“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Conditioning: The Disease of Yes
As someone who identifies predominately as introverted, I hated going to social events because meeting new people and starting conversations gave me lots of anxiety as I tend to overthink things. I guess you could say I have social anxiety.
When I was in college, I started a Greek organization on campus; something I never imagined being apart of in high school. There was an unwritten obligation to connect with external organizations by attending all of their events because we were the new fraternity on the block and we had to get our name out there.
This experience was the epitome of my late teens and early twenties. As a naïve undergrad, I felt the need to do everything.
“General body meeting in the library for this organization?” Lets check it out.
“There is an event that falls outside my demographic and interest?” Well there might be free food!
These years in my early adulthood consisted of me saying yes to almost everything to gain more knowledge and experiences. However as I aged, I became more familiar with what truly got me excited which made not attending trivial events easier.
Maybe: The Millennial No
Even after deciding not to attend events, I still faced a glaring issue; declining. Sometimes it was easy. All I needed to do was click “Maybe” or completely ignore the invitation like most people. But what about when someone contacts me directly?
I stare nervously back at the screen of a new message; too scared to click it and send a read receipt. I think about what I should say. For hours I conjure up possible excuses for why I can’t honor the request until I give up and I reply “Hey! I’m interested but I’m not sure. I’ll lyk!”
Jimmy, you genius. Hit them with the maybe so they cannot try to convince you if you say no. That reply stops them dead in their tracks. Right? Well except a few days until their event and they come check on you to see your status. Now I’m back to square one and need an excuse to tell them I can’t anymore.
Now here is the part where I tell them I’m “too busy” to attend. Busy is in quotes because I’m a liar. I’m not saying I don’t have a lot of stuff going on in my life but if the request/event garnered my attention, I would make time for it. Let me draw an analogy to explain why most of the time these excuses are disingenuous.
Here is a somewhat made-up scenario: I, a heterosexual male, on a typical day work 8 hours, require 9 hours of sleep, 2 hours to commute, spend 1.5 hours on physical training, volunteer at the animal shelter for 1 hour, and watch Netflix for the remainder. I fire up Instagram one day and find a DM from my dream girl, Constance Wu. She stubbles upon a shirtless beach picture of me and instantly became enthralled by my physique so she asks me on a date (sorry Henry Golding). Anyone that can do basic addition would see I’m booked so obviously I messaged Constance back and say “I’m flattered but my schedule is booked, I’m too busy catching up on Fresh Off The Boat to meet up.” Said no one with at least half a donkey brain.
This scenario touches on a few key points: 1) busyness is a choice, 2) busy is not the same as productive, and 3) prioritize valuable opportunities. I would be super excited to see that message and cut out the least important thing on my schedule i.e. Netflix.
This type of decision is a no-brainer. I’m a fan of Constance Wu so of course I’d make time for this. But back to an invitation to something that does not interest me.
For a long time, my response to these types of invitations were maybe even when I knew for certain that I had no intentions or interest in attending. A major reason for this was saying a flat out NO felt painfully awkward. I didn’t want to go but I felt so awkward shooting someone down. Also what if I needed their help in the future?
The awkwardness was only how I felt and not a real representation of how things were truly. Eventually I learned that saying no is necessary to safeguard my time and energy. Saying maybe also makes it more difficult for the host to plan because there much more uncertainty so out of respect for the host and myself I had to learn to swallow the awkwardness and say no.
Say(ing) No More
One of my first memories of saying no began when I started studying for my first actuary exam. At first, seeing my friends go out to the club on Friday nights and getting wasted gave me FOMO. The nostalgia of good times these Friday nights made me want to get my quick fix and I was an addict.
Even with all the FOMO and nostalgia, I had to decline going out. Whenever I went out I would drink excessively and stay up until 4 AM which resulting in waking up past noon. I knew if I were to take studying seriously, I needed a good night sleep to wake up early and start studying to get it out of the way.
It was easier to say no when I had a valid reason albeit still difficult in the beginning. However once I got into this new habit, it took much less effort saying no. It helped knowing why I was doing what I was doing. Paying exuberantly marked up prices for alcohol, destroying my eardrums with deafening electronic music, and squeezing into a hot, sweaty dance floor filled with other excessively intoxicated people chasing away their pain from the weekday was not benefitting my livelihood. It was hurting my sleep schedule, my liver, and my pockets.
Now in my mid-twenties as a young professional, I have even less time than when I was in college. I don’t have the same luxury of saying yes to everything I used because of new priorities and a better understanding of how to improve my current situation.
I learned about a tactic that Kyle Maynard, a best-selling author, entrepreneur, and ESPY award-winning mixed martial arts athlete, borrowed from a successful CEO via Tim Ferris’ Tribe of Mentors/podcasts. Here is an excerpt from Kyle Maynard’s section in Tribe of Mentors:
“When [the CEO’s] company grew and he ran out of time to interview people himself, he has his employees rate new candidates on a 1–10 scale. The only stimulation was they couldn’t choose 7. It immediately dawned on me how many invitations I was receiving that I would rate as a 7 — speeches, weddings, coffees, even dates. If I thought something was a 7, there was a good chance I felt obligated to do it. But if I have to decide between a 6 or an 8, it’s a lot easier to quickly determine whether or not I should even consider it.”
I started using this technique to rate everything on a scale from 1–10 without using 7. Before I would rate something a 7 whenever I was on the fence. Without it I had to choose between 6 or 8; if it was a 6 it was typically a no for me. Whenever I tell my friends about this system, they get confused because 6 is still a decent ranking; it’s ABOVE AVERAGE!
Well imagine if a girl is a 6. Sure she is above average but only slightly. She would not invoke the same excitement for me if I think a girl is an 8. I would be jumping off walls and telling all my guy friends I scored a date with a HB8!
To help me come up with a number, there are some questions I think to myself such as:
· Am I excited to do this?
· Will it be awkward and boring?
· What value would it provide me (whether intrinsic or extrinsic)?
Whether or not I’ll be excited is extremely important to me because I feel the need to match the energy. I remember when I agreed to go out with an ex-girlfriend but would be mopey and think about how much I didn’t want to be there. These thoughts negatively affect me and also the vibe as a whole. It has taught me that it is better for all parties for oneself to not be present than being present and mentally checked-out.
But I have to…
As much as I empower myself to say no, I realized there will be times I need to do things I don’t want to do e.g. business meetings, washing dishes, doing laundry. In these situations, I remind myself to put on a fake smile, put up a front, and grind because I have do what I have to do. I mentioned in the last section that being negative contributes nothing and even worse, makes situations uncomfortable. The act of smiling can trick your brain (according to some psuedoscience article I found on the internet) just like repeating affirmations to think positively. Fake it until you make it.
Another hack is to find ways to these tasks more enjoyable such as listening to podcasts or an interesting book on Audible (Audible please sponsor me). For example, I listen to audiobooks while I sit in traffic to learn new things which makes bumper-to-bumper traffic a bit more bearable. This transforms dead time into productive time.
I’m still working on removing the excess every day but I feel content with the progress I’ve made so far. There is an opportunity cost to saying yes; it is ultimately saying no to an infinitesimal amount of things. Even though I’m a proponent of exercising the word “no,” I’m grateful for all of my past experiences. At the time, I hated going to social events but looking back, they helped me so much in developing my communication skills and calibrating my social barometer. Somethings have big payoff so do research; take risks and go outside the comfort zone in order to reap the rewards. Lastly being courteous, grateful, and honest gets the best outcome if I do say no.
Let me know what you think and if you got something out of this. Or not. That’s cool too.