Just Say “No”

Reading calmly
Reading calmly

Saying “no” is saying “yes”.

In our age of “always on” internet, and instant one-day shipping, instant streaming video, and consumerist thinking, “yes” is the de facto word.

We struggle to say “no”. Why should we? It’s all available. Be anything you want to be. All options are options.

Where is the pain of the world now? For those who have not (yet) lost everything, the pain is in low-level anxiety, high-level stress loads, unlimited social engagement, depression, comparison to everyone and everything, and lack of time to do it all.

If and when we finally lose options, in most cases, we still have many others.

I have found, at least for me, that the art of happiness lies in saying “no” more than “yes”.

Where I have erred, and where I tinker and explore, is figuring out what to say “no” to so that I can say “yes” to those things that are important to me.

What is important to me probably doesn’t differ much from me to you. So, I will keep that to myself. But think of big things, like love, friendship, restoration, purpose, hope.

In the past ten years, I’ve increasingly said “no” to more and more things. I’ll list a few of them below, and how I came upon them for me.

But first, the reason this comes up again today is this. I talk with people. Strangers, sometimes. Okay, sometimes a lot. And an often question asked of me, especially once they learn my age, how many children I have, and my “situation” in life, is how I find the time to do X.

Today, it was once again the topic of reading. But it could have been a half-dozen other things that I spend time on each week.

And here’s the kicker. I don’t really feel like I have to “set aside” time for some of those things. I really don’t. Practically, yes of course, some intention must be there.

But I feel that for some people, they think it is all about the intention. So, I try to explain, it’s really not. It’s really about clearing the decks. Ridding one’s life of as much things that don’t serve their purposes and hopes in life.

I know. Easier said than done. Else I also would have mastered this a decade ago.

Why is it so hard? Well, the “no harm, no foul” thought comes to mind.

Take, for one example, social media. Most people get some benefit from it. They tend to look only at that aspect of it, especially if they contemplate withdrawing from it.

What took me a while to realize was that a thing had to be at least 50% or more beneficial to my purposes, goals, and heart for me to let it keep hanging around.

And even then, I struggled.

What I can report, however, is that over time, and not even much time, I quickly came to appreciate every thing I let go. It was more habit and odd fears more than anything.

Even when I would contemplate dropping something, and even when I was nearly convinced it was the right thing to do to move my life forward in a positive direction, that thing would nag at me for months, sometimes years, before I would finally give it the ol’ heave-ho.

And then, usually within a month or two, relief. Gone. Peace. Space. Time. Restoration.

So, when someone asks me how I find the time to read, what they are asking is how they can find the time to read.

And I can’t answer that. The question I ask back is “how important is it to you to read books?”. If they say it is truly important, I believe them.

There is nothing stopping them from reading. Not social media, movies, video games, friends, a relationship, their job, lack of money, parents, siblings… nothing.

All they really have to do is decide. Decide if each thing in their life serves them toward their best life. Sometimes that isn’t easy to figure out. But too often, it is actually quite easy. We just are fearful that we will lose something.

In other words, we Americans are a generation of mental hoarders.

Some examples may help. Here is my list of NOs presently.

