How to become the person you want to be in life and business.
Most people think happiness is a skill, something you can build and train with the right habits.
And while this is partly right, there’s a deeper truth about living a life full of meaning that a lot of people miss: Improving your happiness and well-being is often about what you do less of, not more of.
Often I don’t feel happy for the things I do, but for what I don’t do. Last year, I said ‘no’ more often. I focused my time and energy on things and relationships that mattered most. I became self-employed, spent weeks with my parents, and proposed to my boyfriend. 2020 has been one of the happiest years of my life.
What follows are 19 things that I said no to. Not everything will apply to you. But eliminating some of these can improve your happiness and well-being in 2021.
1. Say No to Distractive Environments
1.1 Your phone in your bedroom.
Get an alarm clock and stop waking up to your smartphone’s alarm. When you sleep with your phone in another room, you don’t need to exert your willpower first thing in the morning. You’ll start your days with a clear mind.
“Because it’s my life and it’s ticking away every second. I want to be there for it, not staring at a screen.”
1.2 Social media on your phone.
Social media’s persuasive design distracts you and takes away your time without active consent. I bet there’s no single person on this planet who will be lying on death bed wishing they spent more time with their phones.
Researchers continue to link social media usage to mental and physical illnesses like back pain, depression, anxiety, and even suicide-related thoughts. If you’re trying to live a happier, healthier life, deleting your social media apps is a great start.
1.3 Phone notifications.
Turn off all alerts. Your lock screen should almost always be blank. If you turn off notifications by default, you won’t see any red circles that nudge you into more screen time. That way, you stop conditioning your mind for distraction.
“What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore, play in defining the quality of our life.”
— Cal Newport
1.4 Distractions on your computer during deep work sessions.
LinkedIn? Block. Slack? Block. Online Games? Block. Unblock these sites once you finished your deep work block. You’ll be surprised how much more you can achieve in less time. The equation for knowledge work is as follows:
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
1.5 Consuming the news.
A 2017 report by the American Psychological Association showed 95% of American adults follow the news regularly, even though more than 50% of them say it causes them stress. Delete your news apps. Stop reading the news. If you still want to know what’s going on in the world, start reading books.
“Are you distracted by breaking news? Then take some leisure time to learn something good, and stop bouncing around.”
2. Say No to Destructive Habits
2.1 Finishing mediocre books.
Not all books are created equal, and most books aren’t worth your time. You don’t have to finish every book you start. Instead, read the books that make you want to read more.
“Life is too short to read a bad book.”
— James Joyce
2.2 Consistently working more than 40 hours a week.
It’s nice if you love your work and don’t mind working a lot. But numbing your mind with work is your fast-track to an unhappy life. Life is best enjoyed in balance.
We all have 24 hours a day. People who spend most of their awake time working don’t have much energy left for their health, relationships, and play.
”The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Sugar is the biggest culprit for chronic inflammation today. Going sugar-free first feels like recovering from drug addiction (because sugar is a drug). Say no to sugar for a week, and you’ll feel the positive effects on your mood.
2.4 Doing what everybody else is doing.
Don’t read what everybody else is reading. Don’t believe what all of your friends are saying. Foster a healthy criticism and think for yourself. Sapere Aude! — Have the courage to use your own reason.
2.5 Quitting too early.
Everything sucks at first, but only a few things suck forever. The Dip teaches us that there is a time of struggle between start and success when we should either aim for excellence or strategically stop.
Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with it right now. Follow through with your side hustle. Publish 100 articles before you quit and reap your thoughts compound interest.
3. Eliminate Toxic Relationships
3.1 People (mostly men; sorry bro) with big egos.
I was one of the women who learned to sit patiently and smile. But once I learned about patriarchal culture’s influence on women’s behavior, I quit mansplaining situations.
Financial analyst Laura Rittenhouse evaluated leaders and how their companies performed. Eric Barker, citing her findings:
“Want to know which CEOS will run their company into the ground? Count how many times they use the word “I” in their annual letter to shareholders. […] Me, me, me means death, death, death for corporations.”
3.2 Bad listeners.
You are the master of your life. Choose whom to surround yourself with. When someone doesn’t listen to you, you don’t need to continue listening to them. Relationships are mutual.
“Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid.”
— Mark Twain
3.3 Other people’s agenda.
The world isn’t as simple as just givers and takers. But if you give to everyone who asks, you won’t have much left for your own pursuits. Follow Melinda Gate’s mum, who always said to Melinda as she was growing up:
“If you don’t set your own agenda, somebody else will.”
If you don’t fill your calendar with important things, other people will do it. Say no to things that don’t align with your goals.
3.4 Naysayers and maybes.
All decisions in life should be a clear yes or no. Stop saying, maybe. If you feel hesitation towards meeting a group of people, say no.
4 Quit Harmful Mindsets
4.1 Using negative self-talk to motivate yourself.
If I had to pick one single thing you should let go of, it’d be this one. Once I stopped judging myself (thanks, Brené), quitting destructive behavior became easy.
You don’t need to be hard on yourself to achieve what you want in life. Psychologist Nick Wignall writes, “People are successful despite their negative self-talk, not because of it.”
4.2 Complaining when you can change things.
Complainers curse cold weather while they can wear warmer clothes. They complain about bad teachers while they can change their learning path. They grumble about their negative friends while they can change their relationships.
Complaining is choosing victimhood while we still have a choice. Or, as Holocaust survivor and brilliant writer Dr. Edith Eger put it:
“No one can make you a victim, but you.”
4.3 Downplaying your strengths.
Don’t excuse yourself for your personal strengths. You’re capable of almost anything. Carol Dweck says: “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Don’t apologize for things you can’t do. Replace “Sorry, I can’t” with “How can I?”
“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses”
— George Washington Carver
4.4 Focusing on results.
Lasting progress isn’t about being consistently great; it’s about being great at being consistent.
Focusing on the results will make you impatient. Ultimately, you’ll give up. Don’t focus on the outcome. Focus on the process.
4.5 Wasting your time on perfection.
Perfection is destructive. It has nothing to do with self-improvement. Perfection is, at its core, is about trying to earn approval.
Let it go. Make your deadlines tighter, and don’t work on your stuff after your time runs out. Aim for consistency instead of perfection.
“Perfection is the enemy of progress.” — Winston Churchill
Remember improving your happiness and well-being is often about what you don’t do. Saying no feels hard at first. But it will get easier every time you do it.
Ultimately you realize saying no is a skill you can learn. Once you dare to say ‘no,’ all that follows becomes easier and easier.
So, what are you waiting for? You can do it.
“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage — pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.”
― Stephen Covey