“Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.”

~John C. Maxwell

As children, we are often taught how to say yes to just about everything and anything under the sun. However, rarely are we taught how to say no to things that are not in our best interests.

In fact, the brain has a difficult time saying no, especially when the circumstances are perfect for the asking party. But the ability to say no is one that needs to be taught more often and reinforced in our children’s minds.

Not because “no” implies a loss of opportunity, but because it can save us from swallowing a poison that we were forced to drink by our own words.

The Buddha’s Advice

The great and esteemed Buddha taught his followers that wise speech is one of the most important skills to learn in the eightfold path to the cessation of suffering. Meaning that what you say is incredibly important not only for yourself but for the good of society. Buddha taught that wise speech consists of three parts: Truth, kindness, and helpfulness.

When you find yourself in a conversation, before speaking, ponder on these three attributes and truly think about whether or not what you are about to say has these three principles.

Because when we learn to speak the truth, we aren’t forced by peer pressure to sacrifice our morals. More often than not, we all have been asked before to do something that went directly against our ideals and our sense of what’s right and wrong.

At that moment you are responsible for whether you gave in to “yes” simply because it was easier. Saying no is not an easy thing to do, but that’s where the strength of character and mind come into play. Attributes that the great Buddha expressed are of utmost importance and make all the difference in your life.

What Is Your Brain Saying?

When faced with the difficult decision of whether to say no or yes to someone who is asking you to do something immoral — truly reflect on that experience. What are the benefits of saying “yes” and what are the benefits of saying “no”?

Oftentimes, our minds have a difficult time trying to differentiate between the two. Even though the choice is much clearer than we are making it seem. We know what’s right and we know what’s wrong, yet we have this pull to lean towards saying yes, even when we don’t mean it.

This pull comes from the Amygdala or the emotional processing center of your brain. This center of your brain lights up when you are asked an emotionally charged question that upsets you.

And so in order to cease cognitive dissonance (when your brain does not agree with contrasting ideas), your brain takes the easy route by saying “yes”. Simply so the pain and discomfort of cognitive dissonance can end.

So how to say no even when we are feeling discomfort and like a battle is raging within our brains as to which side to lean towards?

How to Say No with Three Questions

Follow the wise words of the Buddha when you have another interaction where you’re feeling dazed and confused. Ask yourself these three questions of wise speech:

  • Is what I am about to say true?
  • Is it kind?
  • And is it helpful?

Often times the answer, if its true to you and your principles, will also be helpful and kind to your heart. Learn to take care of yourself and your values, before sacrificing them to a “yes” that might burn a hole in your heart when you speak it.

At the end of the day, the only person who will truly suffer from saying “yes” to something you did not want to do is yourself. Say yes, only and only if you truly mean it.

To Learn More About Saying No (References):

  1. Gunaratana, B. (June 15, 2001) Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha’s Path
  2. https://iep.utm.edu

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