I’ve made some questionable decisions over the years. Like unsuccessfully trying to adopt Madonna’s 1980’s streetwear swagger in college, not buying stock in that start-up online bookseller called Amazon and signing a six-year extension on a fancy office space lease right before the Great Recession struck.  My track record has certainly gotten better though. In January 2018, I made a decision that has changed my life forever – to say no more often to others so I could start saying yes to myself.

You may wonder why this was such a big deal for me. It is because I spent most of my life as a chronic people pleaser, much more willing to let myself down than anyone else. I constantly accepted invitations and commitments that directly conflicted with my best interests. Obligation, rather than joy, governed a chunk of my decision-making for decades. I felt the need to take care of a whole herd of others, whether they asked for it or not.

Working with a stellar executive coach, I learned how to make myself more of a top priority. By the time January 2018 rolled around, life was good on all fronts – happy marriage, promotion at work and good health. The one thing missing was making time to actually write the book I’d been thinking about for years. Ironically, the book is about getting unstuck and unleashing your inner rock star, but I kept finding a million excuses not to make this long-held dream a reality. Like having a demanding full-time job and busy social calendar. Being intimidated by the sheer volume of work involved. Then one day I woke up with such a deep yearning to write that it practically hurt. That’s when I decided to remove the barriers standing in my way and make no my default response to unnecessary commitments.

Makes sense, right? As brilliantly covered in this article by author and habits expert James Clear, the ultimate productivity hack is saying no. Because creating those boundaries frees you up to focus on what matters most.

Have to admit though that saying no was hard at first. Not in turning down obligatory stuff, that’s for certain. But just as the Force was strong within young Luke Skywalker, I was born with a huge case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). While it hasn’t helped me defeat evil empires in a galaxy far, far away, that trait makes it challenging not to dive into interesting situations and opportunities. Yet I still managed to pass up on some amazing offers over the past 18 months. I’ve been approached to serve on the Atlanta Boards of two worthwhile charities, organizations I support and believe in. Multiple invitations were issued to apply for a prestigious but time-intensive Leadership Program. But I declined them all, choosing to say yes to myself instead.

With the unnecessary distractions removed, writing became a regular habit. Slowly but surely, I started working on the book. Saying yes to my heart’s desire has built my joy for the writing process. I now write several online articles each month about topics such as wellness and well-being at work while also advancing my book. All while staying productive in my corporate job and enjoying a more fulfilling personal life. As of today, I’m about 35,000 words into what should be a 75,000-word book and will happily keep chugging along until this project is complete and the next idea pops into my mind.  

One of my favorite non-fiction reads over the past few years is Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, which chronicles how she started thriving when becoming open to new opportunities. So, I have to laugh in thinking about how saying no more frequently has brought so much purpose and happiness to my life. It is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.