Default to Yes, Then Learn to Say No

How to Strike a Balance Between Saying Yes and No

One of the best ways to get exceptional results is by saying no. Saying no to bad ideas is easy. Saying no to great ideas is hard.

We all have limited time and attention.

To get great at a craft, you need to say no to other skills that seem equally important and fun. To spend your resources on $10k work, you need to say no to the $100 or even the $1,000 work. To grow a great idea into a business, you need to say no to tens of thousands of good opportunities you stumbled upon.

Are you proctecting yourself from uncertainties?

I owe lots of my results to saying no. However, if I were being fair and honest, I won't be getting to where I am today if I didn't say yes to many other things.

Saying no is a great strategy to focus on what matters to us. But if we dig deeper, how often do we say no to protect ourselves from something new?

As human beings, we're conditioned to avoid pain and uncertainties. Anything new that could potentially expand our lives comes with some risks and lots of uncertainties.

We want to be safe. We want to stay in our own lane. We want to protect what we have and keep doing what we're doing. And saying no is a great strategy to accomplish that.

But on the flip side, saying yes expands our lives to new opportunities, people, and possibilities.

How to know when to say yes

The key is to strike a balance between saying yes and no. One way of finding the sweet spot is by thinking about your life stages. Say yes early on and learn to say no bit by bit as you grow.

When you're just starting out and growing—whether it's a career or self-improvement, try to keep your default to "yes."

It exposes you to more people and opportunities that help you learn and grow faster. As you grow, you should start saying no to more and more things so you can focus on the few that matter to you most.

It makes sense because we won't know what we like and what works for us when we first get started. Defaulting to yes allows us to try as many things as possible, as fast as possible. At the same time, saying yes to people helps us build the connections we need later as mentors, partners, and friends.

As we grow and learn more about ourselves, we should start saying no to new things so we can focus on what works and commit to our existing obligations.

An obvious flaw of the method is that we may assume we know everything and stop trying new things as we get older and more experienced.

So, another great heuristic is never to say no when you don't have an alternative to say yes to. It's useful regardless of your life stages. Say yes to a new project, hobby, and people when you have nothing better to do.

You can always say no to these things once you figure out they are not for you. But if you start with no, you will never find out.

Footnotes

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