Don’t Learn to Say “No”

The word “No” is considered taboo by many people who think that the only socially-acceptable response to a request is a resounding “Yes!”

These people soon realize that they’re biting more than they can chew and can’t seem to ward off the onslaught of dishes coming their way. After all, if people are accustomed to hearing you say “Yes,” then they can safely assume that you’re still hungry for more work.

The traditional advice given to people dealing with unhealthy amounts of work is that they should learn to say “No.”

Some “experts” give ratios of how many “Yeses” to “Nos” we should be using, and advise us to tip the scale towards the latter.

The more “Nos” you use, the less work you have to deal with, and the more you can focus on work that matters.

But the problem isn’t what response you use. A misplaced “No” is as harmful as a reluctant “Yes” (even if their consequences differ in kind).

The question you should be asking yourself is: What am I basing my response on?

Do you fear offending others when you turn them down?

Do you want to build a reputation for being the go-to guy/gal in your organization?

Are you trading a “Yes” today for one from others tomorrow?

Do you not have a valid reason to say “No”?

What makes it difficult for you to say “No” instead of “Yes”?

There is no reason to learn to say “No” if “No” isn’t the right answer.

Instead of learning to say “No” you should learn to say “No” when it’s appropriate and to say “Yes” when it’s appropriate, given your values, interests, current commitments, time and effort required for the task requested and other factors that you need to base your decision on.

People often respect a response coupled with a valid reason.

One of the most irritating responses in the world is a “No” followed by a vacuum (children pick up on how annoying this is at an early age). The person requesting your assistance usually needs a reason why you’re turning them down. And in almost all cases it’s never the “No” that offends people. It’s the lack of a valid reason.

“No” and “Sorry”

A better alternative to a “No” is usually an apology.

Yes, even when you don’t need to apologize. I know that your time is your time and people don’t have the right to your time or effort.

But an apology expresses intent. You would love to help, but you want to be realistic with your resources. You want to be passionate about the projects you take on. You want to ensure that you can deliver on your promises. You can’t, so you apologize.

“Sorry I can’t. I already have my hands full with a project I’m working on.”

Consider more lenient responses that work just as well as a “No” and are more respectful towards others. That way, even when turning others down they still walk away having gained a sense of respect from their interaction with you.

Don’t learn to say “No.”

Learn when to say “No” (or its equivalent), and how to communicate your reasons effectively and respectfully to others.


Efficiency and Effervescence

I have two types of Berocca multivitamin tablets: the effervescent and the film-coated.

The effervescent tablets take more time to consume. You need to put one in a glass of water. Wait for it to dissolve. Then drink the entire glass.

The film-coated tablets, on the other hand, are extremely efficient. You pop one in your mouth and take a sip of water after it. There’s no preparation to it. No ritual.

If you’re looking for ways to be efficient, the film-coated tablets would be the option to go for.

I, for one, would choose effervescence over efficiency.


Because I enjoy the ritual that comes with preparing my Berocca drink. There’s no other reason for it than that.

We often seek efficiency to the point of compromising the things we enjoy, even when we’re only shaving off seconds from our routines.

The obsession with efficiency doesn’t always make us more efficient.

It can cause more worry and stress than we would like to live with, simply because we’ve made efficiency an end unto itself, instead of a means to an end.

If we’d like to cut down on the time we spend doing routine tasks so we can get to spend more time doing the stuff we enjoy, wouldn’t it make sense to go for options that make routine tasks more enjoyable?

Whenever you’re facing two options, don’t make efficiency your only criterion.

Think of the levels of joy each option brings.

Joy is an important criterion in life. At least in my book.

Human Nature

ONLY Human?

Karen Hill is a personal development blogger over at Dreamin’ the Life, who writes about subjects ranging from facing your fears to the wisdom of Will Smith.

On 21 November 2009, Karen announced to her readers (in very colorful language) that she’s an alcoholic.

While Karen did a great job of covering up her secret, and managed to offer great advice and personal insights with her readers, without them ever knowing she was wrestling with her own dark demons; people usually respond to such news with a default response: she’s only human.

