Billionaire Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, believes that saying “no” can be the best thing you ever do for your career.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
In other words, they pick and choose with intention on what they yes to and what they say no to, says Amy Blaschka at Forbes.
“It all comes down to simplifying, prioritizing, and focusing your attention on what matters most,” she says.
While this is a great quote that works in our professional lives, I think saying no a lot can make a positively impactful change in our personal lives as well.
The “just say no” mindset can even change your life.
If you’re serious about making lasting and meaningful changes in your life, here are five ways that saying no (most of the time) can do just that.
1) Say no to doing things out of obligation
Years ago, I remember reading a book about synchronicity and the nudges we get from the universe to break old patterns that aren’t serving our growth.
One story in the book was about a man who was told that his aunt had died. He wasn’t close with the aunt and considered not going, but felt obligated to attend her funeral because she was family.
The aunt had lived across the country, and the man decided to make something positive out of it and take a road trip instead of flying out for the funeral since her last rites was about a week or so away.
He thought the road trip would give him a chance to reflect, and that he would enjoy the serenity of the scenery and stops along the way.
But the trip turned out to be anything but therapeutic. His car broke down along the way, so he had to take a detour and find a mechanic—not to mention pay for the expensive repairs.
In fact, the whole trip turned out to be one negative mishap after another.
If I remember correctly, the man ended up missing the funeral. On the way home, feeling miserable, he had an epiphany.
He realized that the trip was a metaphor that he had a habit of doing things out of a sense of obligation—even when it directly went against what he wanted to do.
He didn’t even like his late aunt, but he felt a familial duty to attend her funeral—which he didn’t even end up making anyway.
The man saw the road trip from hell as a turning point. He decided from then on he would check in with himself—really check in—to see if his decisions were aligned with his highest good.
I think this beautiful quote by Richard Bach sums it up perfectly:
“Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself. Being true to anyone else or anything else is not only impossible, but the mark of a fake messiah.”
2) Say no to negativity (aka toxic people)
Toxic people can cross our path in all forms: a domineering boss, a manipulative mother-in-law, or a narcissistic father, for example.
Sometimes we have to cut these people out—at least to a certain degree—in order to give ourselves a much-needed sense of peace.
Saying no to the problematic people can be done in a number of different ways, depending on your own individual situation, say the staff at Delaware Psychological Services.
You can let them know how you feel, for one thing. “While you don’t owe them an explanation, this is probably more for you…if you feel like severing the relationship, let them know calmly and don’t sink to their level if they fight back. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you may want to do this in a public space.”
You can also put some distance between you and them, say the staff at Delaware.
“You may want to completely put an end to the relationship…and go with the pull-off the bandaid approach.”
If you feel that’s extreme—especially because it’s a close family member—then try to put some space between you and them.” This can look like unfollowing them on social media or limiting the amount of times you see them (short visits on holidays, for example).
If they reach out to spend time together, you say a soft-no by saying you have other plans.
Sometimes a “hard no” is something that needs to happen, says Tara Mackey, author of Cured by Nature. “It’s likely that they…will perhaps even dig their claws in deeper if you try and create a separation,” she says. “Don’t let this discourage you.”
Mackey says it’s important to be clear with your intentions and maintain the boundaries you’ve established from someone who is toxic to your mental health.
“If you told yourself you wouldn’t respond to their texts, don’t,” she says. “Block their number and block them on all social media. Don’t send them any emails and don’t check in six months from now.”
Make sure you don’t allow yourself to be pulled into a crisis, say the staff at Delaware Psychological services.
“Even if you’re standing your ground, toxic people have a way of pulling you back in. Maybe they’ll call you because they’re going through a family emergency and need you. There’s a good chance this is just a ploy to get you back into their life.”
It’s vital to stand your ground to refrain from falling into their trap.
“Remember, it’s not your responsibility to always be their shoulder to cry on. And, if they are truly in need, direct them towards the appropriate resources.”
3) But also say no to the negative self-talk
Sometimes the person we have to really say no to is…ourselves.
Many of us are guilty of being our own worst enemies, says Isabel Cabrera at Expert Editor.
“Listening to that inner critic can have negative consequences on our psyche,” she says.
Negative self-talk can kill our motivation and become an impenetrable block to reaching our potential—if we allow it.
Cabrera says that instead of letting our berating thoughts about us spiral out of control, we need to stop giving in to that toxic mindset.
“Identify that you’re being self-critical,” she says. “Then, replace that negative habit with something positive by practicing some self-compassion.”
These can include mindfulness, positive affirmations, and constructive self-reflection.
All of these have been proven to provide a positive feedback loop and reassure us during those dreaded periods of self doubt.
4) Say no to spending so much time on social media
Speaking of toxic behaviors, we know that social media can be a cesspool of it.
To top off the trolling, bullying, and just sheer negativity, there’s also the comparison factor. Other people’s lives can look (keyword: look) more exciting and fulfilling than ours.
Social media can also make our lives feel exceptionally lonely.
A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that high usage of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram increases rather than decreases feelings of loneliness, say Lawrence Robinson and Melinda Smith of HelpGuide.
“Conversely, the study found that reducing social media usage can actually make you feel less lonely and improve your overall well-being,” they say.
Social media certainly has its benefits: it can be a great place to connect with friends and family all over the world, and it can serve as inspiration in a myriad of ways.
“While [social media] has its benefits, it’s important to remember social media can never be a replacement for real-world connection,” say Robinson and Smith.
It requires in-person contact with other people to trigger the hormones that alleviate stress and make you feel happier, healthier, and more positive, they say.
“Ironically for a technology that’s designed to bring people closer together, spending too much time engaging with social media can actually make you feel more lonely and isolated—and exacerbate mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.”
So if you’re spending an excessive amount of time on social media and feelings of sadness, dissatisfaction, frustration, or loneliness are impacting your life, Robinson and Smith say that it could well be time to re-examine your online habits so that you can find a healthier balance.
The guidance of a mental health therapist can also help you set and stick to parameters that help foster your well-being.
5) Say no to comparing yourself to other people
Being the social creatures that we are, we can also have the negative habit of comparing ourselves with other people. This could be on social media and also in our 3D life.
“Too much comparison leads to unhappiness and low self-esteem,” says Elizabeth Perry from BetterUp. “We become frustrated with ourselves for ‘not being good enough,’ or angry with others.”
Perry says that feelings of jealousy, frustration, and hopelessness can emerge if comparisons continue. “If left unaddressed, chronic anxiety and depression can step from such behavior.”
To avoid comparisons, people might look to other people’s perceived flaws and faults to make themselves feel better. But this is just as unhealthy as tearing yourself apart for what you don’t have or don’t look like, emphasizes Perry.
Some things we can do is to be aware of and avoid triggers (we mentioned above that staying off social media as much as you can can help).
Also, don’t compare other people’s “outsides” to your “insides,” says Perry.
“No one truly knows what’s happening behind the scenes in someone else’s life. Everyone is facing their own struggles.”
Change your life by saying one “no” at a time…
Jessica Estrada from Apartment Therapy says that saying no to things allowed her to discover her true desires—big and small.
“I started to create a lifestyle that was more in line with the person I am now. For example, I used to live for wild nights out with the girls, but these days I’m more about decadent dinners and quite nights with my man, but I wouldn’t have realized that until I started declining the invitations to go out.”
The point is to start small. Before too long, you’ll start to feel more confident and empowered to say no to the more difficult things.
Your life will reflect the positive changes and you’ll well-being will be better for it.