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Use the incredible power of saying “no” to break through the next level

 So you’ve made your lists, set out all the “to do” items and maybe several “Would be nice to complete items” or “stretch goals” if we want to make it all “corporate” sounding. You’ve been having great success with this for some time. You no longer forget to do things you need to, you’re able to lump like tasks together like errands, and you’ve started getting a nice sense of satisfaction from crossing things off said list. But lately, maybe you feel like you’ve hit a wall for what’s reasonable for a person to accomplish with their time. Maye your list has started to feel like it’s too big for the hours you have in the day? I was feeling the same way as my list grew larger and larger as a way to challenge and test my limitations.

This is how it starts for many people. When they’re initially starting out they have very clear ideas about what they want to do, but as items and complexity get added it becomes increasingly more difficult to simply prioritize what to do and when, especially if you don’t take time to be very intentional and “on purpose” with what you really want at the end of your day or weekend of activity rich accomplishment.

When I reflect on what makes me feel most accomplished, what really makes me happy, like the type of items that I still have that lingering feeling of contentment, satisfaction, and lasting joy from days, and weeks later, there are a few common themes that appear consistently. Simple things that I could have only come to know in the doing.-organizing a cluttered area, making a room, a space, an environment more restoring or happy to be in, or perhaps removing something that annoys me like that item I always bump into on the counter as I’m trying to get make breakfast in a hurry, or that thing I can’t ever seem to find like the lids to the tupperware containers when I’m running late, or that stupid table that I bump into every night when I’m going to take a pee. But I, like most people, often simply forget, in the fog of daily activities, to start with cultivating these outcomes as my goal, not just crossing items, even high importance items off my list. Because high importance and high happiness payback are not always the same. Start by asking better questions. Questions that drive a happier outcome-Questions such as:

What do you most need or want to have done at the end of the week, weekend, etc.?’

What is the thing that is going to make you feel accomplished, happy?

Which tasks are going to provide a quality of life improvement by eliminating clunky friction throughout your daily life?

What do you look at or struggle with most frequently that would make your life easier if not there?

Is it the fact that you have to rush around in the mornings? The evenings?

Would you simply like to feel more comfortable in your habitat?

Is there something you could change about your room to get better sleep (Curtains, white noise, bedding)?

Is there a cluttered or dirty space that you’ve been dealing with for so long, you simply have forgotten it’s full of clutter?

What have you been putting off so long that you’ve become afraid of?-likely for no reason. Go over and crush that thing today.

The real goal of this more intentional way of approaching what is important to YOUR life is to stop being distracted by inconsequential activities (Facebook, text message interruptions, phone calls, conversations that are unnecessary or being used as an escape from the real activities you need to do.

Usually the activities you are a little scared of are the ones that will bring you the greatest sense of satisfaction to complete. See this cycle for what it is and realize that when you are struggling with a task, it’s because it often has the greatest potential to unlock and bring happiness, but it must be difficult or the resulting high will be short lived. This isn’t to say that everything that is difficulty will bring you happiness, but the things that bring you happiness are so often difficult. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say they take massive unflinching effort.

Is your garage hugely disorganized from years of using it as a catch all room? It will take a great effort to clean it but that is why you’ll feel so great once you do it. Have you let your body get out of shape? It will take some struggle and more importantly consistency to get it to where you want, but it will feel great only equal to the effort and consistency you put in. Do you have a relationship you’ve put on the back burner? It will take time and conscious dedicated effort to turn that around over a long period of time, but it WILL happen if you don’t give up when you get discouraged or feel overwhelmed by what it takes to get the result you want.

If fact, it’s fine to feel overwhelmed, crushed, discouraged, just don’t let that be the end of the story. In exercise-stop for 5 min catch your breath again, watch how you suddenly can go a little further once you have more oxygen for your brain again, and then get back to it. In relationships, take some time to sort out your thoughts and get clear on how you really feel about an obstacle, then get back in there, if that’s what you decide, and get a better more functional outcome, knowing that the health of the relationship is your goal. In manual labor, take half an hour or an hour to cool off or warm up, get some food, do a fun instant gratification task, and then get back to it.

You will be rewarded even if you stop temporarily to re balance yourself, as long as you don’t stop taking meaningful action permanently. No genuine reward comes without that struggle. Comforts come without struggle, little widgets you can buy or electronic gadgetry come without struggle, but the big highs and satisfactions of life are ripe with strife and discomfort. Start to recognize this pattern and remind yourself of it when you are thinking about quitting because “things are too hard”. With some time you’ll start to understand this with foresight and embrace the causal relationship of having to “struggle”.

Another powerful tool for staying on track is also one of the simplest. It’s the power of exercising your freewill to say no to things that don’t matter, instead of being sucked into distractions or activities with no beneficial outcome. The power of “no” is so deeply woven into the concept of perseverance, because it’s often yourself you need to tell no. ‘No-I won’t stop right now because I told myself I would do this thing and I’m an adult who does what I say I will. To fail at this is to admit that I’m not honest with myself about why I don’t succeed at …..’

The power of “no” feels amazing once you embrace it. You’ll find that it crosses into so many aspects of your life, helping to set firm boundaries that keep you honest about your wants needs and goals. It goes something like-Music you no longer want to hear-thumbs down! Next song, spam email-nope-blocked!, social obligations that feel like chores-no, sorry I’m not going to be able to make it!-Got a lot going on this weekend, tonight, forever, etc. Activities that were once fun but aren’t anymore-no more!, possessions that have become simple clutter-not in my house. You’re getting donated or sold for a tax write off or for cash, because it’s about pushing out things that don’t bring you joy to allow room for things that do. Perhaps you just use the time you’ve created by saying no to unwanted things for reflection, thought, or just simply being. So go on, exercise your free will and say “no” to something today. See how much better you can feel permanently by having it gone.


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  1. I hate running, but I have to do it. I find that it like something around 80% mental. There is this little voice that goes something like “You’ve done enough, good job. You can stop and just walk now.”

    That is a little voice that I have to say no to.

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