh the irony…

In last week’s exploration of our tendency to say ‘yes’ to future commitments only to later wish we hadn’t,  I promised that this week we’d look at ways of making it easier to say ‘no’. 

Amusingly, a week later, exactly the thing I had been writing about happened to me: namely, an undertaking that seemed like a great idea when I committed to it started to feel like a less great idea once the time to do it arrived. 


When I sat down and started researching interesting ‘no’ techniques, I discovered there are LOADS of them. There are great articles like this one, not to mention many books on the subject:

  • The Art of Saying No
  • How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty, Horrible, Selfish, Mean or Bad  (bookmarked that one)
  • The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes (yes? I thought we were moving away from yes?) 
  • How to Say NO Coloring Book (Really?)

I had completely underestimated how many ideas there would be to choose from and I felt swamped and out of time. (Oh the irony. Last week I was writing about the planning fallacy. This week I’m living it.) 

The recovering perfectionist in me popped up and started grumbling. Which, combined with all the swamped, out-of-time feelings made the prospect of keeping last week’s promise rather less fun than I had imagined it would be.

But right in the middle of that experience, I noticed something interesting about the relationship between yes and no: in order to say yes to what matters to me (in this case, doing what I promised to do) I have to say no to a lot of other things (like including every good every idea I find, or doing things ‘perfectly’).

Because every yes is a no to something else. 

And every no creates the possibility of a yes.

I used to say yes fairly indiscriminately, wanting to be helpful, liked, indispensable. I thought time would stretch to accommodate all the yes-es. But it didn’t. All those not very important yes-es ended up forcing me into some no-s that I never would have consciously chosen: to time with people I love, to sleep, to good health, to keeping promises I’d made.

So, despite the fact that I’d hoped to share a whole host of ideas about ways to make it easier to say no in this email, I actually only have one to offer right now.

Think of the things you love. The things that makes you feel most fully yourself. The ones you want and need to say yes to. And remember them, each time you’re tempted to say yes to something else.

That’s it. It’s only a little idea. But it might just make some of the no-s just a bit clearer and easier to say.