Remember when your toddler first learned the word “no”? It was adorable for a day, then decidedly not adorable. They said “no” almost reflexively yet precisely to what they didn’t want, like going to bed. Maybe it’s time we took a note from this toddler playbook. Here are the top three reasons to start saying “no” more often:
#1 Energy maintenance
BUSY is my least favorite four-letter word when it comes to family. We have over-committed ourselves to the point of exhaustion. Our two-year-old’s preschool music schedule is rigorous enough to turn them into Baby Einstein characters. Our ten-year-old’s traveling hockey schedule requires working a second job to pay for the hotel every weekend. What. On. Earth. How did we get here, running ourselves into the ground, giving everyone a blind “yes”?
Some “yeses” take more energy than others, specifically, those with low meaning and misaligned with our values. If I say that the most important thing in my life is my family, but we are so overbooked that we rarely see each other, does my life reflect my values? No. And the misalignment creates stress, internal friction that drains our energy day by day.
The family example is not a judgment. Our society asks us to do more, seek more, perform more. It’s just not set up for us to do something more meaningful. The constant output it requires to “do more” unimportant tasks is not sustainable.
Consider the body-mind system like a battery. It uses energy to perform and recharges with sleep, healthy food, positive relationships, and more. Outsized energy outputs come from being in a state of stress, negativity, and overwhelm. Stress-related friction will constantly be draining our battery when our actions misalign with our values and purpose. The battery will continuously be draining faster than it can recharge.
#2 – Say “no” to the wrong things to say “hell, yes” to the right things
When we live by someone else’s standards, it is incredibly easy to say yes to the wrong things. What do you say yes to so that the moms at school think the right thing about you? What yeses are for the dads on the sidelines to believe you’ve got it made? This is wildly common. Our conditioning requires us to consider how our words and actions are perceived to the point that we sacrifice our perception.
And maybe that thing that matters most to you doesn’t fit into the box of what matters to those we let filter what’s important. Maybe you love painting but haven’t found the time to paint a single thing between work, extra-curricular activities, and your dog’s rigorous playdate schedule. As yeses go to this impressive list, the capacity to say yes to something that fills you up disappears.
If we just took a two-second pause before giving an automatic yes, we’d hear the true answer within ourselves. How many times do we have to be asked to bring snacks to a 30-minute four-year-old soccer game before we say no? We know the answer is no – this is a task with no meaning, no importance, yet we sign up next to every other parent to avoid being the oddball out.
Let’s start being the frickin’ oddball. The one who says “no” so that when a life-giving opportunity comes our way, we can say “hell, yes.”
#3 – Leading by example
When I think about the example our kids commonly see – a model of stress, distraction, fractionated time – it hurts my heart. Why do we want them to think that’s normal? That it’s required? That they should quiet the voice inside of them to please people who have no impact on their life?
What if we started having conversations about when and where we give our “yes” and “no”? What if we started discussing our passions, what fills us up? Or if we each created a list of values that matter most? If we aren’t willing to “look bad” to the carpool moms, how can we expect our children to do what they know is true for them?
There is no suggestion that laziness is welcome. It’s the opposite. Lazy behavior is what got us here in the first place—using a people-pleasing yes to avoid the discomfort of a true no. Let’s get uncomfortable – like crawl out of our skin, figure out what the f-word we want and go for it with passion. Not coordinate 400 scenarios of carpool so that our preschooler can make it to “soccer practice.” Let’s start throwing around “no” like our toddlers so that we can say “yes” to the thing that truly matters.