According to one of my favorite bloggers, you should say “no” to be successful and “yes” to be happy. Highly successful people say no a lot, Eric Barker explains, instead focusing intently on their specific craft to achieve a high level of excellence. Happy people, on the other hand, are open to a variety of opportunities that provide them with new and interesting experiences. They tend to live more spontaneous lives and interact with more people.
I agree with the general premise that saying “no” is important when you have goals you want to achieve, and saying “yes” creates more spontaneity and happiness, but I would suggest an important nuance to this premise: I believe that people who are both successful and happy don’t automatically say yes or no to anything. Instead, they determine when to say yes or no based on well-defined criteria.
I use such criteria for my own life and I find it quite useful. I call it my GPS to Yes Test. GPS, as you probably know, stands for Global Positioning System—the satellite-based system that tells you where you are relative to where you want to go. If you want to say yes to the things that truly matter, and no to just about everything else, consider these three questions:
G: Will I have a Good time?
P: Are valued People involved?
S: Will it develop my Skills?
Good Time: Happy people tend to say “yes” a lot, but not to everything. They say yes to experiences that bring them connection, laughter, and joy. They say yes to things that are novel and push them to grow. When an invitation or request comes your way, consider the first question of the GPS Test and ask yourself if the activity will be fun or energizing for you. Playing softball twice a week can be a great way for many to enjoy some friendly competition and share some beers. For others, it may be a routine they no longer enjoy (and one that hinders their commitment to a low-carb diet). Determine what’s true for you and answer accordingly.
People of Value: Successful people have strong networks, so saying yes to activities that connect you to like-minded people who create value is a good idea. However, if you find yourself repeatedly saying yes to the same individuals but those relationships are not generating any value, or worse, hindering the achievement of important goals, it may be time to redirect your attention to those more suited to your cause who help you grow your network. Ask yourself if you are saying yes—once again—because you really want to, or just because this group has come to expect it from you.
Skills Developed: Successful people are eager to learn new things that allow them to grow and hone their skills. But they also know that saying yes to every learning opportunity isn’t necessarily the best use of their time. A new sales rep might want to attend every seminar that could increase her knowledge and sales ability, but once she’s cultivated a successful book of business there’s probably more value in investigating new skills to help her career, rather than agreeing to another repackaged seminar.
If your answers to the GPS Test questions are positive, it’s a good time to say yes and doing so will likely increase your happiness and success. If two or three of your answers are negative, it’s probably time to kindly and respectfully say no—a valuable skill in itself.
Another consideration is whether you have enough gas in your tank to take on another activity. You can only agree to so many things before you run out of fuel. Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of students on campus. The opportunity wouldn’t really improve my skills, but it would be a good experience and I valued the people involved. The challenge was attending the meeting late on a Friday afternoon, after a full day of teaching, and before dinner plans (for which I was the cook). Although the GPS test was mostly positive, I realized I just didn’t have enough fuel to do it all. I graciously declined.
Of course, there are those times when it doesn’t matter how much gas you have in the tank—the GPS reading is so strong that you say yes anyway and rally to summon the energy. I’m still waiting for my dinner invitation from the White House, which I’ll happily attend, even after a long day of teaching.
Whenever an opportunity comes your way that you have mixed feelings about, put it to your own GPS Test. Mastering a sense of when to say yes and when to say no can make you both happy and successful.
Heidi Reeder, Ph.D. is the author of the book, Commit to Win (Hudson Street Press, 2014).