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”.
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…
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.
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?
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?