  • Politics: I canned it about a decade ago, but it took me another half-decade to really walk away from it. News about it, talking with friends about it, even voting. Gone. Yes, I know… not voting is so irresponsible, right? Maybe so. But for me, it had become a toxic dump of time, emotions, and idle chatter that did not serve my life’s best direction. I find the “duty to vote” argument shallow. I know for a fact that half the country would really prefer I not vote, yet nearly everyone will say that I should. Something doesn’t add up. But again, I don’t get into it. I’d rather read a book.
  • Social Media: I went on and off social media for years. I had MySpace. I had a Facebook account as soon as it became available to the general public. I was even once on CompuServe. Yes, I’m old. But about a half-decade ago, I just saw it as friction against my best life forward. There were some benefits, of course. An occasional laugh. A quick chat with an old acquaintance. Learning something new (if you can call a 30-second scan of a post ‘learning’). But overall, I saw it in opposition to who I wanted to be. Books and social media could not be done at the same time. Every 20 minutes a day online in social media was definitely 20 minutes that didn’t put me in front of a quality book. Considering that the average non-fiction book takes about 3-4 hours to read, a week or two of social media ate up a book I could have read. And like most people, I often would spend way more than an average of 20 minutes a day. Nowadays, people belong to a three or more networks: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.
  • Movies: This is a recent one for me. I had been naturally curtailing them anyway due to the busyness of life, and also because I tend to go to bed earlier in Costa Rica for a variety of reasons. But video streaming is everywhere, and YouTube counts as “movies” to some degree, also. I’ve been talking about it for a while. After seeing Star Wars IX, I feel I can now really take a break for the next five years or so. I’m sure I’ll slip up somewhere. This isn’t a hard and fast rule for me. Even though they weren’t consuming a lot of my time, I have to admit that little video clips here and there were. Sometimes, when “bored” (boy I hate that term), I’d tap on the YouTube app and watch “just a few clips”. Like 25 minutes worth, it would turn out to be. So, starting now, I’m video/movie free. Even more time for reading, or other ventures. Personally, I’m quite excited about that. It took longer than I would have preferred, but already I’ve enjoyed the fresh air of not watching video. (Of course, I make exception for online learning as I’m presently learning Salesforce and there are occasional videos to watch there).
  • Alcohol: Funny how drinking takes up more time than you would think. For me, I decided to stop in July of 2019 after realizing how directly it was affecting my mental health well beyond the night of and the day after. Mental health can be affected by a variety of things, and I was never a big drinker, but after an evening of 3.5 ordinary beers, I realized how even worse my mental health was in the following week. Emotionally, I took everything worse the following week, too. There’s also the physical health aspect of it. Alcohol pretty much doesn’t serve anyone’s physical health goals. Well, unless your goal is to look like this guy. Let’s hope not! Again, however, this took me a half-year to really “see the light”. Sadly, there was yet-another-incident (and yes, I like the word “incident” since it can imply all manner of things and makes everyone nervous). Although I had cut way back this past half-year, I’ve had to face the truth that alcohol was standing in the way of my life goals and my best self. I never hardly even drank before I turned 40, so it seemed especially silly that I was now torturing myself over whether or not I should fully stop. Odd fears would come to mind. What would people think if I drank water instead? How would I get through airport and airplane boredom? (I fly a lot, and yet of course, alcohol dehydrates you even worse, but you’d think I would know better). What if so-and-so found my abstinence embarrassing or annoying? The good news is that once I frame the question in terms of how something is serving me (or not), the answer is relatively easy. Do I want to risk future “incidents”? Do I want to damage my brain, or my liver? Do I want to waste money on this? Do I want to lose hours of clarity (and even weeks, due to my mental health condition) for alcohol’s sake? No, no I do not. So, bye bye alcohol. And hello Coca-Cola! (I kid… I gave up soft drinks a decade ago, too). So, hello tap water? Sigh…

There are other things I am considering cutting back on, or eliminating.

For example, I recently took off my main email account from my “smart”phone. I’ve moved over nearly all my friends and business-related email to that account. I just handle email when I’m on my regular computer. Now, the only email that comes to my phone is immediate family.

It’s like I’m living back in the dial-up days, “checking” email just once a day, or even every few days if I’m busy. Sometimes, I actually forget and wonder why I haven’t got any emails lately. Then, I’m like “oh yeah… duh”, and zip on over to catch up on it. So nice. Adds just a tiny bit of headspace to my day to not get 95% of my email on my portable device.

I write this with the hopes it inspires someone to start saying “no” to things that aren’t serving them. For me, the 50% guideline is a good start. There are lots of things in life that seem to bounce back and forth over that guideline.

People, for instance. One day they can really be in your face and block all your forward progress in life. The next, they are the life preserver that keeps you from drowning.

I recommend not worrying too much about those kind of random things to start. Try and focus on the things that you know are almost always on the below 50% side of things.

Like Twitter. C’mon… is there anyone that really finds that it serves up their best life? I mean, except Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump? Maybe Twitter should really just be a service to let those two talk to each other and the rest of us can go on and build great amazing lives of love, purpose, and hope.