When asked, “Do I have to?” a teacher I once had would always reply “the only thing you have to do is die.”
Contemplating my own mortality at the age of 11 wasn’t really something I was ready for, but still, today that phrase replays in my mind when confronted with a “do I have to?” situation. The only thing you have to do is die. It’s heavy, but it’s true. My middle school teacher probably didn’t think I’d be writing about her words of wisdom in an article over a decade later. But I can’t help it because, in actuality, she was spot on.
There’s only one thing in life that’s certain, so we might as well seize control of the choices we make while we’re here and exercise our freedom to simply say no when something doesn’t fulfill us. The world offers us endless opportunities and we’re typically taught to take advantage of each and every one (so as not to have regrets). Consider for a moment a change of pace: instead of thinking about all the things you are free to do, realize that there are many you are free not to do. We might feel pressured to agree to things that aren’t for us, like a job we hate to pay the bills. We may even feel like we have to get married once we reach a particular age. Put simply, it’s okay not to do these things; as it turns out, saying “no” can bring us exponential amounts of inner peace and a whole boat load of freedom.
No is stronger than Yes
“Yes” is related to risk-taking and embracing life with an open mind. With yes as positive we see its counterpart, “no” as a negative. However, there is a soft-spoken power to the word “no,” one that many don’t recognize because it’s seen as a means to an end, combative and conflict-provoking.
Science says that the human brain is programmed to respond to “no” faster and with more intensity. But saying no doesn’t make you negative. Negativity is a persistent attitude and an unwillingness to inspire others. Negativity is draining and it can be powerful in all the wrong ways. “No” is an affirmation that is powerful. It’s a decision, one that directly defends your truth and expresses the commitment to your own needs. When you aim to please and lose the ability to say no, you’re taken advantage of and your needs become secondary.
How Do We Get Here?
A lot of these internal impulses to say yes are learned. Sometimes we get caught up in mundane routines, doing things we think we’re supposed to be doing, but do we stop enough to ask ourselves why? Is it all necessary? We’re shaped by childhood experiences, the lessons of our parents, opinions of friends, and cultural norms that teach us to criticize and compare ourselves to unfair standards. It seems normal to listen to the voices inside our heads telling us we have to act without considering the true intrinsic benefits or rewards.
Finding the power to say no when needed is an act of self-love. Saying no to another drink when you know you’ve had enough is knowing your limits. Foregoing a job offer and waiting for a better opportunity is valuing your capabilities and personal goals. Letting go of a relationship that’s hurting you (even when being alone means being vulnerable) is choosing to love yourself first.
You don’t have to convince someone to take your side in an argument in an effort to change their opinion. You don’t have to let anger, fear, or regret dominate your emotions. Succumbing to these pressures or thoughts of “I need to do this” renders us helpless and can be bad for our mental health. Giving into those impulses and saying yes when what all we want to do is say no is the purest form of being un-free. This un-freedom makes us puppets, but we’re the ones manipulating our own strings. When you say “no” without explanation, the mental freedom that comes with it promotes healing. It gives us headspace, more breathing room, and lessens emotional reactivity.
You can’t control what happens around you or what other people say or do, but you can always control your reaction; you can even choose not to react at all. When you make “choose not to” your mantra, the floodgates of inner peace will open. It bridges the gap between what we’ve learned from outside influences and a higher level of thinking. This is not to say you should turn everything down when the outcome is uncertain; take risks, take the road less traveled, but assess the situation first. Is it because you truly want to? Will it be fulfilling for you at the end of the day? If you’re feeling compelled or something doesn’t feel right, choose not to. Saying no makes us autonomous and cultivates confidence and control. It prevents us from being pulled in a million directions and going through the motions of doing things that don’t make us happy.
Life is short, so say no, find your peace, and simply just be.
Hanson, R. (2014, November 03). Enjoy the Freedom Not To. Retrieved July 05, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-wise-brain/201411/enjoy-the-freedom-not
The Power of No. (2013, November 05). Retrieved July 05, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201311/the-power-no