The Power No
Psychology Today, Michelle Gielan
August 2011

One afternoon in Los Angeles I took my mom out to lunch. We had decided to try a cute little café in Santa Monica that is well known for healthy food. Both of us were trying to get more exercise and eat more fruits and vegetables, so splitting a salad there fit in perfectly with our plan.

The waiter came over to the table. We asked for a salad, two plates, and two waters. And as he was starting to walk away to ring up the order, my mom threw in a side of fries. I squealed in protest!

“You know I am not good at saying “no” when they are sitting right in front of me, smelling delicious and irresistible! It’s torture.”

“I know, but we’ll just have a few.”

“Or how about none at all? Let’s say “no” to the order of fries now so we (or at least I) don’t have to say “no” over and over in my mind when it comes to the table.”

My mother relented. We told the waiter to cancel it, and my mom later said she was happy we did that because the salad alone was amazing and satisfying. We did not need the fries, and our brain forgot about them by the time we took our first bite.

And that is how I discovered the strength of the Power No.

If you’re stressed, feel overcommitted, or are simply trying to make a positive change in your life, the Power No could be just what you need. It is the “no” we say now to save us from saying “no” over and over later. A Power No doesn’t just positively affect our life in the moment we say it, it also has a beneficial ripple effect on the future.

As we saw above, this strategy is ideal for helping us improve our eating habits. For instance, if we are trying to eat healthier, we may cut potato chips out of our diet. That means that each time we see the bag of chips in the pantry, we must decide not to devour it. The Power No is the “no” we say at the supermarket once so that we don’t bring the bag home in the first place. That one “no” saves us from having to say it multiple times a day at home. We are setting ourselves up for success and creating an environment in which we don’t constantly need to maintain high levels of willpower.

The Power No is also effective when we feel stressed thanks to a demanding boss. While we can’t shrug off all our work responsibilities, sometimes we need to learn to say “no” to certain projects because they are too stressful or time consuming. Telling your boss you’ll have to pass on this one particular request because your plate is too full right now can have a positive impact on the rest of your life. It might mean more time to focus on your current workload while still getting home in time to see your kids. Additionally, research shows that employees who are not always “yes men” are actually respected more than their pushover colleagues.

Steps to execute the perfect Power No:

Identify: Take some time to identify an area of your life in which the Power No could be useful. Is there a social commitment you need to say “no” to? How about an extra project with the PTA that could snowball into an all-consuming responsibility? Can you say “no” to surfing the web for new clothes instead of having to say “no” to each item you like but can’t afford? The key is to identify a moment when saying it will have the greatest impact.

Prepare: Plan out ahead of time exactly how and when you will say the Power No. Having a game plan will help, especially if your will power starts to plummet. Think about the fact that when you say your Power No, you are doing something good for yourself.

Share: If you feel like you might chicken out when the moment arises, tell a friend about your plan and ask them to hold you accountable. Perhaps your friend has a Power No plan of their own, and the two of you can create new positive habits together!