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Michael S. Broder, Ph.D. Headshot

What Is Perhaps the Most Powerful Word in the English Language?

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I'll spare you the tease. That word is "no"!

The ability to be assertive and say "no" is a communication skill we all learn at a very young age. If you're a parent, you know better than anyone that once this word enters a child's vocabulary it's used very often. However, as an adult, "no" is often much more difficult to say. As life gets busier and obligations increase, the ability to say "no" is increasingly important. If you can learn to assert yourself, it can be the difference between chronic overwhelm (aka, not having an enjoyable life) and spending far more time with the things you enjoy and that fulfill you the most.

Between keeping up with your email, your career and family, your friends and your relationship(s), the many requests for your time that you receive on a regular basis can feel daunting. Perhaps the kids need you to drive them and their friends to the movies, your neighbors want you to walk their dog and your boss is pleading with you to take a work project home to complete in order to meet a deadline. Perhaps you agree to take on more than you can handle, merely because you don't want to be rejecting or somehow become scorned by someone's wrathful reaction. The fear of being rejected by others is one that we become most sensitive to in adolescence, which I discuss in detail in my book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential. But when this fear is too prominent as an adult, it can certainly hold you back. The key to being able to pick and choose what you can and cannot take on, is remembering that when you say "no" you aren't rejecting the person, you are simply rejecting their request. For example, if someone asks you to lend them $100, you might say "no." But if that person were to ask if you could pay him to do some yard work for you, you might agree to this. So by saying no the loan, you were merely rejecting an undesirable request. A more attractive request -- paying money for yard work you need done -- where there's a benefit to you could be one you might easily accept. In this example, as with most requests you probably consider, it's less personal than practical. The problem is, we tend to easily forget that.

Being able to carefully consider and mindfully choose which obligations or requests you take on from the people in your life will allow you to feel empowered and positive about the things you decide to say "yes" to. When you are unapologetically the one who's in charge of your life and your decisions, you will get a level of respect that may have previously eluded you. In reality, there are so many things coming at you today that weren't there just a few short years ago. This means that managing your schedule is far more challenging than it was before. Most importantly, strive to feel great about how you choose to spend your time, as time is the one asset we have, that when lost -- we can't get it back. So who can you say no to today?

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