Do You Have the Guts to Do a Year of No?

Photo by byronv2 on / CC BY-NC

After my post the other day about practicing saying no, I have been thinking about going big: what if those of us who really struggle to say no spent a whole year turning things down?

A year of no.

Much better known is the concept of the "year of yes." Shonda Rimes wrote a whole book about it and I know several people who shook their lives out of a funk by committing to saying yes to every opportunity that came their way for a year.

A year of saying yes sounds exciting. It sounds like it's opening up possibilities, trying new things, and having fun.

A year of saying no sounds a lot less fun. It sounds isolating, cold, and closed-off. It sounds like, at the end of the year, I would have alienated all my friends, lost my job and my home, and be left doing... what? Shivering alone in a park somewhere?

Sure, if a year was spent saying no to literally everything and everyone, but that probably isn't how it has to work. Since a year of yes probably doesn't mean saying yes indiscriminately (you don't have to say yes to buying a house just because someone asked if you want it), then perhaps a year of no can have some parameters on it, too.

The point of a year of no is to hone what we actually want and need instead of getting swept away with other people's requests. It's a little thing called "setting priorities" and then actually protecting and honouring them.

This will require some prep work.

(Full disclosure: I am not sure I actually have the guts to do a year of no, but gaming out what it would look like is part of deciding, so off we go!)

Step One: Pick Some Priorities.

It seems reasonable to start by picking a few priorities, with the allowance that they can change and transform as we go.

Saying no will protect these priorities and allow them to flourish, and as we create that space, hopefully, we will become more clear on what we really want those priorities to be.

What relationships are the most important? Work opportunities? Side projects or hustles? Hobbies? We must make sure we aren't just protecting money-making opportunities, but also fun and community!

Step Two: Clean House

It would feel great to start this process with a clean(ish) slate! Is there anything in our lives right now that we can start by clearing out?

Let's get our KonMarie face on: first, by taking a moment to thank and appreciate everything in our lives, and then looking at all our obligations, relationships, projects, and jobs one-by-one to see if they spark joy or serve an important function in our lives. (And also, can we find joy in that functionality? Having a clean home and filed taxes is important, maybe there's joy in getting to that state?)

If there is no joy or functionality, can we get rid of it?

Step Three: Make a Plan

Okay, but how are we actually going to DO this? And by "do this" I mean, how on earth are we going to know what to say no to in the moment and then how are we going to SAY it??? We got into the situation of needing a year of no for a reason, and that reason was that we always want to say yes. What are the actual tactics, mindsets, and circumstances we can create to make it easier to say no and harder to say yes?

Here are some ideas on how to get started:

Change the perspective. I generally see myself as needing to be fluid and adapt to what's happening around me. This is a great way to get through life with minimal conflict but not a great way to protect priorities. Perhaps changing the perspective from "how can I fit into what's happening here?" to "how does this situation fit me?" is a good start.

Practice. First, we can mentally practice by running over likely scenarios in our heads and finding the best phrasing to shoot people down. Then we can practice in real life! A nice friend might indulge us in a live rehearsal, or we can just try to say no in lower-stakes situations and see how the heck that goes.

Defer decisions. Whenever we get an invitation or offer, we can say we need to think about it/check our calendar/confirm other details. That way we can evaluate whether it meets the high bar we have now set without feeling the pressure of making this person who is standing right in front of us happy or sad right now while they are watching us.

Plan ahead. Every month, we can look ahead and schedule in our priorities. Who are the most important people? Plan time with them. What projects do we absolutely want to move forward on? Book that time. Also, we must give ourselves downtime. Now our priorities are locked in, and the rest of the time we've got is what's available for random stuff that comes up along the way (which should still be subject to rejection if they aren't in line with our priorities).

Let your instincts be your guide. I am not great at this, but if you are a person with a good memory, a good sense of what fits and what doesn't, and excellent resolve in the moment, then you could simply let these priorities settle in your gut and honour them when things come up. Wield your no's like a champ.

No matter what, for this to work we should be saying no WAY MORE OFTEN than we say yes. Yeses go to things that we have already decided are priorities. Yeses are extended through invitations, by us, to take part in the thing we want to do. Yeses are parcels of our time that we distribute very, very cautiously.

Step Four: Keep At It

It's not going to work 100% of the time. We will accidentally say yes where a no would have been better. That's okay!

First of all, it's often not nearly as bad as we think it will be to back out on something. Honestly, people do that all the time. It can be annoying and flaky, but it can also be totally fine. The key is to do it quickly (so that the person in question can make other plans) and kindly (own your mistake in saying yes and be nice about it).

Second, it's a learning opportunity! Why did we say yes? Did we genuinely think it fit our priorities, or were we just giving in to that inner urge to make someone else happy? What would we do differently next time?

So... I'm still not 100% sure that I am game for an actual year of no. But maybe a season? The Summer of No. It doesn't sound like the good premise for a good movie, but it could be the start of a good life.

PS: This could pair well with a depth year.

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