TURNING NO INTO A YES: How Our Decisions Impact Our Sense of Self

The Power of Saying No

Have you ever pondered over how our day-to-day decisions shape who we are? Warren Buffett gave us a hint when he said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” Now, that's quite an eye-opening thought, isn't it?

When we stop and think about it, we're always saying ‘yes' to something. While you scroll through Facebook or munch on a sandwich, you're saying ‘yes.' And even right now, as you read this, you're saying ‘yes' to something. But remember, all these yes’s come with a flip side; they silently say ‘no' to almost everything else. And none of these decisions are free – there's always an opportunity cost.

Actions as Mirrors of Identity

It's fascinating how our choices play into the picture we paint of ourselves. Researchers Ronit Bodner and Drazen Prelec have an interesting take on this. They call it ‘self-signaling.' Basically, the actions we take send us messages about who we are. Like when you're up with the birds for a run, you're subtly telling yourself, “Hey, I'm an early riser who cares about fitness!”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book ‘Skin in the Game' tells us that our actions are the truest reflection of what we value. Simon Sinek echoes this in ‘Start with Why' when he says our actions tell the story of what we believe in.

Our actions express our priorities. If we act against our own beliefs, it creates an uncomfortable inner conflict, what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. This can trip up our confidence. But when our actions align with our beliefs, that's where the magic happens, and confidence blooms.


Decisions Shape Our Past, Present, and Future

Each choice we make plays a part in shaping our identity. The person you are today is a product of your yesterdays. And the person you'll become tomorrow is being molded by the choices you're making right now. And here's the kicker: even your memories of your past self can change based on your current and future choices.

In other words, the past is fluid. Regardless of any knots and tangles in your past, you can reshape it through the choices you make moving forward. Your present can align with your future aspirations when you start saying ‘yes' to things that resonate with who you want to become.

Zig Ziglar put it brilliantly when he said, “You've got to be before you can do and do before you can have.” In essence, you become who you want to be by acting in ways that reflect that identity.

In his book ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown champions the importance of saying ‘no' to most things. It's a concept Warren Buffett, too, swears by. Jim Collins, the author of ‘Good to Great,' reminds us that if we're trying to prioritize everything, we're really prioritizing nothing. We need to be careful not to get caught up in the small stuff.


So, here's the takeaway

The secret to becoming the best version of yourself is rooted in the power of saying ‘no’. By deciding on your top priorities, saying ‘yes' to what aligns with your goals, and understanding how your actions signal your identity, you set yourself on the road to success. The question now is, who will you become tomorrow? The answer lies in what you choose to do today.


Curious about this topic? Here are some common questions:

Why does saying ‘no' matter so much?

Well, saying ‘no' helps us to focus on what truly matters, things that align with our goals and values. It keeps us from spreading ourselves too thin and helps us keep our eye on the prize.

How does ‘self-signaling' work in shaping our identity?

Self-signaling is the idea that our actions send messages about who we are. Every time we make a decision or take an action, we're telling ourselves something about who we are and what we value.

What does ‘redeeming the past' mean?

‘Redeeming the past' means that we can reshape our perceptions and memories of the past by making positive decisions in the present and future. So, no matter what happened in the past, it's never too late to make positive changes!

What is ‘cognitive dissonance'?

Cognitive dissonance refers to the discomfort we feel when our actions are not in line with our beliefs or values. It's that nagging feeling when you're doing something that you know goes against what you truly believe in.

Why is prioritizing important in our lives?

Prioritizing is essential because it helps us focus our time and energy on what really matters. Instead of getting overwhelmed by a multitude of tasks or goals, prioritizing allows us to concentrate on the most important things that align with our personal and professional goals.

How can our actions today affect our memories of the past?

Our actions today can affect our memories of the past because our current experiences and decisions can change how we perceive past events. For example, if you take up running and start to see yourself as a fit and active person, you might remember past events related to fitness differently.

What does Zig Ziglar mean by “You've got to be before you can do and do before you can have”?

Zig Ziglar's quote is about the importance of identity in guiding our actions and ultimately shaping our lives. In essence, he's saying that you need to identify (or ‘be') who you want to be, then act (‘do') in a way that aligns with that identity, in order to achieve (‘have') the life you want.


  • Looking at the decisions you've made recently, what do they tell you about who you are today and who you aspire to be in the future?


  • If you gave yourself permission to say ‘no' more often, how do you think it could influence your current life path and self-identity?


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