zen habits : breathe

Say No So You Can Say Yes

By Leo Babauta

When I suggest that people simplify their day by saying No to thing, I often hear people say, “But I’d rather say yes!”

Of course — saying Yes sounds so much more positive! I’ll say Yes to yoga, and wonderful projects, and gardening!

But where does the room for these beautiful new things come from? We have to admit to ourselves that there’s a limit to how much we can do in a day, and that our days are already full. We have limits.

So we have to say No first. We have to clear up some space by saying No to things we’d like to do, but that are taking up space in our lives — space that could be used by something we really really want to do.

Say No to all those things we said Yes to over time, that have accumulated and piled up like driftwood.

Saying Yes is Easy

That’s the problem — we say Yes to something because it doesn’t sound like much. Sure, I can have coffee with you! But that coffee also involves getting there and going back, and it involves a few more emails to coordinate day and time, and of course there might be a proposal during coffee that leads to more coffees and maybe even a project (especially if we say Yes to the proposal during coffee). And so on.

Saying Yes is easy, because current self thinks that future self can handle it, no problem. But then future self becomes current self, and suddenly has to pay up for all the obligations placed upon him by all the optimistic past selves. We have a huge debt of obligation to all the people we’ve said Yes to in the past, one at a time, but now they’re all calling and asking us to fulfill those obligations.

Saying Yes is great, except when you never say No, and then everything is piled up.

Saying Yes is Not Really Saying Yes

Saying Yes to everything means you really have time for nothing. You can’t possibly say Yes to everything, because where will you fit it all? Want to go to every meeting, every event, every coffee? Want to do every project that comes along? Your days will be crazy, and you’ll have no rest, and what’s more, you’ll likely not meet all your obligations.

Saying Yes to everything means you’re not really saying Yes — it means you’re not setting priorities. You’re not making a serious commitment. You’re not being conscious about your life.

Instead, I propose we adopt Derek Sivers’ idea: don’t say yes anymore. Either say Hell Yeah, or No. Say Yes to less, and simplify your life.

When to Finally Say Yes

Of course, I’m a big fan of saying Yes to the things you really love (or Hell Yes!). That’s the whole point of the Say No habit.

So start by saying No to the obligations you’ve built up but don’t really want to do. Make a list of all your commitments (really do it, it only takes 5 minutes) and mark the 4-5 that are most important. Say No to the rest — actually call or email people and let them know you can’t do it.

Create room in your life. Some breathing space. Some time for what’s most important — your important work, the things that you love, the people you love.

Then start saying Hell Yes to those things. Then it’s like magic.

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