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How To Become A Recovering “Yes-Aholic”

Written by: Kathy Scott, Ph.D. and Bridget Sarikas, Executive Contributors

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


How many times has someone asked you to do something they thought was exciting for you, but would benefit them? And you got sucked in. You said yes, and then regretted it. If you are like most of us, this scenario happens way too often, wasting both our time and energy.

The Choice Dilemma

We live in a society of new normal that includes excessive choice and opportunities daily. With the explosion of technology and data, 24/7 accessibility, remote work options, worker/professional shortages, and nonlinear career paths, we have more choices.

These choices go beyond our work life as well, and extend to the everyday new normal we find ourselves in. This includes choices of where to live, how to live, lifestyle options, socialization preferences, networking options and the list goes on and on. While we all want to have a choice, making the right choice can become quite overwhelming when there are so many options with consequences. You know the old saying “So many options so little time.” Let’s see if we can help you get back some of that time.

Whether we like it or not, the responsibility of sorting through all the possible choices and deciding what to pursue, or not, belongs to each of us. It is way too easy to go off our path and lose ourselves among the desires and needs of others, particularly when pressured by those who believe they have our best interests in mind (a parent, a friend, a spouse…). Many of us have the tendency to overthink and rethink our choices, leading to ongoing anxiety, guilt, and lingering regret. Consequently, by the time we make that decision, a great opportunity, or special moments, or just life has passed us by.

The Psychology of Choice

Contrary to what we might believe, studies of the psychology of choice demonstrate that having so many choices in our lives doesn’t make us happy. It doesn’t free us. Really? Yes, really! In fact, the psychological result of too many choices is often unhealthy feelings that can paralyze us with indecision or send us into cycles of frenetic activity. This leaves us feeling anxious, disengaged, distracted, and even burned out. Doesn’t that just sound exhausting?

Living with intention is about managing our many choices by setting boundaries that strengthen us rather than drain us – making choices that strengthen our inner sense of rightness, wholeness, and truth. These choices lead to more meaningful actions and give us energy and a sense of purpose.

These choices, however, are dependent on learning to say the word “NO” and then sticking with it. OK “people pleasers” keep reading as help is on the way!

The Skill of a “Calm NO”

Saying NO is one of the most critical skills we need to learn if we want to live an intentional life of purpose. While it’s only a two-letter word, NO can be so hard to say. Many of us would rather be agreeable and go along, accommodating another’s request. In the moment, we think it’s easier than dealing with the anxiety and friction that a NO can create. Others are more comfortable saying NO but can only do so in an emotional, and/or explosive way, leaving little room for conversation. And still others, give a weak NO supported by excuses and apologies, leaving the door open for misinterpretation and the possibility that you may change your mind when the pressure is applied. Does your NO fall into one of these categories? Let’s keep exploring.

A “Calm NO” is steady, clear, and matter of fact. It is not tentative or apologetic. It is not an emotional outburst. And it’s not an attempt at niceness. A calm NO is a neutral statement, communicating what you mean with calm assurance. Think about sports referees. They make the call giving a clear and neutral message regardless of the strong feelings in the room. They just say it. It may be good news for some and bad news for others. But it’s not their emotional burden to bear.

So here’s a few tips to strengthen your “NO Skills.”

  • Pay attention to what brings you strength. What activities produce feelings of joy or create a sense of “flow” when time passes quickly without your awareness. Ask yourself a few tough questions – Who do I want to be? What energizes me? Did my choices today move me toward my stronger self and my stronger future? What should I have said NO to? And be kind to yourself as you increase your self-awareness and learn new ways to manage your choices. This takes time and is also critical for what we call “healthy living, leading and learning.”

  • Know your “yes” triggers. Others know them and will use tactics they know you are susceptible to. This could be tears, praise, criticism, and/or subtly communicating that you are letting them down guilt. Sound familiar? What are those things that move you to “yes” when you know you should say NO. Recognize these patterns so that you can break free. Once you start paying attention to these and begin the healthy process of saying “NO” it can really be quite liberating. It may even result in a much-needed happy dance!

  • Be clear and avoid mixed messages. People who are uncomfortable saying NO and sticking with it often make vague NO statements, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and make it hard to understand that they are saying and meaning NO to soften the blow. Use precise words. They will appreciate your honesty and respect you for your directness.

  • Don’t trivialize your NO. It’s tempting to throw out excuses that aren’t the real deal, excuses that don’t hold much weight. This just encourages more debate. Give reasons with good weight up front. You can do this!

  • Don’t go in forcefully. This isn’t a battle to be fought. It’s a choice that’s yours to make. Take a slow, deep breath, keep it calm, and share your message in a neutral voice.

  • Don’t give false hope. This makes it difficult for the receiver to hear your message and encourages them to keep on pushing. Rest assured, we’ve all done this.

  • Practice your “NO Skills.“ Just like learning any new skill, practice is important in overcoming old patterns of behavior and creating new habits and strengths. Practice with someone who will role play with you and push your hot buttons. Practice by yourself in front of a mirror. Write down several NO statements in calm and neutral language that include reasons that hold weight. Say them out loud, over and over again. It does get easier.

And when its all said and done, stick with it. Saying NO is a choice that can bring significant rewards. It can open up new challenges, change your trajectory, and inspire you and others. Don’t ruminate on it. Celebrate your positive movement.


“Sorry, I can’t today. My sister’s friend’s mother’s grandpa’s brother’s grandson’s uncle’s fish died, and yes it was tragic.” ‒ Author unknown

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Kathy Scott, Ph.D. and Bridget Sarikas, Executive Contributors Brainz Magazine

Kathy Scott, Ph.D., and Bridget Sarikas have seen plenty of stale, uninspiring, and unhealthy leadership styles during their respective 30+ year careers in various industries. They saw the same old leadership structures (hierarchical), the same old mindset (my way or the highway), and the same old reaction to change (blame and shame). Now they are on a mission to help individuals and organizations be more purposeful, live more intentionally, and make better choices to promote their personal resilience and professional success.

Kathy and Bridget are partners and co-founders of L3 Fusion LLC. A niche firm focused on transformational leadership that helps individuals and organizations maneuver through the chaos and complexity of today’s organizations and move to a healthier way of living leading, and learning. Using the science of systems thinking and psychology, they help others overcome the unhealthy status quo and move with the intention to achieve their goals – moving from surviving to thriving. They do this with a dose of humor, science, and stories from the field.

Kathy and Bridget are also Amazon's bestselling co-authors of the book “Stupid Gone Viral – When Science and Reality Collide,” a new approach to leadership that helps the reader develop their own path to success that ensures they are NEVER underestimated as a leader!


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