Warren Buffett confided that the secret to creating his fortune lay in his ability to say No. “My work centers on saying, No. I sit there all day and look at investment proposals. I say No, No, No, No until I see exactly the one I am looking for. I say yes a few times in my life and I’ve made my fortune”
40 years of working as a couples’ therapist taught me that Warren Buffet was right. Successful two career couples are very careful in their priorities. They are skilled at saying No to demands on their time, attention and resources. Read on and learn the three essential steps for a wise and loving NO.
Impact of Cultural Expectations on Ability to Say No.
Many women entrepreneurs do everything and do it extremely well including wise career planning. Because of cultural expectations and demands, some resist saying no to: requests from a boss who demands that she stay later at work; a son who guilts her into attending a sports event; a partner who insists that she collect a sick child from school, although he works nearby; the neighbor who expects homemade cupcakes for the school party.
All those pointless yes’s will impact on your emotional and physical health, your parenting skills and family relationships. When, women with the “failure to say no syndrome,” reach middle age, it starts to catch up. Emotional and physical problems surface. Divorce, family conflict, physical illness, alcoholism, affairs, depression, problems with children, career dissatisfaction and a sense of “was it worth it?” emerge.
Generally, their husbands learned to say no as a child and found a wife who respected their boundaries and continued to meet their needs. Saying no is a border people put up to separate us, to distinguish your needs from their needs. Think of the toddler, who asserts his independence with a “no” or the adolescent who says no to your clothes choices. Both are asserting separateness from you. If you are uncomfortable saying no to requests while your spouse comfortably assert his desires, his needs are met? Not yours!
For many women, cultural expectations urge them to be perfect wives and mothers in addition to having successful careers. They were admonished to have it all and do it all with little regard for their human needs. The push was just go forward. Say yes to it all. Not a bad idea but you must say no before you are truly free to say yes. When were you ever encouraged to say no? Early on it may have been no to sex. But even that changed and it had to be yes to children, yes to aging parents, yes to spouse, yes to boss and yes to friends. This is a recipe for emotional and physical bankruptcy. Leave space for “no” and notice your life change.
The Automatic “No”
The successful two career couples in my practice taught me to automatically pause before saying, ‘yes.’ Whether at home or in the office, my internal key word response has to be an automatic “no.” That keyword “no” is uttered in my head first. No knee jerk “yes” permitted. Allow some space before responding. The requester often fills in the space and I get off the hook. Otherwise I and you compromise our health, family life and career. Practicing an automatic “no” to yourself is an essential first step on the road to becoming the mother, wife and entrepreneur of your dreams without becoming emotionally or physically bankrupt in the process.
The kids demand your immediate attention. Your boss wants you to take on another project that may compromise your effectiveness. Your husband asks you to pick up a gift for his assistant on the way home. Your mom suggests you stop by to see a visiting relative. The class mother asks you to bake brownies for the School Fair. All require an immediate no. That first no is an internal one in which you pause, stop and feel your feet on the floor. Sense what is going on in your body. How does your body respond to their request?
1. Pause: Say No Internally and Just Observe Your Physical Sensations
Never react until you take a pause – even for a second or two – then sense your internal response to the request.
Observe any tension in your body: is your neck tight, slight headache, pain in the gut; is your heart rate up; breathing more rapidly, sense of irritability; do you have a feeling of tiredness, sweaty palms, slight nausea?
Pause some more, another second or two. Your body is talking. Stop and listen to its wisdom. Wise and successful people do that.
Stay with it and feel your feet on the floor, sense the ground underneath your feet, perhaps move your toes inside your shoes. Stay with you and your sensations. Heed and continue sensing!
Know that listening skills are the hallmark of highly successful parents, spouses and entrepreneurs. Stay in sensing and listening mode for a few seconds – or more- if needed.
2. Continue the Pause: Notice Your Emotional Response and Your Feelings; Observe that slight feeling of anxiety, annoyance, frustration; fear, a desire to run or get angry, a feeling of trying to please, frustration; insecurity, hurt, sadness, shame or guilt. Calmly scan the room and let your eyes rest on something. Stay with it and be curious about your body’s response. Think of the beach or a sunny day. Any of those pleasant distractions will give you space to make a wise decision. Notice the deep breath you just took, the feeling of calm that is washing over your body. Now you can think about your options.
3. Now for the Decision: use reasoned thinking, not emotionally colored and culturally programmed responses.
You are doing great. You are now present for you and ready to move to the next level of decision making. Is it a yes, a no or maybe? If you are feeling any internal discomfort, ask for time. Do not under any circumstances, respond with an automatic “Yes.” Give yourself all the time you need to find out what is pushing you to say yes, while your body and emotions are giving you a different message. If it is guilt, it means you are violating a value. Whose value is it? Is it yours or something you learned growing up in a culture that handed women demands that are mismatched with human needs. Of course you can do it all. However, it has to be based on your values and an intrinsic respect for your personal needs.
Only you know what having it all means. But decide that after closely checking with who you are, what you value and what you need. Then learn to say yes only when you are free to do so. That automatic yes is from old cultural programming. NO is a boundary that separates you from other people but it also allows you to be a person in your own right, one who is willing to take care of herself and meet her needs even if it sometimes causes displeasure in family, friends or colleagues. Value the NO as much as the yes. It is respectful! Warren Buffett acquired abundance that way. So can you.