You are a nice person. You don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, so you might be prone to saying “yes”. Sometimes even at the cost of your own inconvenience and frustration. Maybe sometimes you say “yes” out of habit, obligation or social pressure.

I have done it many times, hoping I wouldn’t repeat it. But I was too attached to being the nice agreeable guy, perpetually scared of the outcome of saying “No”.

It always feels good at the moment but the results of NOT saying “no” at the right time almost always leads to problems that end up benefiting no one.


Either Heck yeah! or No

Imagine making a life decision like marriage, having a child, or choosing a profession. Would you make a decision of saying “Yes” just to please a few people and suffer for the rest of your life? Do people do that? All the time!

When it comes to decision making, saying a compromised “yes” is a recipe for mediocrity at best and disaster in general.

My philosophy when making a decision is, I need to feel “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Heck yeah!”. Otherwise the answer is a prompt No.

When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to be surrounded by those rare things that make you say “WOW”.

That’s the difference between the mindset of the average vs the incredibly successful.

Rotten Fish Analogy By Seth Godin


Day 1: All the fish at the fish stall are fresh. Some sell, some don’t.
Day 2: The sold fish are replaced by newer, fresher fish. The unsold fish remains, even though it isn’t so attractive.
Day 3: The unsold fish is noticeably unfresh, and it doesn’t take much effort to avoid them.
At this point, part of the fishmonger’s stock is demonstrably unappealing, bringing down the quality of the entire counter.

Pretty soon, of course, the drop off in business means that the owner can’t afford to buy the freshest fish, even to replace his sold inventory, and the end is near.

The alternative? On day 2, discard the unsold fish.

Obvious, but difficult. So difficult that we rarely do it. Rather, it is tempting to lower the average and see if we can get away with it instead. In one way it makes sense – we have other things to take care of in life. But it guarantees failure in the long run.

The rotten fish analogy is obvious for external things like second rate products, under-performing employees, etc.

But it can be applicable for our internal processes too. Just the fact that something has gotten stale within us – we’ve stopped learning or stopped appreciating what we have. This mental state can be the rotten fish standing as an impediment to our growth. That needs to be promptly replaced with a more productive mentality.


When to say No?

It’s important to be conscientious of the feelings and needs of others. After all, empathy and thoughtfulness are universally attractive.

However, extending ourselves must be balanced with our own needs. When an airplane cabin depressurizes, the mask must go on your face first – then you can help others.


If you are compromising your own well-being with begrudging “yeses”, then it’s time to reevaluate what you are saying “yes” (and “no”) to.

It includes career commitments, religious/spiritual convictions, resolutions, relationship commitments and other important things that matter most to you in life.

Don’t let your mind say, “I don’t care”. You should care; it’s your life, and your value system lets you live the life you want.

Stop Saying Can’t & Start Saying Don’t

When most of us say “No”, we often leave some room for it to turn into a “yes”.

Maybe a friend pleads. Or a vendor begs. Or an attractive client argues and chips away at our resolve until “no” becomes “maybe” and “maybe” becomes “yes”, and you end up agreeing to something you wish you didn’t.

Stop saying “can’t” and start saying “don’t.” It works. Science says so.

Researchers conducted a study: One group was given a simple temptation and told to say, in the face of that temptation, “I can’t do (that).” The other group was told to say, “I don’t do (that).”

  • Participants told to say, “I can’t” gave in to the temptation 61% of the time.

  • Participants told to say, “I don’t” gave in 36% of the time.



Then the researchers conducted another study. Participants were told to set a personal long-term health and wellness goal. Once their motivation started flickering, one group was told to say, “can’t miss my workout.” Another group was told to say, “don’t miss workouts.” (The third group or control group was told nothing.)

Ten days later:

  • 3 out 10 control group members stuck to their goal.

  • 1 out of 10 “I can’t” group members stuck to their goal.

  • 8 out of 10 “I don’t” group members stuck to their goal.


Not only was “I can’t” less effective than “I don’t,” “I can’t” was less effective than no strategy at all.

When you say “I cant”, you are giving your mind and people around you the opportunity to persuade you to say, “yes”. When you say, “I don’t”, you are powerful and determined. Your own mind and your friends back off, seeing no opportunity for compromise.

Your mind actually is a more powerful influencer than other people. “I don’t” statements trick your mind into “No Compromise Mode”.

Be Sensitive When Saying No

  • Be brief. State your reason for refusing the request, but don’t go on about it. Avoid elaborate justifications or explanations.
  • Be honest. Don’t fabricate reasons to get out of an obligation. The truth is always the best way to turn down a friend, family member or co-worker, even if it may be difficult to say in the short-term.
  • Be respectful. Complimenting the person’s effort while saying “No” shows that you respect what they’re trying to accomplish.
  • Propose an alternative. Offering an alternative form of support makes your “No” digestible or seem not so harsh. Offer a personal introduction to someone who might be able to help, or connect them to a resource.
  • Be ready to repeat. You may need to calmly repeat your reason a few times before the other person is ready to accept. Make sure to repeat the same few keywords.
  • Express empathy yet firm disposition through nonverbal communications.

Know when NOT to say No.

The “WOW or No” principle is the way to go when you are super busy and need to focus and excel on a few grand objectives that will lead to incredible success.

But there are others who might have a bit more time in their hands and it might be nice to try new things out. Who knows what opportunity might be awaiting you?

Even the super busy, highly ambitious folks should once in a while take a break and dip their toes in totally unrelated experiences. But use your judgement.

Another place to try not to say no is when it comes to near and dear ones. I always emphasize that the key to happiness is though loving relationships. And loving relationships are built on love & trust and give & take.


Love means sometimes placing your own needs below that of the beloved.

So make exceptions for your family, parents, close friends and even loyal supporters in your network. It will mean a lot to them and you will cherish the experience for a long time.


  • An absence of negatives never equals a superlative. Look for excellent, not acceptable.
  • Don’t drag a decision if you want to Say “No”. Say it promptly and say it nicely.
  • Saying, “I don’t” is powerful when you need to stick to your “No”. Saying “I can’t” leaves room for negotiation and compromise.
  • Be helpful and offer alternatives when saying “No”.
  • Know when to say, “No” and when Not to say “No”.
  • Make exceptions for near and dear ones.

What are your thoughts on the power of saying “No”?