“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Steve Jobs (Co-Founder, Apple Inc.)
“Harvey : What are your choices when someone puts a gun to your head?
Mike: What are you talking about? You do what they say or they shoot you.
Harvey: Wrong. You take the gun, or you pull out a bigger one. Or, you call their bluff. Or, you do any one of a hundred and forty six other things.”
Gabriel Macht & Patrick Adams (Suits)
“Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.”
John C. Maxwell (Author, The 5 Levels of Leadership)
You’ll never achieve great things in life if you keep saying yes to toxic people.
“Do what I just said right now or you’re fired.” This is what my boss told me as I tried to explain myself. I was working as a waiter in between college and graduate school and the floor manager of the restaurant was a control freak.
Two of the plates the chefs gave me were wrong and I was trying to get them fixed before taking them out to the guests at my table. But my boss wanted me to deliver the cold food anyway because the restaurant was really busy and he didn’t think the guests would notice. I told him this was a horrible idea. That’s when he lost his cool and started yelling at me like I was a toddler. I wanted to throw the plates in his face but I needed the money so I whimpered “Okay” like a coward and did what he said.
It’s Time To Grow UP
A few years later in graduate school my advisor got in my face and shouted “Do exactly what I say or I’m going to call a meeting with your department and have you kicked out.” I was terrified. I was alone. But this time I said no.
For months my advisor had been playing all kinds of passive aggressive games with me. I wanted to graduate but he was withholding his support until I agreed to work for him for another year. I wanted a letter of recommendation but he refused because he didn’t think I was hard working enough to be successful in business. Now, he was publicly shouting at me.
That’s when a switch went off in my head. Was I going to keep being a coward and apologizing for things that I knew weren’t right, or was I going to do something different? I decided it was time to grow up. No–that was my final answer. When we finally sat down with my department head I looked both him and my advisor in their eyes and said I’m not sorry because I didn’t do anything wrong. I was scared to death and thought I might die. But I didn’t die. That’s when things started getting better.
The Illusion Of Control
Most people have far less power over you than you think they do. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that you are at the mercy of others. It’s almost natural. In the field of theoretical psychology, there’s an idea that people have a tendency to overestimate their ability to control events. This known as the illusion of control. Studies show that people who are given a very small amount of power or given power temporarily often become more controlling, to the point of grossly overestimating how much they can control events and people. The key is that this illusion works both ways. Just as you can have a tendency to think that you have more control over others than you do, you also have the tendency to think that others have more control over you than they really do.
If you’re in a situation where you think someone has control over you and, at the same time, they think they have control over you–you’re in trouble. Under these conditions, the illusion of control can become very powerful. If left unchecked, you will give up more and more control and the other person will take more and more control. The only way to break this illusionary cycle is to challenge its existence. Call the other person’s bluff. Say no. Stand up for yourself. Force the other person to show you their cards. You’ll be surprised by how little power they actually have.
10 People To Say No To
If you want to accomplish big things this year, you have to start saying no to more people. You have to start challenging the control that other people think they have over you. The best strategy is to break the illusion before it gets started. This means saying no to negative and controlling people as soon as they show you their real colors. Here are 10 people to start saying no to:
1. The person who tells you that you only have one choice.
You never have only one choice. When someone gives you an ultimatum and tries to make you choose between only two things, take a step back.
Offering someone a single choice when they actually have many choices is known as Hobson’s choice. Thomas Hobson was a stable owner in Cambridge who told his customers that they had the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door or taking none at all. Of course, his customers also had the option of going somewhere else to get a horse, taking more than one horse, stealing a horse, on and on.
The “or” was an illusion. Realize that “or” is a power play. You always have more than two options. The next time someone gives you an “or,” tell them no thanks, you’ll take both. Turn “or” into “and.” Or refuse them flat and take your business elsewhere.
2. The person who tries to make you believe you need them to be successful.
You don’t need someone else to be successful. Networking and surrounding yourself with positive people is a force multiplier in any venture but the idea that you need other people to be successful is unhealthy. It opens the door to people using you for their own private gain. Need quickly turns into neediness, which quickly turns into full blown dependency.
Many people will try to make you believe that you need them to get ahead. My advisor tried to make be believe that I needed him to graduate. Or that I needed him to get a job. But I didn’t. It was an illusion. Be very wary of negative people who try to make you feel like you can’t do something on your own.
If someone starts withholding their support from you unless you do what they want, ditch them. Cut the cord and find someone else who you can work with, not work for.
3. The person who is always too busy to give you the time of day.
Life and business can be a lot like high school. It’s easy to feel like you’re always one step away from hanging out with the cool kids or eating at the popular lunch table.
Many people will get into a position of power and forget how they got there or where they came from. As a result, they’ll close themselves off to the people that reach out to them for advice. If you find yourself constantly reaching out to someone who won’t take you seriously, stop reaching out. Instead, focus on what you can do for yourself with the resources you have right now. Start making difference right where you’re standing.
Eventually, you’ll make such a difference that the person you were chasing will notice. And then they’ll start chasing you.
