Personal barriers and ‘no’

How to accomplish more of what you want? – Do less shit you don’t want to. That’s about it.

My story

When I was just born I didn’t have any things preventing me from exchanging with the world around me. Even more, at first I had that awesome navel string which I had to give up to get more freedom in my movements.

Being a small kid made me used to the fact that I should be likable by the elder people: e.g. if my dad was upset, I was losing my access to the internet, similarly other resources. I believe the same happens to most people at the beginning.

As we contact more people, it makes sense to introduce some barriers or filters. I remember a few times in the university I was completing up to 20 homework assignments per week before I’ve learned that some of the people will have to hear ‘no’, after all I needed some time to attended some of the parties.

Maintaining barriers is a bit painful to the both sides. Requesting side tends to suffer from the fear of rejection as well as the receiving side.

Quick exercise: Just try to ask people to let you cut the queue in a grocery shop without explaining any reasons to them and you’ll see what it feels like.

Similarly, spend a day answering ‘no’ to at least 10 first queries and you’ll know what I mean.

Having an excuse for some reason is better accepted by people. “Sorry, dear, I HAVE to do this, because my cat is ill”, et voila – I can do more stuff than I was capable of before (nice side effect of having an ill cat).


Poor man’s solution

As saying ‘no’ is such an energy consuming thing, how come people live with that?

Easiest solution to this I’ve seen is silent sabotage: I just commit to a project and then I fall ill, even without consciously realizing the reasons. My mind might be committed, but body won’t let me do that with the energy reserves being depleted.

I’ve been to many projects where ‘committed’ contributors left because of some kind of illness: high pressure, damaged bodies, migraines – I don’t think that’s anywhere close to a free lunch like before.

Intelligent sabotage

After mastering the trick I’ve seen many good minds using it independently. When I don’t feel like doing something people request from me (and they say they need that absolutely and totally committed on their side), I turn the tables: you do something first.

1) “Can you please review my code?” – “Sure, but first please run it through the checkstyle and correct all the things”

2) “Let’s have a coffee?” – “What’s on the agenda?”

3) “Let’s discuss that book” – “Please write me early next week”

95% of askers will not return. Which is kind of awesome if controlled (and I really plan for this). Otherwise I’m suffering from the fear of rejection again.

How do they do that

Volunteers et al

It often happens at volunteering gigs: I have a feeling that when I raise my hand, people think that I fully belong to them now.

First story I clearly remember is my willingness to help to a promising politician balloting for a major. There was a manager on her side inviting me to have a meeting with him with no clear agenda at 8:00 on another bank of the city (think “Ivan get up at 6 am, spend 2 hours traveling just to uhm… invest more of your time”).


Probably that’s one of the ways I recognize friends: we have easier time accepting ‘no’ from one another.

“Dude, I know you’ve spent tremendous amount of energy preparing this party, but I won’t show up. – Ok, man, you are absolutely free to do so – Love ya”



I only know a few people I hear ‘no’ from and… I respect them. I don’t use the word ‘respect’ often, but that’s probably one of the good places to use it.

When somebody is telling me (or other people ‘no’), I read that as the person’s ability to manage own energy level and being highly reliable in terms of delivering on commitments.

Saying ‘no’ to some things helps me to say louder ‘yes’ to the deeds you focus on.


Frequently asked questions

I’ve already saying ‘no’ quite often. How do I learn to do that more frequently?

First part of my story was to do some tuning in the mindset.

  • People ask for help because they believe in you – thank them for that but remember that should not lead to a guaranteed ‘yes’.
  • One of the things I’ve learned only recently was that its ok to miss stuff. When I say ‘no’ to an opportunity, I automatically have more energy to give a louder ‘yes’ to another one I love more.

Second part of the equation is just to practice. Pick any usual situation, tell ‘no’ occasionally and observe how your mind works.

– Dear developer, you’ve saved last 5 releases, now it’s Friday and we need your favor again.
– No


I’m hearing ‘no’ from various people a lot

It’s ok. We live in interdependent world so we will be asking something from one another some help. Probably you’re on the edge of your comfort zone and need some boost, right?

Don’t mind and keep changing the world for the better!

I’m hearing ‘no’ to often from the same person

Try to not become someone demanding (otherwise you’ll face a wall earlier or later).

If you’re planning to evolve the relationship, learn what the other side is concerned about and give your hand with that, after a while you might be repaid (but don’t aim for that).

I really really would like to hear ‘yes’ this time and you told me not to be demanding

The trick is is to know what the other side cares about and try to convert your request into a trade.

– Hey mom, I would like an XBox
– No, dude, you’re 37
– Mom, I will be doing the dishes next 10 years, so you will have more time for the overtiems
– Deal

Another effect being people always asking and people always saying ‘yes’ – I’ve lost any desire to talk with some people just because of this pattern :(

Ok, I will do more of no’s, how do I do these better?

Frame these as “I don’t”, “I won’t”.

I “can’t” sucks – that was somewhat proven scientifically.


Do you have any scripts?


  1. I just say ‘no’ and include no excuses

    – Will you please pick me up?
    – No

  2. Sometimes people will try to push you

    – Will you please give me 10% discount?
    – No
    – But you told me I’m your favorite client
    – You’re still my favorite client, I respect your persistence with mine. No

  3. Pushy people will hear motivation

    – No, we don’t give discounts as we won’t be able to provide good service at that cost

    Note: If you put an excuse which has nothing to do with the motivation, you’re toast

    – Please do your homework,
    – No, my laptop died
    – Ok, here’s a printout, just fill that in
    – Ok :(

  4. Super pushy will have the contact broken

    – I absolutely need this
    – I see. I’m going home now. Talk to you later

Anything else?

– No : P

Focus on what truly matters and see you in that bright world : )

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