Mindset Part 3: The Power of No... Embracing Discernment for Enhanced Performance

The words Yes and No with the No box checked

Last week, we detailed some actionable steps to instill discipline within ourselves. As we discussed, discipline fills the gaps left by lack of motivation. Discipline is why we “do it anyway” when we don’t feel like it. But…

We can’t do it all. Before we put a plan of action together, we need to decide what we’re going to point that discipline at. So this week, we’re going to talk about how and when to use the most powerful word in any language:


In today's fast-paced world, the ability to say "no" is often undervalued, yet it holds immense power in shaping our priorities, preserving our focus, and maximizing our potential. Rooted in every valued philosophy since our inception, the practice of saying "no" embodies principles of discipline, clarity of purpose, and deliberate action. In this article, we explore the benefits of saying "no" through the lens of Stoic principles, drawing insights from legendary athletes, and examining its impact on personal and professional success. From the philosophy that saying "no" to one thing is saying "yes" to something else to the critical role of time management, we delve into actionable strategies for mastering the art of discernment in decision-making.

Stoic Principles around Saying No:

At the heart of Stoicism lies the concept of focusing on what is within our control and accepting with equanimity what is not. The Stoics, from the oft-quoted Marcus Aurelius, to Seneca, and even Epictetus who was born a slave (how powerful is it that a slave found himself able to say “no?”), emphasized the importance of aligning our actions with our values and priorities, which often requires the courage to say "no" to distractions, temptations, and obligations that detract from our goals. By embracing the Stoic principle of discernment, we can cultivate clarity of purpose, preserve our energy, and direct our efforts towards what truly matters.

Legendary Athletes Love the Word No:

Legendary athletes exemplify the power of saying "no" in their pursuit of excellence on and off the field. Consider the example of Serena Williams, who maintains a rigorous training regimen and carefully selects her tournament schedule to optimize her performance. Williams' ability to prioritize rest, recovery, and focused training sessions demonstrates the importance of saying "no" to external commitments that may compromise her physical and mental well-being.

Endurance athletes, like Eliud Kipchoge or the late, great, gone too soon Kelvin Kiptum only race a couple of times per year in order to be laser focused on that one day where all of the training and conditioning comes together to serve that single day; a carefully chosen race that isn’t necessarily a legendary race like the Boston Marathon, but one that serves the betterment and advancement of the sport; a race that can be run with excellence and topple records.

Similarly, Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, credits much of his success to his unwavering dedication and discipline. Phelps famously adheres to a strict training schedule, which requires him to decline social invitations and other distractions that could detract from his performance in the pool. By saying "no" to non-essential activities, Phelps maximizes his training time and maintains his competitive edge.

The Philosophy of Saying No:

The philosophy that saying "no" to one thing is saying "yes" to something else lies at the core of effective decision-making. Every commitment we make carries an opportunity cost, and by saying "no" to certain activities or obligations, we free up time, energy, and resources to invest in pursuits that align with our goals and values. Whether it's prioritizing family time over work commitments or focusing on personal development rather than social engagements, each "no" opens the door to new possibilities and opportunities for growth.

The Idea of No for Dedication and Excellence:

To embody excellence in any endeavor requires dedication, focus, and unwavering commitment. Saying "yes" to every opportunity or request often dilutes our efforts and hinders our ability to achieve mastery in a particular domain. By learning to say "no" to distractions, interruptions, and low-priority tasks, we can channel our energy and attention into activities that contribute to our long-term success and fulfillment.

Time Management and the Importance of Saying No:

Effective time management is contingent upon our ability to say "no" judiciously and prioritize our commitments based on their importance and impact. Each decision to say "yes" or "no" carries future time consequences, and by considering the long-term implications of our choices, we can make informed decisions that align with our goals and aspirations. Whether it's allocating time for focused work, leisure activities, or personal development, the ability to say "no" to less essential demands ensures that we invest our time wisely and purposefully.

How to Choose What to Say Yes to vs. What to Say No to:

Choosing what to say "yes" to and what to say "no" to requires careful discernment and clarity of purpose. Begin by identifying your core values, priorities, and long-term goals, which serve as guiding principles for decision-making. Evaluate each opportunity or request in light of these priorities, considering its alignment with your values, the potential impact on your goals, and the opportunity cost of saying "yes." Prioritize commitments that contribute to your overall well-being, personal growth, and professional success, and be willing to decline opportunities that do not align with your vision for the future.

Saying No To Yourself:

Putting this in practice means more than saying no to other people. We must also say no to ourselves. This means deliberately choosing not to mindlessly scroll social media, saying no to the culinary

cravings that don’t serve our health and fitness, saying no to staying under the covers when it’s time to get out of bed, saying no checking your email after hours, saying no to any and all activities that don’t serve your chosen purpose. If we consider every activity we engage in a conscious choice, then everything is a binary yes or no. Marcus Aurelius put it better than anyone when he wrote to himself, “ask yourself at every moment, is this necessary?” If we apply that strategy, we’ll likely realize that much, or perhaps most, of what consumes our time could be far better spent doing something else. Think about how excellent we could be if we simply said no to the things that are not necessary and yes to the pursuit of excellence.

Just Say No.

The practice of saying "no" is a powerful tool for achieving success, fulfillment, and personal growth. Grounded in solid principles, the ability to discerningly say "no" enables us to align our actions with our values, preserve our focus, and maximize our potential. From legendary athletes who prioritize dedication and discipline to the philosophy that saying "no" to one thing is saying "yes" to something else, the benefits of saying "no" are far-reaching and profound. By mastering the art of discernment in decision-making, we can cultivate a life of purpose, fulfillment, and meaningful achievement.

Next week, we’ll wrap up this series with Part 4, where we’ll put it all together to adopt a mindset of excellence with the discipline to achieve it.

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