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ATD Blog

The Most Successful People Say This One Word!

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Reflect on a moment when all signs pointed toward saying “no,” yet you chose to say “yes” anyway. How did that decision leave you feeling?

As the organizational psychologist Carl White aptly put it, “Your yeses don’t carry much weight until you can confidently say no.” For many, saying “no” doesn’t come naturally; it demands a certain level of social and mental agility.

Why is it that so many struggle to assert themselves when faced with demands or requests? Is it due to imposter syndrome, an insatiable drive for results, or perhaps a perception that our worth is tied to our accomplishments? (Enneagram Type 3 personalities, you know who you are!) For some, it’s a relentless pursuit of productivity, while for others, it’s a fear of disappointing others or a desire to constantly please. Cultural and gender norms can also shape our tendency to prioritize politeness or deference.

Here are five strategies to help you prioritize your own needs before committing your precious resources:

1. Befriend Your Boundaries

It’s challenging to uphold boundaries when you’re unsure of what they are. Without a clear understanding of our wants and needs, it becomes difficult to decline requests that don’t align with our values or goals. Fear of conflict or potential backlash can also drive us to acquiesce.

Ask yourself:

  • What prevents me from saying “no”?
  • What am I sacrificing by not asserting my boundaries?
  • What would give me the courage and energy to stand firm?
  • How likely am I to regret saying “yes” in the future?

As Steve Jobs famously remarked, “Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.” Practice asserting your boundaries, both alone and with trusted individuals, to refine this skill over time.

2. Develop a Mantra

Start each day with a guiding intention, such as “to show up as my most authentic and empowered self.” This serves as a reminder of your core values and helps you navigate challenging situations with clarity and confidence.



  • How do I want to feel at the end of each day or week?
  • What criteria will I use to evaluate incoming requests?
  • Can I identify patterns or triggers that lead to decisions against my best interests?

Brené Brown, PhD, vulnerability and shame researcher, recommends keeping a “resentment journal” to track what types of people, environments, or experiences trigger the lower parts of ourselves, resulting in decisions that are seldom in our best interest. Visual cues, like sticky notes or symbols, can also reinforce your intentions and keep you focused.

3. Create Your “Stop” List

Instead of obsessing over endless to-do lists, identify habits, behaviors, or activities that no longer serve you. Jim Collins, author of the mega-bestseller Good to Great, suggests making a “stop-doing” list to free up time and energy for what truly matters.


  • Which tasks or commitments no longer align with my priorities?
  • What can I eliminate to regain focus and vitality?
  • How can I rank-order my responsibilities to distinguish between essentials and distractions?

If there’s something that nearly didn’t make the cut, remove it. Feeling lighter? Perfect. Now, trim the bottom 20 percent of your list to further streamline your efforts and redirect your attention to those high-impact goals.


4. Quarterback Your Calendar

Create a weekly plan that empowers you to take back control of your day. When life becomes chaotic, it’s tempting to slip into autopilot mode to navigate each day. Feelings of obligation often arise, leading us to say “yes” when we should prioritize our own needs. Fortunately, goal setting isn’t limited to January! Spend just 10 minutes on a Sunday evening to outline your top priorities, aligned with your personal values.

Find a quiet space, grab a journal, and reflect on the following:

  • What are the top three things I aim to accomplish this week?
  • Why are these priorities important to me?
  • What impact will achieving these goals have on various aspects of my life?What am I willing to sacrifice or remove from my schedule to focus on these objectives?
  • If I don’t accomplish these goals, what consequences will it have?

Write down your top three weekly goals, and carry this list with you throughout the week. Over time, this personalized roadmap will guide you toward greater focus and fulfillment.

5. Resist Hustle Culture

The ethos of hustle culture, also referred to as urgency or burnout culture, centers on the belief that achieving success requires long hours and neglecting self-care. It propagates the idea that by immersing yourself entirely in work, you can accomplish anything and everything.

Despite the best laid plans, of course life happens. It’s common to find ourselves operating on autopilot, rushing through tasks at breakneck speed. Before hastily agreeing to the next demand, take a moment to center yourself. This not only shows respect for yourself and others but also allows for reflection on the journey that brought you here.

Also, consider that ambition extends beyond professional success; it encompasses all facets of our lives, including personal fulfillment and well-being. Ambition can involve tending to family needs, nurturing social connections, and pursuing hobbies. Simplifying our lives requires knowing what truly matters and consistently saying “no” to distractions, while focusing on saying “yes” to what holds real significance.

In summary, while saying “no” may pose challenges, it’s crucial for preserving boundaries and safeguarding our well-being. By refining our ability to assert ourselves and prioritize our needs, we can navigate life with clarity, confidence, and purpose.

About the Author

Jen Paragas is a licensed ICF Executive Coach and the director of people and culture for Upstream USA. Contact her via LinkedIn:

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