In the 2008 romantic comedy Yes Man, Jim Carrey attempted to convince audiences that the secret to happiness and success was just to say “yes” more often – or always. Hilarious hijinks ensued, and Carrey’s character got the girl, got the promotion, and expanded his horizons. But in the end, even he learned that there’s a time and place to say no.
That’s what I’m doing this month – saying NO – and in the next 1,171 words, I’m going to explain why you might want to join me in making this a NO-vember to remember.
Why I’m Saying NO
I’m saying NO because I’ve got less than 30 days to finish the revisions on a major book project – and I’m unlikely to meet that key deadline if I keep saying “yes” to other people’s projects – and to my own ADHD brain’s innate desire to pivot to the latest interesting/enraging thing.
But saying NO isn’t going to be easy. There’s a lot of pressure to say “yes” these days – sometimes in ways that we don’t even fully grasp.
When I spend time on Twitter/X, I am saying “yes” to Elon Musk, who is asking me and 528 million of my closest frenemies “Are you willing to give me your time and your intellectual property for free so that I can monetize it and spend the money doing things that you probably don’t agree with?”
When I say “yes” to a can of soda I am saying yes to aluminum mining on Indigenous lands, yes to big corporations, yes to increasing my carbon and water footprint. And none of these are things that I really want to say “yes” to.
Other times, the “yes” is more obvious – it tends to be my default response when family and friends ask me for favors, support, money, time, or involvement in some new project.
I’m aware that I embody a couple of mutually reinforcing tendencies that push me to say “yes” more often than I should. First, I’m a people-pleaser, especially when it comes to family and friends, and second, I habitually over-commit to shiny new projects. This latter is a problem because I also tend to underestimate the time needed to complete things.
The weight of all those positive responses piles up – and the cost is measured not just in time and money, but stress and emotional damage.
Keeping my word is very important to me – so if I commit to something, it causes me a great deal of stress if I am slow or late on delivering. And as the commitments stack up, some things inevitably fall behind. The stress impacts my productivity, and… the vicious cycle speeds up.
What I’m Saying NO to
If my default setting to questions such as “Would you like to ___” and “Can I borrow ___” is NO, there are going to be a lot of things that I’ll be politely turning down this month, but I can already think of three specific categories to I’m both committing to here in writing, and pre-emptively preparing to do.
NO Reactionary Rage
This month, I won’t be scrolling Twitter/X and repost or commenting on the issues that trigger my hot-button reactions to such things as the killings of children, journalists, UN staff and medical workers, and the normalization of assassination politics. This will be a tough one for me – to stay silent during a time of great injustice is extremely difficult for me as a writer, especially when the wrongs being committed touch on my own experiences as a peacekeeper and a soldier. But the 10 hours a week I’ve been spending on that platform – essentially, an unpaid part-time job – can be much better spent in other forms of activism and writing.
Especially as a creative, it’s too easy to make excuses for why I’m not working on my book. “We’re traveling” – “I can’t get into flow” – “I had to remind the French Ambassador to the UN about the parallels his countries response to Rwanda in 1994 and the current situation,” but this month, I’m done with excuses.
It’s a small thing, but I have a long scar on my head that refuses to heal – in part, because I pick at it when I am feeling unfocused, upset, or stressed out. This month, I will say NO when I reach up to scratch at that scar – and ask myself what is triggering the automatic reaction. Is the scar really itching or am I just having a moment – do I need to get up and walk around, refocus, do some pushups, or drink some water?
The NO Hypothesis
In science, the null hypothesis would suggest that there would be no statistical significance in my productivity, happiness, health and wealth in a period where I changed my default answer from “yes” to NO – but I have a different hypothesis.
I believe that I will be able to show a significant change from the baseline of the preceding month, which includes:
· Money given to family members – $5000
· Time given freely to Elon Musk – 47 hours
So, I’ll measure these two factors and report back in my final submission for the Friends Who Write competition. If I’m correct, I expect to see a considerable reduction in both. I also hope to be able to identify other positive changes – but developing my NO Hypothesis, I’ve discovered something else that I need to say NO to…
NO to Not Knowing.
Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living, and it pained me to realize how much I didn’t really know about myself. To prove any theory regarding change, you need to know the baseline for the conditions that you think will change if you alter the system – and while I could calculate how much money and attention I’d given away, I found that I didn’t really know some pretty important data.
How much time had I spent editing my book? How much time had I spent on creative writing projects that sparked joy? How much packaged and processed food had I consumed? So, for NO-vember, I am saying NO to not knowing the basic statistics about the aspects of my life that I say are important, and I commit to defining them and tracking them – something that I should have plenty of time to do if I give up my unpaid part-time job at Twitter/X.
Will You Say “Yes” to NO-Vember?
The final act of Yes Man suggested that while saying “yes” could be beneficial to many people in many cases, it’s important to be able to say no when the situation calls for it – and I think that the reverse is also true.
That’s why I’m inviting you to join me in spending the rest of this month identifying the areas where a negative response could make a positive impact in your life. This article gives a template to pick a few focus areas, collect the baseline data if you don’t already have it, and attempt to prove your very own NO Hypothesis – but there could be other, better ways to do it.
If you have thoughts, suggestions, critiques or just want to share an encouraging word, please drop a comment and I’ll look forward to reading what you have to say!