I read Greg Cootsona's book "Say Yes to No" a couple of years ago when I knew I needed to follow its advice. Apparently I need to read it again because I keep saying yes to too many things. (http://tinyurl.com/lnrk3jv)

I read Greg Cootsona’s helpful book “Say Yes to No” a couple of years ago when I knew I needed to follow its advice. Apparently I need to read it again because I keep saying yes to too many things. (http://tinyurl.com/lnrk3jv)

For the last few days, I have said no to at least one request each day.

Reaction 1: Whoo hoo! Saying no on a daily basis may well be my new spiritual practice!

Reaction 2: This is hard. I hate it. I Hate, hate, hate saying no.

I think I have experienced both of those reactions in equal measure over the last few days.

Saying no to some things is not so difficult. (For example, “Would you like to edit my book for free?” is one I’ve never had a problem refusing. Just FYI.)

But I am at a point in my life when most of the offers that come my way are for things that I would have loved to do just a few years ago. I had gotten into the mode of saying yes to those kinds of requests kind of automatically, but I simply cannot anymore. So:

  • Last week I refused an endorsement request even though it was for an author I know and feel obliged to help. (I am so, so sorry. You know who you are.)
  • On Sunday I turned down a social invitation.
  • On Monday I said no to a very interesting editorial project.
  • And yesterday I declined to write a new piece for an anthology that sounds like a fascinating project with a top-notch list of contributors. (I also bailed on going to the movies with a friend last night because I had a throbbing headache. She was very understanding, as most people are when I say no, so why is it so hard to say no?)

Don’t get me wrong. In theory, I have long understood the value of saying no. A couple of years ago I read Greg Cootsona’s book called Say Yes to No, which advocates a regular and careful pruning of our obligations so that we can make time for the things that are truly important. I also read, for one of my book clubs, The Power of Less, which offers a frightfully draconian system for putting Cootsona’s style of ideas into concrete practice.

I can’t say that I put either of those books’ advice into good use (even though I am now in one book club and not four . . . that’s progress, right?). With The Power of Less, in fact, I found myself blanching at a few of the take-no-prisoners recommendations in the author’s slash-and-burn approach.

But he has a point. We can’t do everything. And in order to make room for the things that we love, things that require our best attention, we have to learn to say no to other things.

Last week I sat down with my calendar and realized that if I am serious about making the deadlines for the two books that I have due this summer and fall, a lot of other things simply have to go.

Those books are important to me. So it’s no, no, no for the next few months at least.

To hold myself to this resolution, I am going to say no to at least one thing every day and keep a record of it. I know that sounds punitive, but forcing myself to do this daily — and to write it down — is the only way I think I will stick to this.

How do you say no? Or do you?


  1. It doesn’t necessarily sound punitive. It sounds like you’re keeping a deal you’ve made with yourself. And then later, there might be a story to be written in the list of what you said no to.

    I need to be better at saying no. In a way it’s really better at saying “YES!” instead of “OK, sure,” to what I’ve already said yes to.

  2. There’s a viral video “Can’t Hug Every Cat” that my husband and I have basically turned into a family motto. It helps console me when I know saying no is the right thing to do in a situation that I also know would bring a lot of enjoyment.

    *This week the cat I can’t hug is an Ai Weiwei exhibit that lasts only two more weeks at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Maybe someone else will see it for me!

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