If you really want to be successful in life, start saying no to these 5 things

We’re often told to do more, be more, and say ‘yes’ to everything. But what if the secret to success and happiness lies in saying ‘no’?

Today, we explore five areas where saying ‘no’ really matters. 

Each of these can eat away at our time, energy, and overall happiness. I think most of us could agree that these things are key ingredients of a truly successful life. 

Let’s dive in. 

1) An excessive work schedule

Like many of us, I once believed that logging in more hours was the surefire path to achieving my goals. 

But here’s the truth: studies have shown that working beyond 55 hours a week is more likely to harm than help. Not only does our productivity plateau, but our health takes a hit, too. 

I learned this firsthand when my 60-hour weeks left me more exhausted than accomplished, impacting both my physical health and mental sharpness.

It’s a common misconception that more time at work equals more work done, but in reality, it’s about working smarter, not longer. 

Ever found yourself staring blankly at my computer screen, unable to muster the energy or creativity needed? 

Me too. That’s when I knew something had to give.

By consciously choosing to cap my work hours, I found a surprising shift in my productivity. Not only did I become more efficient during my working hours, but my overall well-being improved significantly. 

Trust me (and the research); overworking isn’t a badge of honor; it’s part of the recipe for burnout and even serious health problems in later life, often with little to no gains in productivity. 

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound much like “success” to me.

2) Toxic relationships

The people we surround ourselves with have a profound impact on our lives – more than we often realize. 

As I wrote in a previous post, The Harvard Study on Adult Development, one of the longest studies on happiness, confirms this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier. 

But what about toxic relationships? Those energy-draining, soul-sapping connections that leave us more depleted than fulfilled? 

I’ve had my share of them; you probably have, too. 

It wasn’t until I started distancing myself from these negative influences that I truly understood their impact. Every interaction with a toxic person was like a small withdrawal from my emotional bank account, leaving me with less to invest in areas that mattered.

It’s not just about avoiding negativity, though. 

It’s about creating space for positive, uplifting relationships – those that support, challenge, and encourage us. By saying ‘no’ to toxic relationships, we’re saying ‘yes’ to healthier, more nurturing connections.

3) Keeping up with the Joneses

Have you ever found yourself scrolling through social media, feeling a twinge of envy at someone else’s seemingly perfect life? 

Or perhaps you’ve caught yourself making purchases or life choices based on what others might think rather than what truly makes you happy. 

This classic trap of ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ is a slippery slope.

In our constantly connected world, it’s easier than ever to fall into the comparison game. But as noted by Better Help, among others, constant comparison, especially of the negative variety, can significantly lower self-esteem and increase the risk of depression.

Think about the last time you compared yourself to someone else. How did it make you feel? 

More importantly, did it bring any real value to your life? 

Many of us think that this is a new idea – it’s not.

Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emporer, wrote the following, and it has stuck with me since I first came across it. 

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” 

Comparing is part of our nature, but our modern ways have only the opportunity to do so. 

Anyway, the point is by saying ‘no’ to the endless cycle of comparison, we’re not just freeing ourselves from unnecessary stress and dissatisfaction; we’re also redefining what success and happiness mean on our own terms. 

Isn’t it time we stopped measuring our worth against someone else’s yardstick?

4) Constant distractions

reasons introverts dread voicemail If you really want to be successful in life, start saying no to these 5 things

In today’s world, where our phones are constantly buzzing and our inboxes never seem to be empty, it’s easy to fall prey to the lure of constant distractions. 

…many of you will have received a familiar ping in the time that you have been reading this short piece. Some will have closed this post to reply. 

Sure, instant communication has benefits. But do we need to consider the cost of always being an instant message or quick mail away?

It also comes with a significant downside: the erosion of our ability to focus deeply. 

Reflect on your own experiences for a moment. How often do you find yourself interrupted by a notification or an email, and how does this affect your productivity and overall state of mind? 

These seemingly small interruptions can have a cumulative effect, fragmenting our attention and diminishing our capacity for meaningful work and living.

By consciously choosing to minimize these distractions, we’re not just boosting our productivity; we’re reclaiming our mental space and peace. It’s about saying ‘no’ to the constant pings and buzzes and ‘yes’ to focus, quality work, and being present.

5) Everything that isn’t a ‘hell yes’

Are there things you’re saying ‘yes’ to out of obligation, fear of missing out, or simply because you haven’t considered saying ‘no’? 

We all do it. 

But by applying this ‘hell yes or no’ principle, we can begin to make more conscious choices. We can begin to focus on what truly matters — quality over quantity.

This was one of my biggest takeaways from Greg McKeown’s bestseller, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

For me, this meant prioritizing writing over other less fulfilling activities. It meant turning down opportunities that didn’t align with my core goals, even if they sounded good on paper. 

The result? 

Not only did I become more productive and fulfilled in my work, but I also found more time and energy for the people and activities that truly enrich my life.

We can all benefit from taking stock of what really matters and saying no to pretty much everything else. 

It’s about making intentional choices that lead to a more focused, fulfilling existence.

The bottom line

Saying ‘no’ is a powerful tool in shaping a successful life. It’s about setting boundaries and prioritizing what truly matters.

By learning to say ‘no’ to things that don’t serve us, we open up space for what really does. 

This isn’t about being negative or dismissive; it’s about being intentional with our time, energy, and focus.

Every ‘no’ given to something less important is a ‘yes’ to something more important. 

Until next time. 

Mal James

Mal James

Mal James Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business. As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys. In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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