Such responses tend to define human beings by what they lack, rather than what they possess.

There are many people who wish to see others fail so they can reassure themselves that it’s OK for them to fail. They hunt for weaknesses in other people so they can avoid working on their own.

It’s not our weaknesses that make us human, but our strengths.

When I read Karen’s confession, I didn’t think: Phew! I knew she has weaknesses!

I thought: Wow! How many personal development writers have the guts to speak honestly to their readers, and the courage to publicly confront their weaknesses?

I’m not sure if I have what it takes to do what Karen did.

What makes Karen human isn’t her alcoholism.

It’s her honesty. It’s her courage. It’s her dedication to personal growth.

Being human isn’t the default. We must strive to be human.

Being human is heroic, and it’s very rare to find people willing to do what it takes to be human.

Karen is human for the strengths she demonstrates. Her alcoholism is what she chips away to reveal what she’s made of.

If you’re interested in literature that portrays a heroic view of Man, you might like to read my take on Rudyard Kipling’s “If”


King Midas and the Scales of Life

We often use the “Midas touch” as a compliment to those who seem to turn every opportunity into a success.

But the story of King Midas paints a different picture of his ability to turn everything he touched into gold. Although King Midas was, at first, ecstatic with his new power, he soon realized that it was a curse and not a blessing.

His love for gold blinded him from seeing the value in other things, such as food and companionship.

His food turned to gold in his mouth. His drink turned to gold as it touched his lips. Even his loved ones turned to gold at the first embrace.

His golden touch meant that he was no longer able to experience the value these things brought to his life.

And while we may look at the story of King Midas as a myth, the outlook he had about life and value is very common in our age, with similar consequences for those who share his vision.

There’s More to Life Than Gold

“Time is money.”

“How much money will I get for my hard work?”

It seems that the only measure of value we use is money. If something doesn’t make us money then we don’t find the motivation to pursue it. Some are willing to give both arms and a foot if they can get the power to turn everything into gold with the foot they have left.

But there’s more to life than gold and money.

We can’t deny that money gives us an opportunity to buy the things we like and the experiences we dream of having. But money can’t buy you happiness. It can only buy you a piece of the pie. The rest of the happiness pie comes from other values.

We need to be aware of all our needs as human beings and to pursue all the values that ensure our happiness and prosperity.

Money doesn’t buy you spiritual enlightenment, but more opportunities to attain it.

Money doesn’t buy you intelligence, but more resources to gain it.

Money doesn’t buy you emotional resilience, but more tools to develop it.

Money doesn’t buy you relationships, but more exposure to acquire them.

Money doesn’t buy you professional success, but more capital to invest.

Money doesn’t buy you comfort and relaxation, but more ways to experience them.

Money doesn’t buy you health, but more services to assist you.

Money can help you advance each of your seven life areas, but it can never compensate for them. You need to give each and every life area the time, attention and effort it needs from you to attain happiness and well-being.

For that to happen, you need to appreciate more in life than money. You have to value your life. You have to value your beliefs, your mind, your feelings, the people around you, the value you offer people in your business, the hobbies you enjoy and your body’s needs.

Having a holistic attitude towards life is the only way to pursue happiness. And that’s something money can’t buy.

There Are No Scales

Whenever we try to make a decision, we usually see a weighing scale in our mind’s eye, with two scales used to determine which is the weightier side. Which side do we value more. Which side should we go for.

Are you willing to prove your dedication to your work by cutting down on the time you spend pursuing your hobbies?

Are you willing to prove your love to your family by turning down projects that can move your career forward?

Are you willing to deny your body basic comforts in order to attain spiritual enlightenment?

We are always asked to make a decision between two options to prove what our priorities are and how our pyramid of values is constructed. To demonstrate priority, we have to make a compromise.

But this outlook is completely fabricated and unhealthy.

We don’t need to get stuck in the either/or mentality. We need to shift towards the both/and mentality.

We need to advance in all areas of our lives, without necessarily having to compromise one for the other. Advancement in our careers doesn’t necessitate sacrifices in our marriage, or vice-versa.

