It’s easy to say “no” to the things that are an obvious a waste of your time, or are in clear violation of the things you hold dear – a 1 or 2 out of 10.
And it’s easy to say “yes” to the things are obviously perfect for you, that fit you like a glove, that you feel you were born to do – a 9 or 10 out of 10.
It’s just that most things in life don’t fall into these easy categories. Most things in life fall into a third category – the things that don’t seem that bad, or that actually seem fairly good – a 3 to 8 out of 10.
It’s infinitely harder to say “no” to these things. That’s what makes them so dangerous, but it’s also what makes saying “no” to them so powerful.
How are they dangerous?
One, because they steal your time away from the things in life that truly matter to you.
And two, because whilst they are doing this, they present a harmless front with which to distract you from what’s really going on.
You must reject the “okay” things in life
The point of life is – surely – to spend as many moments as possible doing things that are a 9 or 10 for you, whatever they might be.
But in order to do this, you must have the spare time. Without your vigilance, your time will quickly become filled to the brim with these seemingly harmless activities, leaving no room for the things you value the most.
To get to the 9s and 10s, you must therefore actively disengage from – cut out of your life – things that are a 1 to 8 for you.
It feels incredibly counter-intuitive to reject something that might be really quite good, objectively, but isn’t quite right for you. And, as I alluded to earlier, this gets harder and harder to do the higher the number gets – it’s easy to reject a 2, but very strange to consider rejecting a 7 or 8.
The problem is in the way we are raised.
We expect scarcity, so that’s what we get
Our culture has not yet learnt to deal with choice, because we haven’t spent long with the need to.
For most of human history, things were truly scarce. Opportunities, connections, resources. Unless you were a King, you literally couldn’t afford to say “no” to anything, because there wasn’t generally an alternative. It was “this thing” or “no thing.” So you chose “this thing.” You had to.
Times have changed. In just the last few decades, the opportunities and possibilities open to the average person have exploded. Now, it’s “this thing” or “that thing” or “the other thing,” multiplied, squared, cubed…
We must say “no” to hundreds, thousands, millions of things that we could quite easily say “yes” to, if we want to live any kind of fulfilling life, if we want to get anything of any substance done.
And still we walk around with this hangover from the “get what you’re given and be happy with it” era. You can choose to tell yourself a different story, though.
Exercise your power to say “no”
At different moments in history, different traits have been rewarded, bringing the individuals possessing such traits the ability to thrive.
In the backstabbing 17th century environment of Louis XIV’s court at Versailles, for example, the trait that saw you rise to the top was mastering the art of indirection – if anybody knew what you were up to, you were toast. As Robert Greene writes in The 48 Laws of Power: “The successful courtier learned over time to make all of his moves indirect; if he stabbed an opponent in the back, it was with a velvet glove on his hand and the sweetest of smiles on his face.”
In 2019, there is no ability more worthy of your cultivation than exercising your power to say “no.” This is a world of abundance. If you own the technology to read this post, you have more options at your fingertips than anybody has ever had before, in the entire history of humanity.
Figure out what you ought to say “yes” to, sure, but much more importantly, actively say “no” to everything else.