Why Saying “No” May Be the Best Way to Set Goals


The start of a new year typically involves a lot of resolutions and goal setting. It’s also the time to start new projects and embrace new opportunities. I find it to be one of the most exciting times of the year; I adore the challenge of an audacious goal. However, I’ve also learned that while saying yes to everything might make you feel like a hero, it may ultimately make you fail. We all feel the pressure to take on more and do more. But, saying yes to everything will lead to burnout (both personal and professional) and make others value your time less.

Several years ago, I decided to complete an 18-month executive MBA program. I did this while working full-time and intensively training for a Boston Marathon qualifying time. I was also married and mother to a 3-year-old daughter. Thankfully, I’m still married, and now have a 12-year-old daughter and an MBA. But I don’t have a Boston qualifying time for running and I ended up with adrenal fatigue from pushing myself too hard for too long. It took more than a year with a naturopath to recover from it. I took on too much at one time. Not only did I add a lot of stress, I ultimately damaged my body in the process. Learn from my mistakes.

Things to consider when setting a goal 

You might say I’m recovering do-er because it’s a constant battle to not want to set and accomplish every goal on my list, all at the same time. Whenever someone asks me to do something, my first instinct is alway to say yes. I ask myself these four questions to counter that instinct and determine my answer (whether it be to someone else or my own internal monologue). Next time you think of saying yes, consider this:

  1. Do I want to say yes? If it’s an opportunity you’re excited for, or one you know will propel you towards a larger goal, then say yes. But if it isn’t, really consider your why. Why are you doing this? Why would you invest your time in this? You’ll be giving your time plus the time you might normally give to others to work on this initiative. Make sure you make a purposeful decision to say yes, not a reactionary or guilt-driven decision.
  2. Do I have enough to give? We all like to think we have an endless gas tank, but we don’t. You might be able to survive, but can you thrive? Can you give this task your absolute best? If you can’t, then maybe you aren’t the best person for the job. Before you say yes, determine if there is enough left of you to give while maintaining your health. Be objective and ask yourself: How much energy, time, and focus do you have to spare?
  3. How will this impact others? I like to assume that when someone asks me to do something or I set a personal or professional goal, it’s really my project.  But, everything I do has an impact on the people around me. Ask yourself how this project impacts you personally, emotionally, and professionally. Are you distracted from your normal work duties or priorities? Does this project add to your stress level? Does it hurt the way you treat others? Does this affect your family?
  4. Is now the right time? If you’ve said yes to any or all of the above, consider the timing. Is this your only chance? Could you postpone this until you have more resources to devote to it? It’s important to look at what else is on your plate right now and analyze whether it makes sense to add another project. In addition, if you know you’ll have another window, it’s a good possibility you can put this low on your list of things to accomplish, delaying it until you have room to focus.

So, you decided to say no. Congratulations! Now what? It’s just as important to know how to say no as it is to know if you should say no. Timing and tact are important, and you may have more options than you realize.

While saying yes might initially make you feel good, saying no is empowering in its own right. It can help you and others realize your time is valuable. Saying no can also increase your productivity on the projects you’ve already committed to and give you the power to take greater control of your life.

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