4. The person who tries to make you feel like it’s your duty to take care of them.
You are not responsible for other people’s happiness. When grown men and grown women try to make you feel guilty for not spending time with them or not doing what they want, it’s simply a power play. They want to control you.
If you act as a crutch for people like this long enough, your mind will become conditioned to sacrificial thinking. You’ll start to believe that you have to sacrifice your happiness for others to be happy–that you have to sacrifice your success for others to be successful. But this is Hobson’s choice all over again.
Remember, you can have both. You and other people can be happy and successful at the same time. The problem is that some people don’t want to be happy and some people are too lazy to be successful. You’re not responsible for these people. Let them go. Stop being their crutch.
5. The person who keeps reminding you about your past mistakes and current shortcomings.
Is there anything more annoying than finally making a positive change in your life only to have someone close to you remind you of how much of a screw up you used to be?
Listen, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone fails. A LOT. So what? You have to let this go. You have to forgive yourself for everything. If you don’t, other people will use your guilt against you. They will control you with your past. They’ll make you believe that you’re not allowed to feel good about yourself because you’ve made too many past mistakes. They’ll make you feel like you’ll be punished if you act too happy or too confident. Bullshit.
You’re not going to be punished by God, the Universe, the government, karma, luck or anything for allowing yourself to finally feel confident. You’re allowed to feel good about yourself. You’re allowed to feel confident and strong. Anyone who tells you otherwise is an evil person and should not be in your life.
6. The person who is nice to you privately but disrespects you publicly.
The very first time that someone treats you good privately but badly in public, get rid of them. You cannot trust this person. Don’t wait until the seventh or eighth time they make you look like a fool. Say no now.
This goes for anyone who openly disrespects you in public. Whether it’s a boss screaming at you in the office or a significant other throwing a tantrum in a parking lot. Let them go. You’re not five years old. No one should be yelling at you as if you were. And no one should be acting like they’re five years old around you just because they’re not getting their way.
Of course, challenging conversations and occasional arguments are healthy and should not be shied away from. But shrieking, shouting, intense crying, and/or frantic red-faced spit-talking should not be tolerated.
7. The person who turns you into a worse version of yourself.
Everyone has someone in their lives who brings out the worst in them. Maybe it’s a passive-agressive colleague, an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, or that one deranged family member who just drives you nuts.
Whoever it is, stop letting them hijack your personality. If you find yourself thinking and acting stupidly around a certain person, stop being around that person. You know who you really are and you know who you have to be to reach your real goals.
Don’t go backwards by letting manipulative people from the past back into your life. Say no once and for all. Close off all communication with them. Don’t let them get a foot in the door. Make an absolute decision to never be in touch with that person again.
8. The person who mocks you and then says “just kidding.”
How do you expect to get a good job when you can’t spell correctly? Just kidding. What are you some kind of moron? Just kidding.
A lot of people will put you down subtly so you can’t say anything back without appearing defensive. Avoid people who exhibit this kind of passive-aggressive behavior. The only reason they’re making jokes is to keep you in check. They know that over time you’ll start to believe these jokes. Eventually, you’ll start to act as though they’re real.
Of course, joking around with your friends and busting someone’s balls is healthy. You shouldn’t be so sensitive that you can’t take a joke. But you shouldn’t let someone constantly put you down either.
9. The person who slights your accomplishments.
Some people will belittle your accomplishments because it makes them feel better about themselves. Why?
When someone else achieves something great, it’s normal to feel a slight twinge of concern. Your brain will immediately try to compare what the other person accomplished to what you’ve accomplished. If the other person accomplished something better or different than you, your brain will try to justify what happened so you don’t go around feeling like crap.
A mature person justifies other people’s accomplishments by getting excited for them and thinking wow, if I work hard I can do something like that too. An immature person justifies other people’s accomplishments by saying they got lucky or by acting like their accomplishments are worthless.
The only way to keep achieving bigger and better accomplishments in your life is to cut out immature people who try to belittle what you achieve. At the same time, you have to be mature enough to praise other people’s accomplishments and to freely help them achieve more. If you want achievement in your life, start respecting achievement no matter who it comes from.
10. Yourself (your own self-sabotaging thoughts and habits).
There’s only one person who can keep you from achieving your biggest goals this year–you. You are either your own worst enemy or your own best friend. You have true power over your life, not illusionary power.
Take a hard look at the bad habits and self-sabotaging tendencies that have been keeping you from your goals. Look at your past successes and failures. Are there any patterns? What was your mindset right before succeeding or failing? What were your beliefs? What were your habits? Most often, people sabotage themselves because they’re afraid of succeeding. They’re afraid of losing their current identity. These people will make great progress toward a goal and then, suddenly, right before achieving it, they’ll pull back. Why?
The reason these people pull back is because they’re more comfortable with their past selves than their future selves. They’re uncertain of who they will become (and if they can handle it) so they fail on purpose. They fail to stay comfortable with who they are. They fail because it’s easier for them to be unhappy than uncertain.
The only way to prevent self-sabotage is to practice choosing uncertainty over unhappiness over and over again until it’s a habit. The only way to do this is to put yourself in challenging situations repeatedly. This will help you get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
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