What got you to the level of success you’re at today is saying YES to almost every opportunity.
What will get you to your next level of success is saying NO to almost every opportunity.
Which is why I’m going to teach you the single most powerful tool I know to take your life, career and business to the next level.
It’s the word, no.
A tiny word. Just two letters.
It’s a hard word to hear and often even harder to say.
Campbell McGrath captures the challenge of saying no, perfectly, in this poem:
By Campbell McGrath
No sir, absolutely not, sorry, but no.
Not sorry, actually—just no.
Keep it simple, plain vanilla: nope.
Not happening. Big en, big oh.
No way, no how.
Negative, nuh-uh, ixnay, nyet.
No no, no no.
Not likely, not likely. Maybe,
but I doubt it.
Possibly, conceivably, in theory.
Uh-huh, mm-hmm . . .
Well, yeah, sure, O.K., why not,
oh definitely, yes,
wow, I mean anything,
anything at all, when can we begin?
Can you relate to that feeling? Saying yes, but every cell in your body is screaming no…
What are you tolerating?
Before you can say no, you need to know what you are actually saying yes to—that you really don’t want.
Tolerations are things in your daily life that drain your energy. They include projects, habits, people, stuff and activities. They can be hard to spot because you’ve become so accustomed to tolerating them. Anything you wouldn’t choose to include in your life is a toleration. From the pile of books on your nightstand, to your messy desk to the business partner you’ve outgrown—all of these are tolerations.
Make a list of 50 things that come to mind when you answer these 4 questions:
- What are you tolerating?
- What’s boring you?
- What do you wish you hadn’t once said yes to?
- What are your “In Order To’s”? (In Order To’s are things you said yes to—but only as a stepping stone to get what you really want. By the way, if you want a rapid way to create what you really, really want, stop saying yes to In Order To’s).
- Open loops
What makes a great TV show so irresistible are its open loops. These are the cliffhangers in great stories that drive your brain to seek some sort of conclusion. Open loops have your brain feel a powerful urge to close the loop—to get to resolution.
In life, an open loop is any commitment you made to yourself or someone else. Open loops in your life can go back years. The friend from whom you borrowed a book, or $20, but never returned. The desire to have six-pack abs that you never actually did anything about. The unkept promise to your spouse to put up some shelves.
Make a list of 50 open loops. Go embarrassingly small. Even tiny open loops are draining you of energy.
Now that you’ve got clear on 100 things that were once a yes but may no longer be, let’s establish how to say no.
9 ways to say no
Really successful people say no to almost everything. – Warren Buffett
- Choose your HELL YES.
What is so important to you that it becomes easy to be a no to anything else? (Time with your kids, finishing your book, your health, your friends, your happiness).
- Consider the price of saying YES, tomorrow.
If you say yes now, imagine the price you’ll be paying in a week, a month, or 6 months—when you actually have to deliver on what you’ve promised.
I was once invited to speak to a group of entrepreneurs in Toronto, in six months time. I’ve built a business on generosity, so I asked for no fee and the timing was perfect because I’d be in the city on that date. I said an immediate yes.
A month later, I’d already swapped 11 emails with the CEO, had two planning calls with her—two more were scheduled—and I’d begun organizing my team to create handouts and materials for the workshop. We were still 5 months away and I could already feel the energetic price I was paying for this yes.
I emailed the CEO, “I have realized that between my clients, my business and my family I am actually overcommitted for the rest of the year. I am sorry to pull back at this stage but I’d rather say no more, before you go any further into the planning of this event. That way I won’t let down your community by creating something that I am unable to put my full 100% energy and attention into.” A reply showed up in my inbox almost immediately, “Rich, I completely understand. Thanks for your honesty. We’d love to have you join us in the future but I see you have some amazing projects on your plate. Thank you kindly for considering this, and for your belief in our project.”
- NO is a complete sentence.
No explanation needed. No apology needed. Counterintuitively, a no can often feel better to the other person when you don’t explain or apologize. No. No, thank you. No. That’s it.
- Have your fee be the NO.
You need never say no to a potential client again. Just raise your rates to a number big enough that if they say yes you’d be thrilled to coach them!
On that note, I also recommend following Naval Ravikant’s advice in setting an absurdly high aspirational hourly rate for yourself, and sticking to it. Anything less than your hourly rate is a clear no. Outsource it.
- Be a gracious NO.
I’ve found that the following 10 words are received very well by people: “Thank you for your request and I’m a gracious no.”
They’re enough on their own. Sometimes if you try to explain too much, it comes from your own lack of self-esteem, or sense of guilt, and your explanation makes things cloudy.
If you want to say a little more, refer to your Hell Yes: “I’m a gracious no to your request, as I’m putting all my attention on two things, at this time: my family and the completion of my book. Best wishes for your project.”
- Be a fast no.
When you know you’re a no, don’t let your discomfort leave people hanging.
- You’re not allowed to use the number 7.
When deciding whether or not to say yes to a project, a partnership or new client, a Hell Yes is a clear 8, 9, or 10 out of 10. And a Hell No is a 6 out of 10, or less.
7 is the “Maybe” number. You’ll always regret saying Yes to a 7. As Tim Ferriss says, you’re not allowed to use the number 7.
- Saying yes to be kind to someone, or not to hurt their feelings, is a selfish act.
If you’re not a Hell Yes, someone else is. You’re being selfish by saying Yes to anything you’re not a Hell Yes to.
- How someone responds to your no speaks to their character, not yours.
I’ll leave you with the words of another poem I love about the word no, by Susan Henderson:
Saying ‘NO’ and Loving It
Once upon a time
I couldn’t say ‘no’.
I mostly didn’t say ‘yes’, either.
Just went along with others.
And seethed inside,
boiling in frustration.
Now I say ‘no’
as my mood dictates.
comes with age.
On the other hand
it could be
that I’ve simply become
a grumpy old woman…
I don’t see a “grumpy old woman…” I see someone very clear about what she wants to say yes to and about what she wants to say no to. I want to be more like her when I grow up!
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