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How to get better at saying no

Mar 29, 2019 | Posted by Cristina in Newsletters

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I’m a people pleaser in disguise.

I hate saying no to others, especially friends or those I admire. When people come ask for my help or opinion, even if it’s just a question thrown as a random reply to this newsletter, it makes me feel important. It fuels my ego.

I’ll end in situations where I’m helping others push forward their agendas, while leaving aside what I want and need, wondering how I got myself there. Not a day passes without fooling myself into saying yes to other people’s requests, saying or thinking something like:

“I can do them both”
“They rely on me”
“I can make it work”

I’ll feel guilty for not replying to an email or not being able to do what I promised others. I’ll occupy mental space with those unresolved things until I finally take care of them.

Being a people pleaser is also incompatible with managing people. I tend to forget friendship is just a bonus to working together. Instead of letting others do the work, give them space to make mistakes, learn and grow, I’d do anything to avoid the friction of delegating, supervising and giving feedback. I find myself preferring to do the work myself, which makes me the worst manager ever, cause I’ll never be able to evolve this way.

And when I do give negative feedback, I’ll immediately feel bad about it and compensate by saying something exaggeratedly nice, which probably makes me a crazy bipolar person.

As a woman, I’m walking a fine line between appearing “too friendly” (a sign of weakness) or “too arrogant” – something that’s seen as strong leadership sign in men, but earns women a “bitchy” or “bossy” label.

I’m fighting society’s expectations about what I should be doing versus what I personally want to do, trying to discern between what I want to do because I really want to and not just because I’m a rebel and my first instinct is to do the opposite of what others expect me to do.

But the biggest battle is the one I carry with myself, in my head, where I’m an impostor. It might seem like I’m a perfectionist, but it’s just a way of disguising my insecurities. I’m looking at the work done by the best creatives and entrepreneurs, and I feel like I’m way below sea level compared to them.

I feel like I shouldn’t be allowed to express myself, I don’t deserve even one reader, subscriber, follower or Patreon supporter. I feel like I need to work 10x times more, 10x times better, 10x faster than anyone else.

And then, of course, I still end up frustrated when I see other people’s mediocre work getting attention I consider to be undeserved, cause I know I could have done it better.

Remember the no-bullshit guide about “how to read more“? What I forgot to mention is that it’s been done since November – yes, it took me more than three months just to convince myself to make it public.

I kept making up excuses why I shouldn’t publish it. “Oh, we need to make an innovative photoshoot to illustrate it and differentiate from others, we need a landing page, we need a blog redesign, and the sun needs to be aligned with the third rock on the left bla bla bla“.

I was actually paralyzed, afraid of people’s reactions, of being judged. Who am I to talk about reading books? I wasn’t reading at all a few years ago! I should shut up and go hide under a rock, let those who’ve been avid readers all their lives talk about such a topic.

Eventually, I managed to reframe that fear and turned an obstacle into a factor that makes all the difference. So what if I wasn’t a book reader? That’s exactly the point! I wasn’t reading any books a few years ago and now I am – so who else would be a better fit to talk about this?

I was also a sedentary who spent most of her days in an office chair or driving around the country. Now I’m running half marathons on mountain trails – so who else to better talk about creating a powerful habit such as running? Those who’ve run all their lives and are professional athletes and it’s all they do and think about every day? Or someone who went through the pain of trying to form that habit, tested every single possible way to do it, and had to start from scratch so many times, while keeping it as a side activity? Should I give up, just because I’ll never be as good as Kilian Jornet? (and does Kilian Jornet spend sleepless nights questioning his own fears and insecurities?)

Looking on the bright side, I’m glad I’m aware of all these contradictions and weaknesses I have. That’s the first step in improving something, acknowledging there’s a problem and doing something about it, right? So I’m working on it, but it’s a neverending process.

Here are a few resources or ideas that I’ve personally found useful and constantly go back to re-read them:


1. Every yes is a NO

Whenever you say YES to something, you say NO to something else: working on a project that’s more important to you, having mental space to do some deep thinking, spending quality time with family, taking care of your body through sleep or physical exercise – the easiest and best things we can do for our brain to improve mental performance, focus better, learn, and so on.

Instead of rushing into saying yes, put it on your waiting list – and yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. A huge list of all new ideas or projects thrown your way or that pop-up in your mind. If something’s important and you really should do it, it will come back to you.

2. No “Yes”. Either “HELL YEAH!” or “No”.

Derek Sivers is one of my favorite people in the world. An author, musician and entrepreneur, Derek talks about this decision making model to use whenever you’re undecided about something: if you don’t feel like saying “hell yeah, that would be amazing!”, then say “no”.

Please note that I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who’s at the beginning of their professional journey. If that’s your case, then you should say yes to absolutely every opportunity – it’s not the time to be picky.

3. David Brooks – The Art of Focus

Don’t try to say “no” to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.

4. Greg McKeown – How to Master Essentialism

Greg McKeown is the author of Essentialism, one of the best books to read if you want to set the foundation of a minimalist mindset, become more mindful, and clarify what’s essential in your life (otherwise you might confuse opportunities, distractions or mere milestones).

The photo above, about the word “decision”, is from this book – I re-read it the past weekend, after listening to his talk with Tim Ferriss.

5. How to beat generosity burnout

A few years ago, after releasing the book “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drive Our Success“, Adam Grant became overwhelmed with emails from strangers who requested things from him. A New York Times profile on him, where he talked about how he enjoys helping people randomly, certainly didn’t help.

This Harvard Business Review article he co-wrote is a useful guide on how to filter whom, how and when to help, without burning yourself out (I also recommend that you check out his to-don’t list).


As you can see, this week’s resources are all about how to say no – one of the things I personally need to get better at. If I would have been better at saying no, this week’s newsletter would have been in your inboxes yesterday, and not one day late – sorry about this 😛 Any extra tips on saying NO that you’d like to share? Please send’m over!

In other news, our Instagram account just hit the 10,000 followers milestone last night – yay! Thanks to everyone who tagged us in stories with amazing books that you read at our recommendation ❤

Don’t forget that if you find value in our work and want to support our efforts, donating a small amount of money via Patreon is the best way to do that. Our Patreons also have exclusive early access to our best content (such as the book-reading guide) and we’ve been working on more ways to show our gratitude.

Thank you for reading this.

– Cristina

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