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Why Everyone Should Learn About the Power of Saying No from the Singer-actor-investor Jared Leto

Why Everyone Should Learn About the Power of Saying No from the Singer-actor-investor Jared Leto

No. No. NO. Does hearing that word make you flinch? You needn’t, and here’s why.

In a society where saying yes is encouraged, and often even deemed essential to get ahead in life, it can seem counter-intuitive to accept that no—a term generally associated with negativity and refusal—has a very definite power and can even be harnessed as a positive force for change and advancement. Yet, the number of people embracing the power of no is on the rise, and with good reason: indeed, in the words of singer-actor-investor Jared Leto, while yes holds “opportunity, with the power of no comes focus and engagement“; and in today’s world of endless distractions and fierce competition (a dangerous combination, to be sure), being able to focus and engage with the task at hand becomes not only useful, but vital in order to stay ahead.

The Power of No

Let’s look at Jared Leto’s example to go a little deeper with this concept: as a talented musician, bona fide Hollywood actor and investor in tech start-ups (he’s recently lent a hand to Airbnb and Spotify, to name but a few), it’s fair to say that Leto lives a very full life, with many demands on his precious time. In fact, at his level of business, it’s simply impossible to do it all without sacrificing quality, and that is something he isn’t prepared to do: “I never wanted to make the most movies, to make the most albums,” he explains in Fast Company. Instead of aiming for a high output, then, he prefers to concentrate his efforts on the things he has a “deep interest and desire and passion” for; things that “add to the quality of people’s lives”.

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Simply put, Leto’s strategy consists in selecting his projects according to his core values—desire and passion and deep interest—and declining all the others. The end result? A plate less full with more time and energy to devote to each task, ensuring a better end product and less stress in the process. In other words, the power of no helps our favourite superstar stay focused on what matters the most to him—this allows him to concentrate his efforts on producing high quality work that he has a deep connection to, all the while taking the frustration of doing uninteresting busywork (that doesn’t necessarily benefit him in any way) out of the equation. Genius.

Here is why you should emulate Jared Leto in your personal and professional life.

1. Jared Leto is a well-loved and well-respected multi-millionaire.

Chances are he’s doing something right, and I have a feeling that his love of the power of no has something to do with it! All kidding aside…

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2. Saying no gives you more time to spend on what is important.

Consider this: the number of hours in a day is finite. There’s no way around it. Wouldn’t you rather spend what precious little time you have on something you really want to do? Whether you believe your time is better spent on getting your sweat on in the gym, working on your big project or spending quality time with your kids, being a better custodian of that time by saying no to those who would partake of it is a surefire way to do what really matters to you. Your time is important. Treat it as such.

Over to you: which activity close to your heart would you have more time for if you said no

3. Saying no protects your values.

I love this example in Psychology Today’s article on “the Power of No“: a man named Jack always prided himself on being there for his friends; on “having their back”, no matter what. One day, one of Jack’s buddies asked to use his holiday home as a rendezvous place for his clandestine love affair. Now, Jack loved his pal, but he valued his integrity more and he didn’t want to have a part in this most morally jarring situation. Using the power of no to stand up for what he believed in, he turned his friend down. Sure, he may have “violated an unspoken male code” in doing so, but Jack was more into liking himself than having others like him for saying yes to something that he was uncomfortable with.

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Over to you: could saying no help you out of a situation that doesn’t gel with your values?

4. Saying no helps you achieve your goals.

Carrying on from our item in this list, harnessing the power of no can be a highly efficient way of getting to where you want—faster. Much like our dear Mr. Leto, anyone can benefit from selecting a handful of projects that vibrate with their core values and politely decline taking on any work that doesn’t fit that mould. Don’t be afraid to lose friends over this: true friends will value your time, and potential business partners will respect your desire to focus all your attention on your most important work.

Over to you: which of your current projects don’t resonate with your values? Can you cull them now?

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5. Saying no prevents others from taking advantage of you.

We’ve all been there: we’ve said yes to lending our favorite items of clothing to an untrustworthy friend (yes, totally burned), we’ve accepted to lend the loveable class slacker our painstakingly taken notes, we’ve felt the rising resentment in us as we agreed again and again to do something we weren’t totally comfortable with to ingratiate ourselves with others. It happens. It’s time to change, though: in accepting to let others take advantage of our kindness, we’re accepting to give away our personal power, and for what? Saying no in these situations is a way to take back what is ours, regaining our respect for ourselves and quelling that resentment at its source.

Over to you: what uncomfortable situation in which you’re being taken advantage of could you put an end to by saying no?

Saying no is a difficult task, especially when we’ve been in the habit of saying yes all our lives. After all, we have been conditioned to accept the open-hearted, risk-taking and courageous yes as the only answer to the questions in this world; how could it possibly be easy to embrace this other alternative? By indulging in a little self-reflection, of course! Consider this: how different would your life be if you wandered off the beaten path and said no, once in a while? What if you decided to put yourself first, instead of accepting to play second fiddle to someone else’s dreams? What if you had all the time in the world to concentrate on what mattered the most to you? What if…?

Take a risk this week: say no. See how it changes you. Try again. How freeing does it feel?

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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