We need to aim for progress in all life areas, so that we can pursue human happiness.

We need to acknowledge that the “Midas touch” is a curse, because gold isn’t the only measure of value.

And we also need to acknowledge that we don’t need to sacrifice one value for the sake of another.


The Relative Self

Many of the problems we face stem from our psychological outlook, and how we identify with our Self.

The concept of “Self” is an extremely complicated one, so I won’t seek to unravel it in this post. But I’d like to begin with a simple definition before I address a problem most of us face in how we identify with our Self.

Defining the Self

The Self is the collection of everything that defines you as an individual. Your awareness, thought processes, beliefs, feelings, experiences, roles, interests, behaviors, relations, etc. They all contribute to define what your Self is to the degree you associate or you dissociate your Self from each and every possible facet in your life.

You can see your Self being defined by your cultural roots or your religious affiliation. You can see yourself as a painter, or a reader, or a father, or a compassionate individual. It’s always a combination of characteristics, rather than a single label that defines who we are. While you may see yourself as an artist, this does not mean that it is the only aspect of your Self.

You may undergo many changes in life, but there is always a sense of continuity in your being. Even if you’ve experienced drastic changes in your beliefs (as I have), you can still relate to your former Self, and see it as a state within your life and the evolution of your Self.

To lead a meaningful, joyous and constructive life, you need to have a healthy relationship with your Self and to nurture it with love and care. I won’t go into what a Healthy Self looks like now, because I’d like to first shed some light on several characteristics of the Self that can compromise our well-being.

This is the first of several blog posts on this topic, and I’d like to begin by looking at the problem of the Relative Self.

The Misery of Relativity

I think it’s safe to say that the Relative Self is a pandemic that transcends religion, culture, nationality and ethnicity. The damage it has caused is truly alarming.

I will hazard a guess and say that you have already experienced the destructive nature of the Relative Self, and may continue to do so. I know I have my struggles with it on a daily basis.

Rather than see myself for who I am, I see myself in relation to what others are like.

Rather than value what I can accomplish, I consider what I can accomplish in relation to what others have accomplished.

And when I compare myself to others who are better than me in any given field, I walk away feeling bad about myself for not being better than others. I walk away with low self-esteem and shattered confidence. Not because I completely lack skills, but because my skills don’t match or surpass the skills of others.

Relativity rears its ugly head in every aspect of life where distinctions and comparisons can be made. Whether it’s physical beauty, or inner conviction, or level of productivity, or style of writing, or number of blog subscribers, or size of bank account, or stamina, or dexterity, or IQ level. Whatever it is. If we can qualify or quantify it, then we can define how one relates to the other. How we relate to others.

A Relative Self (or a Self in a state of relativity) is unaware of its own absolute being. It can only make sense of itself in relation to others.

This is why jealousy exists. Instead of enjoying what we have, we condemn ourselves for what we lack in relation to what others possess.

This is why we can rejoice when we see others fail or suffer: we are relatively better off than they are, so we feel good about ourselves.

Relativity is a killer. It’s a Self-destruct button that not only blows us – and our sense of value – into smithereens, but destroys everything and everyone around us. The fear of success grows in the presence of Relative Selves. The fear grows because it senses a threat from those threatened by accomplishment.

The Absolute Self

Close your eyes (after reading the rest of this post!), and spend a moment with yourself, without thinking about others and how you relate to them.

What are the things you value in life? What spiritual principles do you want to live by?

What activities do you enjoy doing? What skills do you feel define who you are and what value you can create?

What can you do to improve your life, in relation to the life you are leading now (and not in relation to the lives others are leading)?

What can you do to increase your income? To improve your productivity? To refine your style?

Let the questions that matter to you surface in your consciousness, but filter out questions that relate you and your skills to other people.

Don’t let images of other people come to mind. Try and focus only on yourself, and how things relate to you and your life alone.

Get a sense of who YOU are as an individual. With absolute being. Not defined by others.

Get comfortable with your Absolute Self. You may not be properly acquainted. 😉