Health / Expert Advice

How Saying “No” Can Help You Reach Your Goals

Take back your time and energy.

When you browse through inspirational quotes on social media, most of them challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone. Much of personal growth happens when we take chances and subscribe to new experiences. But one of the pillars of self-care is also the ability to reclaim our time and energy—and you can do that with a simple “no.” Being picky with what you agree to do and turn down puts the power of time back in your hands. Now, we know you can’t turn down or reject everything, but, when it comes to reaching your goals, it’s important to distinguish what’s important to you from what’s not pushing you forward. Here, experts explain the power of saying “no” and how it sends you toward success.

It gives you personal time.

Even if, in theory, you would like to volunteer for each and every committee at work, if your hours are consistently booked by obligations, you leave little time to decompress, unwind, exercise, and participate in other fulfilling activities that may better serve you. As Personal Growth Expert and Coach Ellyn Schinke reminds, there are only so many hours in our days that can be spent working, pursuing passions, and connecting with others. We should consider some of those minutes reserved for one-on-one time with ourselves, creating the space for reflection and recovery. “The more things we say ‘yes’ to unnecessarily, the more things that will ultimately keep us away from these important aspects of our lives,” she explains. Without time spent alone, you will not be able to put your best performance forward—whether in your friendships and/or at the workplace or gym.

It makes your “yes” mean more.

Remember that day in high school when your crush finally turned his or her attention in your direction? Or, when after logging away countless hours for the same company for a year, your manager finally recognized your efforts? Much like playing hard to get while dating or earning a gold star from someone you admire, there is power to be found in a choosy attitude. As Mindfulness Expert and Author Steve Taubman explains, the most successful people are careful about the agreements they make. In return, when they provide their approval, it holds more weight, importance, and most of all earns them the utmost respect.

“Any unwanted obligation can easily throw [successful people] off course, interrupting their momentum and preventing them from achieving their desired goals,” he explains. “This is true whether or not they plan to follow through on their ‘yes.’ If they do follow through, they may be robbing themselves of time or attention better spent on their objectives. If they don’t follow through, they disappoint others, damage their reputation, and subtly erode their own self-esteem. After all, integrity is how we measure our worth.”

It teaches you to pause.

Sure, certain decisions are easy to make. Most choices, though, don’t require an instant response, especially if you’re trying to be more diligent about the frequency of your “yes.” That’s why Schinke says that teaching yourself how to take a pause is essential for growth. She suggests asking yourself a few questions to better understand the commitment you’re about to make. “What are the repercussions of saying no?” “What are the repercussions of saying yes in the rest of my life?” “Are those repercussions worth it?” “How much does this person’s opinion matter to me?” Once you’ve honestly answered these questions, you’re in a smarter position to sign up or pass.

It helps you to be a problem-solver.

Part of meeting any goal you set for yourself is navigating the obstacles that will inevitably come up. Life Coach and Author Sarah Stewart, MSW, CPC says that when you’re developing your “no” backbone, provide an alternative solution instead of just flat-out denying someone. This makes it feel less intense and dismissive. Instead, it helps you become a problem-solver who can think for him or herself, look out for your relationships, and still leave everyone happy at the end. Win-win!

It makes you more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

If you’ve been a lifelong people-pleaser, suddenly switching your tune and slamming down a “nope” isn’t going to be an overnight shift. But, as Life Coach Pam Bauer explains, starting small and leaning into the anxiety will build your confidence. After all, those who reap the most reward continuously practice activities outside of their comfort zone. “Feeling uncomfortable can be a big obstacle when you first start saying ‘no’ to people, especially if they’re people who are accustomed to hearing you say ‘yes’ to their request,” she continues. “Your mind starts streaming upsetting thoughts like, ‘What will they say?’ and ‘What will they think of me?’ Your knees may be knocking and your heart racing, [but] that’s okay. Acknowledge to yourself how you feel and be willing to speak up for yourself anyway.”

Whether you have a major milestone you’re working towards or you’re simply feeling a bit burned out, taking time to reprioritize what you say “yes” or “no” to can help you refocus your energy and set you up for success.

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