The Power of “No”

5 Jan

The New Year is usually the time when we say “yes”—say “yes” to a new habit, say “yes” to a new goal, say “yes” to new experiences. However, I’m choosing to take the New Year as a time to say “no.”


When I was in elementary school, the “Just Say No to Drugs and Alcohol” campaign was in full force. We learned tactics for saying “no.” The “broken record”—a technique of saying “no” over and over again in an obnoxious, scratchy voice. The “No thanks, I’d rather                                           “ the technique where you fill in the blank with something way cooler than drugs and alcohol.

I remember playing “Just Say No” bingo with all of the ways you could say “no,” and filling out worksheets with creative ways to respond with an emphatic, resounding, two-letter N.O.

Nancy Reagan says "Just Say No!"

Nancy Reagan says “Just Say No!”

The campaign succeeded in teaching me to say no to illegal activities, but somehow those lessons didn’t stick in all areas of my life. I’ve noticed that I, and many other people I know, have a really hard time just saying no.

I get asked to do a lot of different things—teach dance or fitness classes, run somebody’s social media, pick up an odd job, attend an event, etc. You probably get asked to do a lot of different things too—your life is full of responsibilities, and if you’re at least mildly competent and capable, you get asked to take on more and more. And you keep saying “yes,” thinking “Oh, well I need the money because I need to renew my Amazon Prime membership,” or “Oh, well I owe so-and-so a favor for that one time three years ago that she looked after my dog for a weekend,” or “Wow, this is a great opportunity for me to explore a career in banking, even though I’ve never been remotely interested in that before.”

You keep saying yes, agreeing to do things, taking on more responsibilities, making more commitments, until you wake up one day and realize that you’re exhausted, miserable, and not doing a particularly good job at any of the one billion tasks you have to do.

Enter: The Power of No.

No. N. O. It’s so simple and so incredibly powerful.

No means you know yourself. It means you know how to evaluate requests and hold them up to the criteria of your inner compass.
“If I say yes to this opportunity,” you have to ask yourself, “Will it get me closer to my goals, dreams, and plans…or will it be a useless distraction that might get me $50 this weekend, but drain me of the energy I need to start outlining my novel?”

Saying “No,” means that you can discern between the necessary and the distracting. That you are aware that you’re only human, that you have limitations. It’s humbling and commands immense respect.

I respect people who have harnessed the power of “no.” Who don’t feel like they have to do something because it’s expected. Who can politely decline an offer because they know in their heart that it is not truly in their best interest.


Saying “No,” means you have to stand up straight and look life in the eye, honestly sharing your needs, wants, and abilities.

I’m still practicing. I’m not good at saying “no,” because I have a mistaken image of myself as Superwoman and because I have that recent post-grad need to please. But I’m learning. Learning how to assess a request and decide if it will help me or just drain me. Decline an invitation for the sake of taking care of myself. So I invite you this New Year to just say “no,” and see how it liberates your life, time, and energy. I’ll make “Just Say No” Bingo if it helps.


One Response to “The Power of “No””

  1. Tyler Lahti January 8, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

    Made me think of this:

    I agree though. Sometimes it’s okay, and even advisable, to say no.

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