The Power of ‘No’: Why Learning to Say No Can Be Your Key to Success
In 2008, the film “Yes man” was released in which actor Jim Carrey had to say yes to every request because of a curse. He ends up in hilarious situations and his life is enormously enriched.
Within psychology, the word YES seems to have something magical around it to step out of your comfort zone, discover new things, and escape from the routine of everyday life. Some even believe that saying more YES can cure forms of depression and loneliness. Without contradicting this, you can say the same about the power of the word NO.
Saying NO to anything that doesn’t suit you or doesn’t help you in personal and business growth, fun, and happiness in life is an art few people master. The word NO gives you the freedom to live your life the way you want to. Without having to hurt or repel people, saying no is more likely to bring you back to your standards and values. Saying NO more often ensures that you can be completely yourself and authentic.
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Why is saying NO so important?
As young children, we learn that we are partly dependent on our environment. If you want to make and keep friends, you can’t just do what you want. You also have to take into account what others want.
You want to play that game, but your friends do something else. To be able to play along, you agree in the hope that next time they want to play your game. Unfortunately, some children may go very far in this and only do what their friends expect of them.
In the hope of being liked, they go along with everything and everyone. Their own opinion doesn’t count anymore, and that’s when saying NO becomes important.
Being able to say NO to others
Conformity is a very sympathetic quality. People will like you and will appreciate that you like everything. People who have developed this quality very well can run into problems. Especially within relationships or when entering into close friendships.
By consistently counting yourself and your opinion away, you teach yourself to trust other people instead of yourself. Eventually, you won’t even bother to test whether something suits you and whether it will make you happy or satisfied. You will lose the natural ability to rely on your internal compass.
The group pressure or the pressure of your partner can make you do or say things that don’t feel right, but which you still do. This can be about keeping a job that doesn’t suit you, but also about violent, criminal, or sexual acts that you don’t really want to do at all.
Ignoring your own feelings of gratification in the short term means that you will feel accepted. In the longer term, it gives a feeling of emptiness, incomprehension, invisibility, and a lack of happiness and zest for life.
Being able to say NO to yourself
Obesity has been growing at an alarming rate in the Western world for decades. Figures show that obesity is the number one cause of death in Western countries. This food addiction is basically, just like other addictions, a lack of NO.
There is no one on earth who can say with common sense that he is happy with any addiction. That’s why we almost always regret that one pie, that extra piece of chocolate, or that one alcoholic drink that we didn’t need, but still have consumed.
Being sorry is not only about being able to oversee the consequences of the addiction, it’s mainly about not being able to say NO. We know and feel that we don’t really want something, but we do it without any external coercion.
This, however, is a consequence of no longer having your own natural internal compass in your sights. Something that can cause you to give up the word NO altogether and your life is controlled by external temptations such as food, alcohol, or drugs. NO, no longer exists and you have given yourself over to it.
Your internal compass and integrity
There’s nothing more annoying than someone promising you something and not keeping that promise. Then we don’t consider that person to have any integrity anymore. If we promise ourselves that next time we will say NO to that one chocolate, NO to that one alcoholic beverage, or NO to that one line of Coke, then we want to keep our promise.
If it turns out we don’t, we’ll be disappointed in ourselves. We can no longer rely on our own integrity towards ourselves. Promises to ourselves don’t mean anything anymore.
But how do you deal with that? You can’t ignore yourself, you can’t run away from yourself and in the long run, you have no reason to have faith in a new promise. What can you do?
Your internal compass will help if you want to say NO
In spite of all the laws and regulations, we naturally know very well for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. We also know what is healthy and unhealthy and we know what we better shouldn’t do or should do more.
This requires self-motivation and discipline, but it does not come about by itself. You can wait for a magic fairy to come and make you do exactly what you would like to do, but that fairy won’t come. It is already there and we call it your internal compass.
Maybe it’s covered with a layer of dust and maybe even a few layers of fat, but it’s there. By learning to listen to your internal compass again, you know exactly what you should and can say NO to. That’s because you know exactly what to say YES to.
Without YES there is no NO
If you don’t want something anymore, something has to replace it. You can’t say NO to a pie or NO to staying in bed all day without something positive in return.
If your reward for leaving the cake is just that you can rely on your own integrity again, that’s a nice feeling. But it is not enough. When we make an effort, we want something worthwhile in return.
Your internal compass will tell you that you would actually prefer to live a vital and healthy life. By saying YES to vitality and health you give the NO to the piece of cake extra strength. The NO will feel natural and will be pronounced without effort.
You need a very clear YES to simply say NO to something that does not suit you. Those YES come from your internal compass.
Silence and meditation to calibrate your internal compass
If you haven’t cared about your internal compass for a long time, silence and meditation can help to bring it back to the surface. Silence can be achieved by a long walk or by sitting somewhere in nature. You can also achieve silence by practicing a hobby such as writing, drawing, or painting.
By regularly doing something that does not distract you, your deepest feelings, wishes, and needs come to the surface. No matter how deeply they are sunk, they will present themselves.
Meditation is another very effective way to bring your internal compass back to the surface. Just like Yoga and breathing techniques. The relaxation takes care of a balance between your body and mind so that your real intentions can be freed.
Thanks to the calibration of your internal compass, your mind can feel what your body needs and vice versa. Thus, saying YES to what you need becomes easy, and saying NO to what you no longer want becomes obvious.
Say NO to an unwanted situation
You can end up in a situation in which you wouldn’t have wanted to end up without feeling able to get out of it. For example, by having a violent relationship or if you are physically forced to do something against your will.
By continuing to say NO to this situation you can increase the feeling of powerlessness, which can lead to depression or worse. Your internal compass is also important in these situations.
It is very wise to keep saying NO in these situations and not accept the situation. But under one condition. Make sure there is a very clear YES that describes what you want. A YES that is fully congruent with your internal compass will eventually give you directions that will allow you to escape from the situation.
The NO against domestic violence and the NO against doing something against your will are not in itself strong enough to find a way out. Only the NO in combination with a YES I express my own opinion or in combination with how you see an ideal life ahead of you offers opportunities for a way out.
Being yourself by being able to say YES and NO
We’re all free to say YES and NO. That makes us who we are. It also basically means that we are ourselves if we always say YES to temptation. However, this is not entirely correct.
Randomly saying YES and NO doesn’t make us entirely ourselves. We are only free from our surroundings and completely ourselves when we are able to verify our YES and NO with our internal compass. If we can be honest with ourselves and listen to what we really need, we will experience the freedom that we really are ourselves.
Randomly saying YES or NO makes us selfish and self-centered. Saying YES or NO based on your internal compass allows you to explain your opinion to those around you in another way than “because I don’t want to”. Others will always take your opinion into account if it comes from your internal compass. No matter how different that opinion is from theirs.
This is called compassion, the ability to empathize. Something you should do yourself in order to belong to a group, but also something you can most certainly demand from someone else in order to belong to you.