Successful people are the same as everyone else. They breathe the same air, live on the same planet, have to decide which set of rellies gets Christmas this year.

Except when it comes to a few key habits. And one of them is saying no.

Ah, that two-letter word that’s also a sentence, that sits somewhere on the hardness scale between “more coffee please” and “goodbye forever.”

Why is saying no so frigging hard?

Reason 1 – We still have Neanderthal brains that are programmed to ensure we are liked, and therefore get to stay part of the tribe. Saying no means someone might not like us anymore, leaving us all alone to avoid being chased by bears without moral support or Google Maps.

Reason 2 – You actually don’t know why you’re saying no. Causing delays, stuttering, stammering, wordy text messages with 50 emojis. And worse, the last minute “I have ebola” cancellation. We’ve all been there.

In order to clean up our No game, we need to unpack the stages of an “I have to say no” situation:

You get the request. For coffee, brunch, to support (insert event). It feels like a maybe. But, they’re selling this thing so well.

You think to yourself that maybe by not doing this thing your whole universe with become a vintage Gwyneth Paltrow movie. Maybe this could be that moment.

The moment that determines whether you’ll get the guy, the unicorn job, and the iconic crop.

Or not.

Stop. You can’t know that. But you can know whether this is something that aligns with you, and your goals, and your priorities.

You thought I was going to give you a list of 100 (or at least 5 dammit) ways to say no didn’t you? To a storage ware or underwear-selling party, a kids’ birthday, a great “opportunity to get some new experience” (read: I would like you to work for free). Different tailored emails for different kinds of people, language advice. Tone, voice and subject lines.

Nope, not this time.

Instead, I give you, my three step no-saying program:

  1. Work out your priorities for the year – see how to create your own, one-step, 5 minute test below .
  2. Honestly assess if this opportunity is aligned with step 1.
  3. Give your answer – see also below one-step template

1. List your priorities – the Ideal Day test

Write down your Ideal Day, from top to bottom. Your if-money-was-no-object day. Give yourself 5 minutes on the timer. Five minutes only. This will ensure you don’t have time to analyse, allowing only your pure passions to come out.


Up at 5, coffee with the sunrise, run in the wilderness, swim in the ocean, brunch with someone I adore, write about a subject I am passionate about which could help others, put it out there. Read. Have a great conversation with someone interesting. Learn something new in an area I am passionate about. Spend time with loved ones out walking, talking or eating something home-cooked and delicious. Read again. Meditate. Journal. Plan tomorrow. Bath under the stars (it’s my dream day ok?). Sleep, ready to repeat.

Thud – back to the real world. You probably have to go to work, or uni, or take your own kids to school, pay bills, run washing, see relatives, yell at Telstra about your NBN for an hour. But outside of these must-dos, you have the space, the margins in-between, where you get to say Yes or No.

Here’s how to decide.

2. Honestly assess if this opportunity is aligned 

When the opportunity comes up to fill this space in between with something, you simply ask:

Does this opportunity sound anything like what you would do on your dream day?

Example 1: A new connection you met and really found interesting at a networking event reaches out for coffee. Coffee with someone interesting? I would do that on my Ideal Day. It lines up. It’s a hard yes.

Example 2: Someone invites you to a pyramid-scheme party which involves talking about something you would never invest more time thinking about for more than 0.2 minutes. And possibly being pressured into purchasing something which you a) can’t really afford and or b) will remain in the environment, with cockroaches and crocodiles until the end of days. This does not align with the dream day (or your values potentially).

Move to Step 3.

3. Give your answer

Deciding on a YES or NO just became so much easier using the Ideal Day method, above.

But as we know, the hardness is in the saying of it.

How do you do this? Here are some ways you may find helpful:

a) Express gratitude: someone took the time to think of you. That’s nice, so acknowledge that and be humble.

b) Bring it back to your priorities: either aligns or doesn’t. And who can argue with someone who’s clear about their priorities in a respectful way? In other words:

YES = I have spent some time working on my priorities this year; this definitely aligns. It’s a yes.

NO = I have spent some time working on my priorities this year. Because of the time I’m spending focusing on these, I will have to pass on (opportunity) this time. But I want to genuinely thank you for reaching out.

Now, as your Year 4 teacher would say, we need to work out how to use this in a full sentence:


Thank you so much for reaching out with this opportunity. I have spent some time working on my priorities this year; this definitely aligns. It’s a yes. I really appreciate you thinking of me. Let’s lock it in.


Thank you so much for reaching out with this opportunity. I really appreciate you thinking of me. I have spent some time working on my priorities this year. Because of the time I’m spending focusing on these, I will have to pass on this opportunity so I can keep my focus.

 Just be thankful, respond quickly, respect their time and bring it back to your priorities.

When you have more time, I totally recommend spending a day, a weekend, heck even a week away at an Airbnb working on your values, priorities and WHY. This will make working out what is allowed into your calendar even easier.

But in the meantime, just think back to your Ideal Day. And in the hours outside of what you need to get done ask yourself, is this aligned with that day?

It’s as easy as opening or closing a sliding door.