How to Unlock Your Potential by Saying No More Often

Tim Ferriss, the amazing investor, author, and lifestyle quipped in a publication “What you don’t do determines what you can do.”

This is a profound statement that speaks to the power of prioritizing by saying “NO”. Indeed, the more you say yes to things, the more busy you get doing things you really wish you wouldn’t.

Interestingly, I have always found myself in a pickle when it comes to me disassociating myself from commitments I hurriedly say yes to.

With regret in my heart, I ask myself a well too common question, as I try to wiggle my way out, “why did I say yes?” Despite this, I would almost automatically say yes to a new task, in the middle of this melt down.

Luckily for me, I figured out a way to take control of my reflexes. With a lot of research and some practice, I eventually got the courage to say ‘No’ more. In this article, I will be speaking from my experience, on whether or not saying “No” is a good habit.

Benefits of Saying no

Effect Of Not Being Able To Say No

The legendary inventor Steve Jobs said;

“It’s only by saying NO that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

An average person has a lot of things to do, some of which cannot be avoided. To illustrate, imagine your exams start in 5 days, but you have been invited to a party fixed a day before your exam.

Unfortunately, you are behind in your study, and any minute you don;t spend studying puts you at risk of failing. The question is what would you do?

If you are the type of saying “YES” always, then the above scenario is something you are well too familiar with. Of course, you will indulge the invitation to the party, and ultimately find yourself regretting on the day of your exam, unable to answer questions, because you didn’t have enough time to revise and concentrate on your test. 

However, as you will find out, you actually had enough time, but your inability to say no, put you in a position where you had to attend a less important activity. Below are few negative effect of not being able to say no;

1. Burn Out

An article published on linkedin by Susan Schachterle, the Director of The Ahimsa Group explains that the inability to say no, can be likened to burning the candle at both ends. Saying yes to every request and demand puts a toll on both mental and physical health. 

Hence, the feeling of being empty of motivation and the mental resources to take on minor tasks is an effect of mindlessly doing many things at a time which can be avoided. Burn out can therefore be avoided indirectly by having a healthy dose of “NO’ to most of the things you dedicate your time to.

2. Anger And Resentment

Pleasing everybody might make everybody happy, but it will definitely leave you in the mud. Having accepted all invitations, and promised to carry out every single activity required of you, you soon realize you have little or no time for yourself or what you must do. The result of this will be a build up of anger and resentment towards the same people you couldn’t refuse.

I recently came across a report by the Cleveland Clinic which states anger and resentment as one of the major effects of not being able to say no. I completely agree as I have been in this shoe so many times. I have only come to realize that most times, the initial resentment felt by whosoever I say no to wears away quickly. However, the animosity I feel lingers on..

3. Lack Of Boundaries

If you allow yourself to be easily accessible by every Tom, Dick and Harry who needs a quick favor from you, you would soon lose all your boundaries. Lack of boundaries often leads to abuse. People have little or no value for what they can easily get.

Unfortunately, once people perceive they can use your time and space at will, they grow an unhealthy entitlement. Over time this will spiral down to abuse, with you being the victim. Ofcourse, nobody wants to be a victim of abuse, unfortunately many are unaware that their inability to simply say no, is the very reason why they are being abused.

Why Do We Say Yes Often

Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is reputed to have said “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.”

For some,it is easier to say yes than to say no. And I used to be that person, which made me assume that it was a unique problem. However, I have come to see that it is a common problem, one that plagues a lot of people.

So, the question is, why do we say yes more often than we say no? In this section, we shall be addressing this question, focusing on 3 major reasons.

1. To Please People

A revealing article on Psychology Today explains that the need to always want to please people is one of the major reasons why most people find it hard to say no. The root cause of this is often the fear of being rejected, as well as the need to be well liked.

Once you seek validation, love and acceptance of people, it will push you into compulsively agreeing to things even though it hurts you. Where we all need acceptance and love from family and friends, it only becomes a problem when we are ready to hurt ourselves to get it. Such extreme tendencies have been linked to a form of personality disorder.

2. To Avoid Confrontation

Most people do not love confrontation. They avoid it at all costs. Although being non-confrontational can be a virtue, it is also important to be able to stand one's ground. In my own case, I realized standing my ground especially against someone I care about wasn’t my strong suit. However, with time, I leant how to do it, without being offensive.


The fear of missing out is probably one of the biggest pushes to doing really silly things. The scenario often goes something like this:

A few colleagues are having a drink after work and you are invited. But you know you have to put in the extra work to make ends meet for the month, but fear of missing out on hanging out makes you accept the invitation.

The above scenario is common in our daily lives, where we find ourselves involved in activities that are not important at the moment because we feel like everybody is doing it. However, it rarely works to our benefit.

Is Saying No, An Assurance Of Getting Better in Everything?

The obvious answer to this is no. Of course, saying no comes with a lot of benefits, compared to saying “Yes''. However the most important thing is to learn how to measure the value of activities before indulging the request to do them. However, value itself is relative.

Certain activities may seem unproductive but are necessary. You have to prepare food; visit the market, buy groceries and run your home. Saying no to these things does not mean you would have a richer life.

A better approach to managing some requests or activities is to ask yourself, what happens if I say yes? and what happens if I say no? Compare the consequences of both and if the consequences of both are minimal, then go ahead and do it.

How To Handle Situations You Cannot Say No To

One of the best ways to handle situations you cannot say “NO” to is to take time out to assess the situation rather than saying “YES” straight away. Simply ask for more time to think about it. After contemplating, you can then go ahead to make a decision. This method is advised by Tim Harford, the British economist. He writes, “One trick is to ask, “If I had to do this today, would I agree to it?”

To illustrate, imagine you are invited to an important get-together session where you have to guide the students about their career. You say yes without any second thought. Few days later you are also invited to speak at a function to raise funds for orphans.

You're now in a dilemma. A few days of contemplating the first request would have saved you. Therefore the key is to always remember that situations pop up. The best thing for us to do is to always take our time before giving our word on any request.

Hence, my approach to requests that I cannot turn down is to simply ask for more time to think, and sure enough, I usually come up with a more informed response.

Why Saying ‘No’ is a Good Habit

When it comes to saying no, there are a lot of key figures in society who advocate it. A perfect example is Mr. Buffet.

He is known for his popular quote“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
If you say yes to everything, you will have a hard time getting the most important things done. And this is the reason most successful people prefer to say no to most things, Below are 3 reasons why saying no is a good habit.

1. Increased Rest And Rejuvenation

Having given your all to the most important activity of the day, you need time to rest. Saying no, to all other requests and activities that are not very important ensures you get enough time to rest and prepare for the next day’s activities.

2. Focus

One of the things really successful people have in common is their ability to focus on the most important things. This trait is needed in business, academic, career and relationships. Saying no to unnecessary distractions can greatly help us focus.

3. Increased Productivity

In the end, it's not about what we do, but about the value we create. The more value, and solutions we give out, the more productive we are. Fortunately, productivity is often tied to just a few key actions. It is our job to therefore engage in only those things that will increase our productivity.


Saying no to something is saying yes to something. For everything you do, you have automatically said no to other things. The essence of this article is to help you see that the power to say yes or no to people and activity lie in your hands. Your ability to take responsibility for this power will go a long way in determining how your life will be.