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.
- 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
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
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.)