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Why You Need to Say ‘No!’

Why say ‘no’?

Steve Jobs said, “True innovation is saying no to a thousand things”. The same logic applies when you are thinking about your own business.

It might be saying ‘no’ to certain types of clients, so that you can say ‘yes’ to the clients you really want.

It might be saying ‘no’ to shiny things; ideas that seem like they might be worth pursuing, but are really just a distraction from your main goal.

Saying ‘no’ seems like such a small thing, but your future success and happiness is determined by these seemingly small choices you make every minute of the day.


Clear the clutter

All the literature on achieving your goals starts with the same thing: eliminating projects, goals, or things that you don’t really want to do in your life. But, as anyone who has tried this will know, it’s harder than you think.

“Getting rid of wasteful items and decisions is relatively easy. It’s eliminating things you care about that is difficult. It is hard to prevent using your time on things that are easy to rationalize, but that have little payoff. The tasks that have the greatest likelihood of derailing your progress are the ones you care about, but that aren’t truly important.” James Clear

So what stops us saying ‘no’ to the distractions?

Here are a few things I’ve seen:

1. Politeness

I know this is going to raise some hackles. I live in Britain after all, the home of good manners and politeness.

Ever got involved in something you shouldn’t have and found it extremely difficult to speak up and extricate yourself? I’m pretty sure we’ve all done that. That’s politeness keeping you stuck.

Don’t do it. You can speak up honestly, and get yourself out of whatever you shouldn’t be in. You don’t need to be rude, but if other parties get offended or upset, hey ho.


Fear Of Missing Out (or FOMO) is another one that stops us saying ‘no’. If we don’t say ‘yes’ and this new thing actually gets off the ground and goes somewhere, how are we going to look? Or feel?

Like a goose, that’s how.

So we say ‘yes’, when we should say ‘no’.

Say ‘no and, if the other project does go well, you can be happy for the people involved while you stay focused on your contribution to the world.

3. Fear Of Success

If we actually said ‘no’ to distractions and gave this thing, whatever it is, 100% of our focus, we might just become wildly successful.

Shit. Then what?

I don’t know.

When people have spoken about fear of success to me in the past, I really thought it was nonsense. However, the longer I’m around and the more I’ve examined my own behaviour and that of the clients I work with, I think there’s something to it.

I’m less interested in the words I, or my clients, say. I’m more interested in what I, and my clients, actually do. Our actions reveal more about where our heads are at than all the words we spout out.

Chasing rainbows doesn’t make you a creative entrepreneur, it makes you a person who’s not likely to succeed. What a shame.


What’s the real price of failure?

It’s hard to put a price on lost opportunity, but there are some more tangible costs that I can identify that flow directly from failure to say ‘no’.

The people that pay the biggest price for our inability to focus, and do what we set out to do, are our family; partners, children and grandchildren.

  1. They miss out on your time – When you’re not focused you spend way more time than necessary achieving very little

  2. They miss out on the financial rewards that could accrue if you ‘made it’ – The top 1% in any field, be it sports or business, earn 100 times what the rest earn

  3. They miss out on a role model – Someone who can show them how to be effective and to truly create something from nothing out in the world


How do you get better at saying ‘no’?

There is only one sure fire way to get better at saying ‘no’ in my experience.

It comes from knowing exactly where you are headed and what you are trying to achieve.

It all starts with clarity of your vision. If you don’t know where you are headed, it may look like any path will take you there.

If you don’t know where you are headed neither does your team nor those close to you.

As a result, any form of success is immeasurable, as it’s impossible to know if an achieved outcome is in line with with your goals.

There are some fundamental questions you need to ask yourself for success to occur:

  1. Why am I doing this?

  2. What do I want my life to look like? (what is my idea of work/life balance?)

  3. Why am I sacrificing myself for this project?

  4. What is the higher purpose? (A purpose bigger than money)

  5. What’s worth doing even if I fail?

  6. What are our core values as an organisation?

  7. What do I want my business to look like?

  8. Who do we serve?

  9. What type of clients do I love working with?

The answers to these questions have the power to transform both your thinking and your business.

Once you get some clarity on what you want, all decision making becomes much simpler. For example:

  1. The quality of the people you’ll need on your team

  2. Where you should be located

  3. Do you need an in-house team or can you outsource?

  4. The technology solutions you require

  5. The quality of the paper you’ll use

  6. How much to charge

  7. Which clients to work with

Without this clarity almost anything can look like a good idea. You can spend your life running around in circles.


Just say no

Get thinking about where you are headed. Once you get that clarity you can start saying ‘no’ to anything that won’t advance your cause. You won’t get bored, you’ll get good. Maybe even great.

That’s the power of ‘no’.


Additional Reading:

Here’s some additional reading on the topic of goal setting and focus from James Clear. These articles are super practical and easy to implement, so check them both out.

Warren Buffett used this strategy with great success throughout his career.

Forget about setting goals. Focus on this instead.


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