Yesterday, I was caught by an online headline offering “the one habit that Warren Buffett says separates successful people from everyone else.” I lived in Omaha for ten years. I like Warren Buffett. And anything about behavior lures me because my academic background includes a lot of psychology. So I clicked.
The article was by Marcel Schwantes for Inc. The quote it attributed to Buffet was: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Schwantes then goes on to quote Steve Jobs about what constitutes focus: “”People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
You have to pick what you say yes to–carefully.
This isn’t just about business decisions. The advice applies across the board. For most of us, the Yes comes without even thinking for pretty much everything. And that is where the trouble begins. Yes to everything means you can’t do anything very well. It also means you are running around like a chicken and living on a few hours of sleep every night trying to get it all done with even a C grade.
We need to learn to be far more lavish in doling out No’s.
Okay, so what do you say No to? The new project at work? Having dinner with the neighbors? Taking the kids to the park? Visiting your mother-in-law in the dementia unit? Working out?
It depends. There is no guru cradling a Magic 8-Ball, but it’s not all that hard. You say No to the things that are not important… to YOU. You say No to the things that will distract you from what is important. You say No to things that waste huge amounts of time without gaining anything important. You say No to the things that you can see before you even get into them are going to throw your life off balance. You say No when the opportunity, request, or, even demand, is going to jeopardize an important Yes.
And that means you have to know what IS important. This is not something for your wife/husband, mother, best friend or kid to tell you. This is stuff your heart has to tell you. That’s one of the few places we say No a lot. To what our hearts begs of us. We have this so backwards.
You also have to have the courage to step up to that No. That is also up to you. You can learn how to do this well—it is a SKILL. (I remain a fan of Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection for how to do that.)
This ability really does separate the successful from the not-quite-there. People who know what they want and can stay focused on those things get them much more readily than the rest of us who chose afresh every day (and thus, start from scratch again and again on what we are trying to achieve).
If you are focused on the important things, your life will be happy. Even when there are big challenges and things are not going well, you know you’re working on the things that truly deserve your effort. You know you are making progress on things that mean a lot to you. You know what you are doing is worthwhile even if it’s difficult. And you also know that the other Yes’s are in balance. All is well with your world.
Workaholics are not happy. Doormats are not happy. Learning how and when to say No can literally transform your life.