The power of saying no

The power of saying no Smack Bang Designs advice

If there’s one thing the Russians are known for, it’s their ability to drink massive amounts of alcohol. If you don’t believe me, note this: the word “vodka” is actually derived from the word “voda”, which means “water” in Russian. Either they’re confused, or too inebriated to know the difference.

Either way, it’s apparent that the Russians are really giving this drinking thing their all. Take their drinking game ‘Bear Paw’ for example. The rules are simple: a large stein is filled with the cheapest, lousiest beer you can find. It’s passed around the table, with each person taking a sip.  After you sip, you replace the beer you drank with vodka, so the stein is perpetually full. Continue until nobody at the table is conscious, and voila, you’ve got yourself a winner (or no winner?).

Why am I telling you this? Because as I learnt about this game the other day (trust me, I did not get involved in such a frivolity), I thought to myself, it’s actually not too dissimilar to running a business.

Now, before you dismiss me as a drunkard and tell me to rack off, hear me out.

In business, we constantly say “yes” to doing more. We add to our ever-expanding to-do lists, cram our cluttered calendars, and fill the space between our ears with overzealous and never-ending thoughts of what we should be doing or what hasn’t yet been done. We’ve become information-rich, stimulation-heavy and completely, utterly, and exhaustingly time-poor.

We’re like the drunks at the table, we keep topping up our steins until we’re splashing liquid all over the place. We know it’s not good for us, but we continue with little strategy, little control, and a rather large sense of overwhelm that consumes us until our heads hit the table.

Without even thinking about how it will impact us later, most of us just say “yes”. And we pay the price.

Complete disclaimer: I’m a total sucker for saying yes. Ask me to sacrifice my time for any meeting, decision, opportunity or chance to pat a handsome doggo, and my automatic response, without even thinking is generally “YES!”. It’s very much à la Herbal Essence commercial — you can read all about my addiction to fireworks and confetti ideas here, but trust me, I like the new.

Each year my team and I all choose a word of the year. One year, one of my staff members chose the word “no”. At the time I thought it was a bold choice, even a little negative if you will. But now, after falling down the “yes” rabbit hole a few dozen too many times, and spilling my stein more times than I’d care to admit, I kinda think it’s genius.

This year, my word is “spaciousness”. As it currently stands, my calendar is pleasantly full, and I’m really trying my hardest to keep it from getting (un)pleasantly so. I’m doing my best to learn how to say no to non-essential projects, tasks, requests and the hardest of all — opportunities. Creating space is all about saying “no”, and I’m beginning to really get the hang of it.

When most of us are faced with making a decision, no matter how big or small, we tend to frame it within a context of yes versus no. Our answer falls in one of the two categories. I recently read Tim Ferriss’ new book, ‘Tools of Titans’ – it’s a beast of a book, but it is such a great encyclopedia of business hacks and practical takeaways. You can read my review of it here. One of the lessons Tim shares in the book comes from a conversation he had with the entrepreneur Derek Sivers about how they make decisions differently than the rest of us. Namely, that life is short; not only do we not have enough time for everything we do want to do, but our lives quickly get cluttered with plenty of other things we don’t want to do. We’re far too busy saying yes to everything and anything that we forget to prioritise our needs. But how can you make more time for the things you are excited about at the expense of those you’re less enthusiastic about?

The key is to reframe how you make your decisions. Rather than using a scale of “yes” or “no”, reframe the decision in a way where you either think, “Hell yeah!” or “Um lol, no”. And if it isn’t a fiery and electric buzz on the inside, then you’ve pretty much got your answer.

Take my other mate Jobs for example, he was just as proud of what Apple chose not to do as he was of what Apple actually did. When he returned to Apple in 1997, he took a company with 350 products and reduced them to 10 in a mere two-year period. Why? So he could put the “A-Team” on each product. He pretty much obliterated their offering in order to elevate and leverage one of the most iconic brands of all time. He knew the power of no, and he knew how to turn a ‘yes’ into a YASSSS.

So, enough appeasing and people-pleasing and keeping up with appearances. What are you saying “no” to? Start today, and see where it takes you!


  1. Kirsty Ferguson says:

    This is exactly what I needed to hear right now. Another great post, thanks for sharing.

  2. Zeina Hosni says:

    I really enjoyed this, Thank you!

  3. I really love this post Tess. Resonates. I do a lot of teaching in the area of self-confidence which has a hell of a lot to do with being able to say “yes” to those things you desperately WANT to say yes to, and saying “no” to those things you know you don’t want to do (aka people pleaser stuff).

  4. Mel S says:

    Hey there Tess,
    Right this minute I am standing on the pointy end of forced decisions. I have openly admitted to myself that I am trying to do to much. I am not comfortable that, that means not giving each area of my life the attention I’d like to.
    I’m also a yes person. I try to help everyone all the time and hate to disappoint them. I think much of this comes from #motherguilt
    I’m stealing your spaciousness theory.
    Great timing from an all round great chic!!

  5. Sophie HS says:

    A timely reminder and a wonderful analogy with the vodka – oh the power of ‘no’!

  6. Stacey Peric says:

    Another killer email gang. Pure gold in every word. Thanks for always bringing the goodness to our inboxes. Your emails are one of the few who have stood the test of time in the inbox and continues to deliver with every instalment. Hooray for saying no – it’s the winner.

  7. Sayaka miyashita says:

    Love it. Love saying no!
    I’ve come to realise, saying no to something is actually protecting those other thugs you said yes to! Saying no can actually be a loving, thoughtful thing !

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