Learn to Say No

Just Say Yes


Learn to say no
Learn to Say No


You have one asset (time) that can and should be considered the most valuable asset you will ever own. It’s the only asset that will never increase, but only decrease in quantity. And almost every single person you will ever meet will want it. “Learn to Say No” is your only antidote. 

Jim Carrey starred in a funny movie called “Yes ‘Man”. It tells the story of a lonely banker called Carl Allen. He’s the kind of guy that exemplifies being stuck in a rut. His job sucks. He has no luck with women, he has no future prospects.  He was portrayed as the kind of guy who could give a course on Learning to Say No, instead of embracing the opportunities that life presented to him. 

Until one day, he enrolls into a personal development program run by the Australian, psychopathic equivalent of Tony Robbins. The program is really simple. All you need to do is just say “Yes”. Instead of letting opportunities pass you by every day, grab hold of them, because you never know where they might take you. Almost overnight, Carl’s life turns upside down. Because he’s forced to approve microloans for anyone without even taking a look at their business plan or paperwork, he inadvertently gets himself a promotion. Amazingly enough, everyone ends up paying the micro-loans back on time, and so Carl gets credit for his genius, out of the box thinking. But then things go sour when he takes the idea too far. 

The Importance of Saying No 

When you learn to say no, you don’t need to say less. Your best mode of action is a consequence of eliminating all other modes of action. When you say yes to many things, you say no to the things you really value. When you say no to many things, you say yes to the things you really value. The process of elimination is more difficult. 

Everyone wants your time. You have one asset, that can and should be considered the most valuable asset you will ever own. It’s the only asset that will never increase, but only decrease in quantity. And almost every single person you will ever meet will want it. To learn to say no is your only way to defend it. Everyone and everything is chasing after your time. Your boss will want it, your friends will want it, your business partners will want it, your family want it, your infinite collection of mindless distractions will yearn for it. You are then forced to make the biggest decision of all. 

Who or what should you give your time to?

That depends. When you’re young, saying yes isn’t so bad. It’s not like you’re smart or wise enough to know what you should be doing with your time anyway. You aren’t fully developed. Of course, you should go out and experience as many things as humanly possible, without dying or anything like that. But then you get a little older, and time seems to be flying and then it’s time for a new skill.

When you get a little older, it becomes much more important to prioritize your activities. That means setting limits and drawing boundaries. For many people, it’s an uncomfortable thing to do. But that’s when saying no becomes an art form. A strategy of declining other people’s plans will isolate you and make you unhappy. You need to find a delicate balance and be careful not to get carried away – which is easier said than done. 

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.” Jean de La Bruyère

The “No” Skill 

You should learn to say no to:

  • “Friends” who waste your time, who are toxic, who don’t care about your well-being, who are self-interested.
  • Bad habits
  • Unconscious addictions
  • Frivolous tendencies to waste time
  • Over-drinking
  • Overworking
  • Overthinking.
  • Yourself when you bully yourself around.
  • Well-dressed up but meaningless business opportunities.

You should learn to say no to money at the expense of your freedom, safety at the expense of your imagination, pragmatism at the expense of originality. 

“Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.” Jordan B. Peterson. 

You should learn to say yes only to things that really matter. To learn to say no is tough. You have to be ruthless. Sometimes you have to be blunt and hurt people’s feelings, reject them, and leave the door closed. Time thieves are all around us. They come in many forms. The more time you let people steal away from you, the less strength you will have to fight for what’s left. You will get stuck in a pattern of behavior – your capacity to discern proper expenditure of time will be compromised. 

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” Charles Darwin 

The Good Fight 

The good fight is reclaiming what’s rightfully yours. Not stealing what’s not yours from other people. Instead of thinking about ways to waste other people’s time, which is a crime against humanity in my book, try to think of ways to gain back your own time. To do something that matters, that truly makes people happy. Don’t try to build the next Facebook, Instagram, or mind-numbing, addictive game. Try to give people their time back. Help them believe in themselves, work harder, create worthwhile goals for themselves. 

In Changing Lanes, Samuel L. Jackson asks Ben Affleck – after the latter tries to make amends for his mistake, “What about time? Can you give me my time back?”

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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