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25 Oct

A more effective way of saying no

Datum: 2022-10-25 09:00
To the left, a fishbowl containing a goldfish and to the right, a cat looking away, resisting temptation.

There are offers we wish to decline, things we do not want to do, tasks we no longer want to be respon­si­ble for doing. But to many it is hard to say no — both to our­selves and to oth­ers — sim­ply because it is so tempt­ing to say yes. 

It feels good to be the one oth­ers can depend on, who saves the day and solves the prob­lem, who does what they are real­ly good at, even though it per­haps no longer is their job. A lit­tle side­step into what might not actu­al­ly be pro­duc­tive and effi­cient, can feel bet­ter in the short-run than doing and choos­ing what is best for us in the long-run.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

After­wards we have to deal with the con­se­quences by not hav­ing time for the tasks which we are sole­ly respon­si­ble for com­plet­ing, and have to work hard­er than we are com­fort­able with in order to fin­ish everything.

Not allowed to, or choos­ing not to

But it does­n’t have to be this way. We can help our­selves to choose what is best for us and stay away from what is more tempt­ing by how we for­mu­late our no”.

In a study made in 2012 by the researchers Vanes­sa M Patrick at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hous­ton and Hen­rik Hagtvedt at Boston Col­lege, an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment was con­duct­ed. One group of test-sub­jects were told to tell them­selves I am not allowed to X” every time they were exposed to a cer­tain temp­ta­tion (where X is the temp­ta­tion itself, such as I am not allowed to eat ice cream.”). Anoth­er group was told to tell them­selves I am not going to X” (such as I do not eat ice cream”).

It turns out that the first group, the ones who said I am not allowed to X”, still fell for the temp­ta­tion 61% of the time. The oth­er group, who said I will not do X”, only chose the tempt­ing option 36% of the time. The researchers came to the con­clu­sion that the sec­ond group’s way of for­mu­lat­ing their no” had a sig­nif­i­cant impact on them resist­ing the temp­ta­tion. In the first for­mu­la­tion, some­one else is pre­vent­ing us from doing what tempts us, but in the sec­ond one it is our own choice to refrain.

Eas­i­er to make the right choice

Judg­ing by this study, it is eas­i­er to say no (and respect our inten­tion) by phras­ing our no” more active­ly and res­olute­ly. This way we will make more of the right choic­es and bet­ter suc­ceed in cre­at­ing our dai­ly lives in accor­dance with our more con­scious preferences.

Do this

  1. Think about one or a few sit­u­a­tions in your dai­ly life in which you are tempt­ed to choose some­thing that you will lat­er regret, when you tend to do some­thing you want to stop doing or when you find it dif­fi­cult to say no, even though you want to. It could for instance be:
    • to check social media in the morn­ings (unless it is part of your job to do so)
    • to work dur­ing the weekend
    • to say yes to help­ing oth­ers when you have more impor­tant tasks you need to prioritize
    • to low­er your price when a client wants some­thing cheaper
    • to allow meet­ings to go on past the ini­tial time-frame
    • or to do some­thing else
  2. For­mu­late your no”s sim­i­lar to how the sec­ond group in the study did. Using my exam­ples list­ed above, the no” would some some­thing along the lines of:
    • I do not open Twit­ter, LinkedIn or Face­book before lunch.”
    • I do not work dur­ing weekends.”
    • I do not help oth­ers before my most pri­or­i­tized tasks are completed.”
    • I do not bargain.”
    • My meet­ings do not fin­ish after the set ending-time.”
  3. Now write your own no-sen­tences” down some­where where you will see them when the temp­ta­tion aris­es, such as on a Pos­tIt past­ed to your screen, on the com­put­er desk­top, in your agen­da, on the notice­board, in your pri­or­i­ti­za­tion-tool, in OneNote (where you keep your meet­ing notes), or in your notepad.
  4. The next time you are close to falling for the temp­ta­tion, say your no-sen­tence either qui­et­ly or out loud to your­self, and see if you to a greater extent man­age to choose the bet­ter option before the eas­i­er one. This has made a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence to me. Per­haps it will to you as well.

Choos­ing to align more with your true desires

If you for­mu­late your no”-statements in more con­crete words and with greater resolve, you will find it eas­i­er to say no when you real­ly want to. What you are say­ing no to might be a temp­ta­tion you are offer­ing your­self, a request or a ques­tion you get from a col­league or per­haps a future client. 

In sit­u­a­tions like these, you will be more inclined to stand by the choice you pre­vi­ous­ly deter­mined would be the bet­ter choice to make in a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion, even though it might be dif­fi­cult at first to choose what does not give instant gratification.

No not”?

There is pos­si­bly some­thing though that speak against this method. If I am not mis­tak­en, I have read about research done which con­clud­ed that state­ments made with­out nega­tion (hence leav­ing out the not”) influ­ence our deter­mi­na­tion even more. If I man­age to find it, you might read about the study in a future blogpost.

What is your way?

How do you make it eas­i­er to say no” or refrain from doing some­thing you pre­vi­ous­ly have done? Tell me!

(Say­ing no may also be eas­i­er to do if you cre­ate tem­plates for say­ing no to follow.)

Man in a beige sweater wearing headphones in an office.

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