It’s only one syllable, only two letters, yet for many it’s the most difficult word to say. Elton John – you’re wrong; it seems to me that ‘no’ seems to be the hardest word.
No – a small word with huge power, power over ourselves and power over others.
It is a word that carries with it the weight of negativity. Saying no signals refusal, non-compliance, denial; obstinance and obstruction. In our desire to please others, to be amenable, to avoid conflict and to not let people down it’s often far easier to just say yes. Oh go on then.
There may be times when that is fine, wherein the service of expediency saying yes when we rather wouldn’t, serves a wider purpose, even if that purpose is just to get someone off our back or to stall a difficult situation that requires us to gather our resources and address the issue on our own terms.
In life picking our battles is an important skill, as Sebastian Coe puts it, we ought to fight those battles that are small enough to win but big enough to matter.
What matters? This to me is a crucial question. What matters to us? What do we believe in? What are our values? Where are our boundaries? What are we prepared to accept from others? What do we expect from ourselves?
Saying no becomes easier when we have answers to these questions. Greater self-awareness gives rise to greater self-possession and greater self-determination, each of which helps us to take difficult decisions, unpopular decisions; decisions that require us to say no.
Self-determination and self-possession in this sense need not mean self-obsession. No. These traits can help us to better serve others by allowing us to better understand where our efforts and energies are best directed, helping us to prioritise and to say no to those things that steer us away from our most constructive course.
Because when we say yes when we want to say no when we know we ought to say no – when we say yes to get us out of a tight spot or an uncomfortable situation or to save somebody else’s feelings – well, we often end up saying no anyway. Not through saying the word, which remains tightly locked behind gritted teeth, but in our subsequent actions – our attempts to wriggle out of our unwanted commitment, to make our excuses, to act out of barely concealed sufferance, or to simply disappear and hope that somehow the situation will magically go away.
And that’s no good, to anybody. Our energies are wasted, we inconvenience others, we compromise ourselves, we fail to fulfill our potential… we simply replace one set of concerns with a whole load of others.
Learn to say no, for in those two letters lie power, potential, and freedom.
Freedom from the desire to please others, freedom from putting down your own best interests to serve interests that compromise your goals or even your values, freedom from the judgements of others.
Say no and do the difficult thing.
No; I will not lie, I will not cheat, I will not compromise and I will not let anybody else lie to, cheat on or compromise me.
I will respect my boundaries because if I don’t then nobody else will.
Learn to say no, for when you do you are also learning to say yes – to yourself.