The Life-changing Magic of “No, Thank You”

October 13, 2019

I spend so much of my time these days helping people infuse their life with a little more “yes.” Yes, I can organize my home. Yes, I will finish that “someday project” today. Yes, I will confidently keep this item in my home. The power of “yes” gets so much attention. But, recently I reflected on how the word “no, thank you” has actually had the most profound impact on my life.

Here’s where it all began.

I can pinpoint the very day when my “just say no” campaign kicked off. It was years before my interest in KonMari® started to bloom. I came across this article that shifted my understanding of the word “busy.” Here was the main takeaway:

Seth Godin recently highlighted the fact that:

“I can’t afford it.”
“I don’t have the time.”
…almost always means, “this is not a priority.”
When we care, it’s amazing how much we can get done. One way to choose to care is to be clear about your priorities, which means being clear in your language.
And so we can say to ourselves, “I’d love to do that, but it’s not a priority.”
Remarkable work is usually accomplished by people who have non-typical priorities.

These thoughts gave me permission to take a hard look at my own language.

I realized the word “yes” was getting me in so much trouble.

My calendar was cluttered. My schedule was over-extended. My to-do list was never ending. My attention was extremely divided. I was juggling my full-time engineering career with leadership roles in four interior design professional organizations while trying to balance a healthy social life. Luckily, I also had the overarching goal of finding inner peace and purpose through better self-awareness.

So, I tried the “no” exercise.

For one year, I removed the phrase “I don’t have time” from my vocabulary and evaluated absolutely everything through a lens of my priorities and values. Here are a few specific examples of ways I practiced saying “no:”

  • I replied “no, thank you” when asked to plan events for friends: I retired my role as “go-to baby/bridal shower planner” in exchange for “awesome baby/bridal shower guest”
  • I replied “no, thank you” when asked to renew terms for volunteer leadership roles: I gradually transitioned all responsibilities to new board members prior to moving to Chicago
  • I replied “no, thank you” to requests from friends/others that shifted my focus away from my business goals: I implemented seasons of 90 day singular focus, working on a maximum of three goals per 90 day period

I learned a powerful lesson from this experiment:

Just because I’m good at doing something doesn’t mean I have to do it.

Just because my calendar has some white space doesn’t mean I have to automatically fill it with something that’s not directly serving my priorities. I work best when I’m full to give to others, therefore, saying “no” is the only way I can protect my time and energy, establish boundaries, and manage expectations.

As you can probably can guess, this year-long exercise turned into a permanent lifestyle change.

I took on responsibilities such as moving to a new state, navigating a career shift, training and taking care of the cutest, friendliest puppy in all the lands, recovering from a major surgery, adapting to girl boss life, and all the things that come with adulting.

Then, I took this project to the next level when I started to review the following requests more intentionally:

  • Requests to be friends, follow, or “serial like” social media content
  • Requests to collaborate on a project
  • Requests to meet-up in-person (can we grab coffee?)
  • Requests to share my expertise (can I pick your brain?)
  • Requests to work/speak for free, less than my established value, or as a favor during days off and/or personal time with family
  • Requests for my personal information or attention (email subscriptions, telemarketers, ads, “free” stuff/samples, etc.)
  • Requests for my overall time and availability
  • Requests to instantly respond, on-demand

No doubt, saying “no” to many of these things was uncomfortable. But, similar to tidying up, the more I practiced making decisions through a lens of priorities, the more confident I became with both the action and the result.

However, it’s important to note that with every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In some cases, my decisions were met with disappointment, even though my intentions were pure and stemmed from love.

Someone may get upset, but everyone will adjust.

Any time you take on a radical project or transformation it’s important to consider its impact on those around you. Even though “no” is a complete sentence, which requires no additional explanation, doesn’t mean people don’t feel entitled to one. I had people accuse me of ignoring them, or insist that I didn’t care about our friendship. Some communicated this to me directly. Some, after requesting more details about the “no-ness,” understood that they shouldn’t take my absence personally and cheered me on. Most barely noticed the priority shift, because, of course, I’m not the only one who is “busy” in this world.

I’m still waiting to feel deprived.

The day I regret my decision to embrace the no, I will definitely let you know!

Please note, by no means am I encouraging you to say no to absolutely everything. I regularly say “yes” to all the things that spark joy, and practically live outside my comfort zone, 24-7.

So, the next time you face a decision where your time, energy, or attention is on the line…

pause to ask yourself “is this a priority for me?”

And, no matter what…choose joy.

Not sure what your priorities are these days?

The Tidy Home Joy Journal can help you out. It’s your #1 tidying companion, designed to help you shape the vision, values, goals that ground your decision making.

  1. Thanks for this great post. I like the idea of making room for both saying yes and saying no and finding a balance that feels right. Thanks for sharing. And I’m a big fan of JOMO!

  2. Karen says:

    As a transplanted Virginian who grew up in Des Plaines, IL my heart leapt a little for joy when I saw a KonMari consultant in Chicago! Best wishes to you in your career and life and I’ll do my best to spark joy as a non-official consultant to my friends here in Richmond!

  3. Janelle says:

    I’ve slowly begun to use this phrase and while it always brings me joy to not have to do what someone has requested of me, I still always feel bad about declining to participate. I’m not sure where this guilt stems from, but it has a tendency to dampen the joy. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

    • Kristyn Ivey says:

      Thank you! Yes, sometimes it’s not easy. But, those who love us will understand. Sometimes it helps me to journal out my feelings about FOMO or JOMO as they happen to look back and reflect.

  4. […] this moment of mindfulness to reestablish the boundaries and expectations that feed your future […]

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