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The Positivity of Saying No

It works like a charm. Too bad the word "no" is associated with such negativity. It may make us uncomfortable, but few words provide more freedom. Saying “no” can reduce stress and improve productivity. Yet, we avoid saying it, allowing ourselves to be pulled into too many, and often conflicting, directions. This process works great for making top-shelf taffy. However, pouring our time and energy into activities and tasks that bring no enjoyment or results, is wasteful. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as learning when to say no and saying it more often.

Before considering the magical powers of no to bring more focus and meaning into our lives, it’s worth considering why some of us have such a hard time with it. Broadly speaking, clues can be found in the dynamics between the two types of people in the world: Givers and Takers. In his pioneering research at the Wharton School, Adam Grant discovered that these behavioral styles have a surprisingly powerful impact on our success. He writes about his findings in his New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling book "Give and Take." In a nutshell: If you’re a Giver, you’re probably well liked and admired. Givers are generally successful. But without healthy boundaries you run the risk of being exploited — likely by Takers — and burning out.

Selfless giving with little or no concern for your own time, energy or what you will get in return is a certain dead end. If you are a Taker, on the other hand, you are likely at ease taking from others, perhaps even taking credit for their ideas and work. Deep breaths are in order here. The good news, according to Grant, is that most of us fall somewhere in-between. Matchers, as we’re called, work and play in sort of a game of tit-for-tat or reciprocity.

We’re willing to give and help others with some reasonable expectation that we will gain something in return, although not necessarily directly. Like most of the important matters in life, it’s all about balance and moderation. If you’re feeling like your life is out of control, you’re too busy or you can’t possibly complete all of your tasks, chances are you need to just say no, to more people and more often. Consider these benefits:

More free time. You’re more able to help others if you also give yourself priority. There’s nothing left to give if you don’t allow yourself to unwind. Are you taking on more tasks than you can possibly finish? Are lacking the free time necessary to pursue your hobbies and interests? Is it possible that you’d have more free time if you had declined a few requests? Decide how much free time you need each week and stick to that schedule.

Greater control over your life. When you say “yes” too much, you’re relinquishing authority and allowing others to dictate your schedule for you. Happiness is elusive when you don’t believe you have control over your life. Doing what you can to help others doesn’t mean you have to give up control over your life.

Higher probability of achieving your goals. Remember, when you say “yes,” you’re helping others reach their goals. That’s great, but never forget, your goals are important, too. Ensure you have enough time to invest in your own dreams. Big goals cannot be attained without giving them consistent attention. How much time do you need for your goals?

Establish respectful boundaries. Relationships with friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and romantic partners, all call for boundaries. Without them, our lives would be pure chaos. Saying “no” when the situation calls for it takes courage and self-respect. It’s up to you to set limits on each person in your life. All it takes is one simple word!

Honor your values. There are times we’re asked to do something that compromises our values. A friend or family member might ask you to lie. Your boss might ask you to fudge information to make him or her look better. When you’re asked to do something that conflicts with your values, the word “no” can help you protect your integrity.

Stop being taken advantage of. If you don’t believe you’ve been taken advantage, you haven’t been paying attention. Who hasn’t been hung out to dry at least a few times? You don’t have to participate in activities that lead to a loss. Kindness is admirable, but when it crosses the line into blind selflessness it’s destructive. In the words of Aretha, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

People can handle “no” better than you think. People who struggle to say the word “no” often believe that the other person will be upset or hold it against them. You’ll be surprised to find the other person is perfectly capable of handling your refusal. In our world of give and take, yes and no, they’re probably striving just as hard as you to get a lot of things done. Most of us have a lot on our plates. As you practice saying the word “no” it becomes easier. Of course, we can’t say “no” to every request. After all, we’d like other people to do things for us, too.

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