4 signs you’ve mastered the art of saying “no” in life

Life is packed with stuff we’re ‘supposed’ to do, people we ‘should’ see, and places we ‘need’ to be. 

It can easily become overwhelming. 

If you are reading this, you have probably come to the conclusion that saying “no” more often can reduce this.  

You would be correct. 

I was once that overwhelmed, overcommitted mess. Developing a habit of refusal was a game-changer. 

It would be an understatement to say that a lot of good things happen when we really master the art of decline. 

Today, we’re going to cover four of them. 

How many can you relate to?

Let’s find out. 

1) You suddenly have a lot more time (and it feels good) 

Time is money, they say. 

The real truth is time is a lot more valuable than money. We can make more money, but we can’t cheat time. 

Saying “no” can help us to reclaim some of it, though. 

When we have mastered this art, the clock no longer feels like a relentless taskmaster. Instead, it feels like a generous friend, gifting us with moments we never realized we had.

While saying yes to something that takes just an hour or afternoon might seem harmless, these things add up. It’s hard to believe how much time we can free up by just saying no to a few non-essential things. 

The best part? 

It makes us happier. I can attest to this personally, but it is also backed up by studies. 

As reported by Time, a 2021 study, showed that well-being increases with more free time for those that don’t have a lot of it. 

Full disclosure: the results level off. That is, too much free time can result in us not feeling productive and lacking purpose, which actually makes us less happy. 

That being said, if you are someone who was, quite frankly, overloaded with commitments as I was, that bit of extra free time can feel like a heaven-send. 

2) You have more energy 

Do you feel like you have a bit more get-up-and-go? 

This could be because you have mastered the art of saying “no” too, and it might not be for the reason you think. 

Many would presume that having more energy is a result of having more free time or just doing less. 

I thought this, too, and while it probably plays a role, that’s not the full story. 

Studies have shown that making too many decisions can deplete our cognitive resources, leaving us feeling out of mental energy. 

This is often said to be one of the reasons that hyperproductive figures like Mark Zuckerberg often wear the same thing every day: to reduce decision fatigue. 

But how does this relate to saying “no”? 

Well, when we commit to something, there are inevitably more decisions to be made. 

Take something seemingly insignificant, like going to a dinner party.

Once you say “yes”, you might then need to decide on what dish or drink to bring, if it’s a potluck or BYOB. What’s the dress code — casual, semi-formal, or themed? 

Should you bring a gift for the host? How are you getting there and back — driving, ride-sharing, or public transport? 

Do you need to arrange for a babysitter or pet sitter? What time do you need to leave to arrive punctually?

Here’s another: when you agree to give a quick presentation at work, you’ll likely think about which points are crucial to cover in the limited time frame. 

What visual aids or slides are needed? Will you require any tech equipment, like a clicker or a microphone? 

Do you need to rehearse, and if so, how many times? Should you anticipate certain questions and prepare answers for them?

All of these things take up much more mental energy than simply saying “no”. 

3) Your quality of {insert important thing in your life} has improved

It’s tempting to believe that saying “yes” to everything will amplify our productivity: that we will achieve more. 

But if you have mastered the art of declining, you will know it often just multiplies mediocrity.

Quite simply, spreading ourselves thin across countless tasks means nothing gets the undivided attention it deserves.

This was one of my biggest takeaways from Greg McKeown’s bestseller, Essentialism.

He writes

“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”

And it’s true. 

By saying “no,” we can give a great big “yes” to the things that are most important to us.  

I left a blank in the title of this point because what matters to us will differ. 

For some of us, it might be family relationships; for others, it could be work, fitness, health, or whatever. 

For me, it was writing and spending time with my wife. Both of those things have improved in quality since I took on the “no” habit. 

The point is, by saying “no” to things that are not important, we make time and energy for the things that are, and they get better. 

This is arguably one of the most important benefits of taking control of your commitment. 

Kudos to you if you can relate to this sign. 

4) FOMO no longer rules your decisions 

Ah, the dreaded fear of missing out. It has this sneaky way of making us believe that every gathering, opportunity, or shiny new trend is something we need to participate in. 

Spoiler alert: we don’t.

After learning about the benefits of saying “no”, I took a long hard look at what occupied my time. I realized that, more often than not, things that I thought would bring me joy or happiness didn’t. 

I went to parties and events and met with acquaintances whom I didn’t really connect with because I didn’t want to miss out on some kind of undefined benefit. 

The truth is there was rarely any benefit at all, and I simply ended up wasting money and, more importantly, time. 

Now, I am not saying that I don’t meet people or socialize anymore. I do. I am just more careful with whom I do it and focus on quality rather than quantity. 

I now embrace a different concept, JOMO, or the Joy of Missing Out. 

If you find yourself relishing a quiet evening at home while the world posts about the ‘epic’ night out, or you comfortably pass on that ‘life-changing’ seminar everyone’s raving about, congrats. 

The bottom line

Mastering the art of saying “no” isn’t about shutting doors; it’s about opening the right ones. 

It truly is the key to clarity, balance, and reclaiming control in a chaotic world

If you can relate to the above signs, I congratulate you. Creating a “no” habit is no easy feat. 

Here’s to living purposefully. 

Until next time. 

Picture of 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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