When was the last time you intentionally said “No” to something you really wanted to do?
If you’re anything like me, the answer didn’t readily come to mind, or perhaps the answer didn’t emerge at all.
We’ve become a “Yes” society. We hastily make commitments and decisions, perhaps because we’ve become conditioned to respond without thinking in a society where the answers are always right at our fingertips. Or we’re afraid; afraid of judgement, disappointing others, or simply missing out (Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, is LITERALLY in the Oxford dictionary now).
We can't even say “No" to the next episode of that new TV show we’re infatuated with. “Binge watching” is another vocabulary word making its way into the regular rotation of things we communicate with our friends over lunch.
Unfortunately, the consequence of constant “Yes” can be the loss of integrity and congruence with our values, greater feelings of dissatisfaction, increased stress, failure to fulfill our purpose, and the increased likelihood of disappointing ourselves and others.
In the practice of saying “Yes,” we've lost the purpose of saying “No.”
I see this in the people I work with all the time (students, staff, clients...myself). We have this mentality of "one more thing will get me there.” Fill in the black for whatever your “there” is - a new relationship, a step up the corporate ladder, an advanced income level, greater significance.
The real problems lies in the fact that we don’t stop and think about what the real goal of our “Yes” is. When we have not intentionally defined our values, purpose, or the legacy we hope to live by, a simple “Yes” can spiral into a set of decisions that fall in stark contrast to those things most important to us.
And the ultimate irony is that answering these questions takes the discipline of saying “No” in order to create the time and space to really cultivate accurate answers.
I don’t want to sidestep the reality that “No's” are hard. They can bring disappointment for ourselves and others (usually the harder part).
“No's” are usually way more uncomfortable initially; but the keyword here is initially. It’s our over committed, inconsistent-with-my-values “Yeses" that bring much more discomfort in the long run.
So, how do we we increase our “No's” in order to enhance our “Yeses” and bring them in line with what is most important to the core of our purpose?
We practice the art of the pause.
A pause creates space for perspective. Sometimes our pause just needs to last a few seconds, a deep breath or two that grounds us to how we are feeling in the moment and gives clarity to a quick decision because the commitment is minimal or the action is familiar (Is it reasonable to be a few minutes late to my meeting in order to wrap up this conversation? Is it consistent with the values I represent to others?). For other responses we may need more time - hours, possibly days (That’s a great question/request. Let me think about it for a few hours/days and I’ll get back to you by this time with a decision).
In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg Mckeown argues that by taking the time to purposefully choose those things that are most important to us, we live a life of “design” rather than “default.” He calls this practice “clarifying your essential intent.” Simply put, we discipline ourselves to create the space necessary to make choices consistent with our values and purpose. It’s hard and intentional work and it won’t happen without first exercising some uncomfortable “No's” in order to ensure we’re say the right “Yes.”
BIO: Dr. Deborah Gorton Presently Serves As The The Director Of Moody Theological Seminary’s Masters In Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program As Well As Moody's Counseling Center.
McKeown, G. (2014). Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less. New York: Random House, LLC.