You'd be foolish to pass up on new opportunities and possibilities if you want to be successful, right? Not necessarily. By always saying "yes," you're letting other people prioritize your life. If you want to attain your goals, you need to take a more disciplined approach and learn to say "no."
If you find yourself sending emails at 3 a.m., working on vacation and feeling exhausted and stressed day in a day out, you may fear that you’re becoming a workaholic.
But if you want to get off that rollercoaster, it’s going to take more than just saying you want to get off – and it’s not going to happen overnight. Because what you’ve embedded into your life and into your psyche didn’t happen all of a sudden, and may take time and discipline to unravel it.
“We have become a society of people who believe they must say ‘yes’ to everything,” says Greg McKeown, author of “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” “It’s a form of madness to believe that.”
McKeown is well known for his work with companies like Facebook and LinkedIn, but he’s also the father of four children and knows the demands of everyday life. But he says that “we have been sold a bill of goods that you can do it all and ought to want to do it all.”
Social media helps fuel that belief, often making it seem as if fellow tweeters or connections are working 24/7 and thriving at it. But McKeown argues that just as society created a housing bubble, we’re creating a “more bubble” that prompts us to say yes to everyone to keep them happy.
“We have come to value ‘more’ and there is no tradeoff for us,” he says. “So think about whether you want to be the person to invest in this bubble before it bursts.”
McKeown does believe there is a building groundswell of support for shifting away from saying yes to everything, and instead paring down our lives to essential activities. But just having that desire isn’t enough, he argues, and all of us need to support one another and work toward creating a culture where it’s OK to say no.
“To ignore society is not an individual sport,” he says. “There is not a single trick or tip, but I do think it’s important that we support someone else on a team who wants to do this. Then we can start to have the tough conversations.”
Those tough conversations, of course, include the ones where you tell the boss or important customer “no.”
“You have to learn to say things like, ‘I’m happy to do that, but let me talk to you about what that will take,’” he explains. “You’ve got to bring the painful tradeoff to the conversation.”
McKeown says the purpose of his book is to show people how to do less – but better. He also stresses that it involves a disciplined approach, and may be something you have to continually work toward. It’s not a quick fix, but rather a way “to prioritize your life so someone else doesn’t do it for you,” he says.
Likening the effort to hiring a professional organizer to bring order to your closet, McKeown offers ways to clear the clutter in your life and get rid of the well-intended commitments that pile up as we say “yes” to everything. Some of his advice includes:
Finally, McKeown acknowledges that learning to say no can be difficult, but gets easier over time. He now says he’s made choices that include wrestling with his children on a trampoline instead of going to a networking event and not watching television or movies when he travels on business “so there is time to think and rest.”
“For me, a key benefit of being more present in the moment has been making joyful memories that would otherwise not exist,” he says “I smile more.”
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