What is the most important word and the most dangerous word in the world? Well, a few years ago I wrote an article about the effect of the word no on our brain. The research shows how vocalising negativity, saying no, or frowning produces stress chemicals in your brain and in the listener’s brain. Furthermore, the listener will experience more anxiety which undermines cooperation and trust.
Additionally, worrying about things in life, such as money, work, time pressures, also stimulates the release of stress hormones. Even thinking fearful thoughts or imagining them can cause the amygdala, a part of your brain, to react in the same way as if the threats were real. Consequently, due to the potential impact on our lives, means it is an important word to explore.When the word no is flashed across the brain it causes a sudden release of stress-producing hormones and neurochemicals. Click To Tweet
The effect of saying yes too often tends to build more stress and overwhelm
However, on the flip side of this, if we fail to say no to ourselves and others in relation to requests, obligations, favours and every exciting opportunity, we have another problem. We overcommit, please others first and load up our precious time even more. We are already experiencing an epidemic of busyness, disengagement and ‘distractionitis.’ Furthermore, this leads to a sense of overwhelm, a build-up of stress and less time to focus on our goals and leisure pursuits.
When you add to this the fact that humans have a need to be liked, it becomes even harder to say no. We are social creatures and when we say no to someone, we are at risk of being rejected or worse, ostracised from the tribe. A reason why we fear the intense feeling of rejection so strongly and will do anything to avoid it. It’s part of our evolutionary hard-wiring.
“Our brains evolved for a very different world than the one in which we are living,” Daniel Gilbert, 'Stumbling on Happiness' Click To Tweet
We need to embrace the important word no for the sake of our mental health
I believe today, we need to embrace the important word no in our daily lives to prevent overload, distraction and rising stress. Otherwise, we put our time and mental health at risk. Furthermore, we feel resentful as we find ourselves being pulled into other people’s agendas instead of doing more of what we would like to be doing. So, why is this so important?
Firstly, learning to say ‘no’ to avoid being distracted by bright shiny objects is crucial if we want to succeed in our goals and realise our dreams. However, this can be challenging as our brains love variety, distractions and bright shiny objects.
Secondly, we need to learn to say no to other people’s requests. However, considering what the word no can do to your brain creates other challenges. The word no can easily be misunderstood. It’s difficult to say a decisive no to others without them misinterpreting it or taking it personally. Furthermore, we worry in case we offend them in our response. Think back to a time when you said no to a request from a friend or work colleague. How did you feel? And what about them? Did you pick up an undertone of hurt or surprise?
When we say yes to everything instead of the important word no we are neglecting ourselves
In a recent article, I wrote about focus and our falling attention span. Eight seconds is our current attention span and research has shown that the average worker is productive for only two to three hours of their working day. Click To Tweet Social media, notifications and visual distractions delight our brain and give us instant pleasure. They pull us away from the onerous and sometimes tedious daily tasks. Consequently, we fail to accomplish what we set out to do and dreams fall by the wayside.
It’s worth noting here what some of the extremely successful business people say about this.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffet
Still not convinced about taking that courageous step and saying no? Well, the world of work is changing faster and more drastically than any other time in recent history. According to research from the World Economic Forum, 35% of the skills necessary to thrive in a job today will be different five years from now.
Many skills necessary to thrive five years from now are very different than today’s skills
In research by the World Economic Forum, the top skills are:-
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking
- People management
- Coordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgment and decision making
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility.
It’s important to note that many of the above skills are based on how you use your mind. How you think, what you say, feel and do. Given how much “noise” there is in this digital age, we must develop the skills to sieve through huge volumes of data to establish which information is most relevant. Furthermore, to then make quick decisions based on our assessment. Learning to prioritise and say no with confidence is key.
Solutions to mastering the important word of no in our everyday lives
Please note they do take into account the fact that you can’t always say no to things your boss asks you to do, your spouse or a loved one!
1. Firstly, create a clear vision of what you want for your life and what you want to achieve in your career or business. This alone will help you keep focused on what is important to you and will help you say no to interesting distractions.
2. Secondly, create clear goals and write out a simple five-step plan to achieve them. Check it daily, weekly and review progress. Asking yourself ‘what was this week’s biggest time waster’ can help you ascertain what you actually did do. Is there anything you could eliminate off your to-do list and say no to?
3. Thirdly, check your language. Your words have immense power. How often do you say you ‘should’ do something, or you ‘ought’ to do something and then do it begrudgingly? Ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t do it? Do you really want to do it and is it important?
Take a stand and say no to things you don’t want to do. Click To Tweet. Although it may shock people initially, I guarantee you will feel more empowered.
4. Know what you value. When you are living according to what you truly value and you set goals that align with your values, it is easier to say no to opportunities, even if they are exciting or fun. You can always say ‘no, not now.’ This helps your brain relax more as it knows you aren’t depriving it by closing the door forever.
Be selective with who you hang out with and if necessary use that important word no
5. If you want to get healthier say no to hanging out with people who have habits that are contrary to your health goals. Start connecting with healthier people and focus on creating better habits.
6. If you consider yourself someone who has low willpower, try setting yourself some new boundaries. Instead of saying ”I can’t have this’, ‘eat this’, ‘do this’, say ‘I don’t eat after 6 pm,’ or ‘I don’t eat chocolate.’ This word has way more power and energy than can’t which is ambiguous at the best of times. Set some clear ‘dont’s’ in your life.
7. Say no to being plugged into your phone. This alone will help you gain control and take charge of your focus. Furthermore, it will send a clear warning to advertisers that you will not fall prey to their clever subconscious marketing tactics. Refuse to become addicted by that anticipatory shot of dopamine your brain craves and expects as you open up one of your favourite sites. Unplug from your phone each day and have a day with no phone.
8. Embrace one of the Four Agreements from Don Miguel Ruiz. ‘Don’t take things personally.’ This helps you insulate yourself against that anticipatory fear of rejection and worry.
If you struggle with saying no, practice.
9. Mental rehearsal helps athletes win gold over silver and actors perform flawlessly. It can help you too. The more you practice imaging yourself saying no, the more neural pathways you make. Furthermore, the less likely your brain is to run its normal pattern of releasing stress hormones with the word no.
10. And if that doesn’t do it, think about future-proofing your career or business. Another reason to work on your Mindset. Hone your thinking skills, decision-making skills and strategies to prioritise. And of course, another reason to include this important word in your essential tool-kit. You become a more influential leader and a master of juggling complex projects, teams and ideas. Furthermore, it will help ensure you embrace skills to innovate and thrive in an ever-changing digital-focused economy. If Steve Jobs believes in the power of that important word no, I reckon that is worth taking note of, don’t you?
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” Steve Jobs
Master the art of saying no by making it an important word to help you achieve more of what you want
Of course, you have obligations, but within the limits of this, you have what I call wiggle room to take back your control. Master the art of saying no to the unimportant things flying in your direction every day. Stay focused, claw back more of your precious time and say yes to the things that really matter.
Lastly, remember the word no has the power to be both helpful and a burden toward your success. Use it wisely and consciously to ensure you step forward purposefully and wisely towards your goals and desired results.
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