If you really want to get ahead in life, start saying no to these 9 things

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In the movie “Yes Man”, Jim Carrey tries saying yes to everything so he can get out of a rut. 

If you’ve seen the movie, then you know that, unfortunately, it doesn’t work out too well. (And if you haven’t, sorry for the spoiler!)

That’s because life never works in absolutes. There always needs to be a balance between saying yes and no.

Today, I’m going to talk about the things to start saying no to if you really want to get ahead in life. These are the things that can drain you of precious time and energy and keep you stuck where you are. 

Let’s dive in! 

1) Your inner critic

First up is the voice you have inside you that constantly has a negative opinion. 

Now, this isn’t a blanket statement; the inner critic does serve an important role – it can help us grow and get better. 

The problem arises when it becomes overactive and begins to take on a demeaning tone. 

And it becomes so insistent that those negative thoughts turn from random into a pattern well-grooved into our brains. That’s what’s going to hold us back. 

According to VeryWellMind, it can manifest in different forms: grounded, apathetic, defeated, mean, and hopeless. 

Well, when you’re constantly feeling bad about  yourself, how can you be confident enough to move forward, right?

So watch out for the inner critic and don’t give it too much control. Remember that what it says isn’t a fact; it’s merely a judgment. 

And think about this: don’t you want to prove it wrong? That’s a challenge worth taking on. 

2) The fear of failure

On that note, don’t you also want to see how much you’re capable of? This is something many people don’t realize when they say yes to the fear of failure.

Look, I get it – I’ve been held back one too many times because I was scared of failing myself. But just like negative self-talk, the fear of failure is simply a judgment. 

And more often than not, it’s an unfounded judgment. What’s the basis for it? How can you know if you’ll fail or not if you haven’t even tried? 

As J.K. Rowling once said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” 

That, for me, is a more terrifying thought – that I haven’t lived at all, simply because I was scared to fail. What I now know is that it’s scarier to live a life of regret over my “I should’ves”. 

3) Instant gratification

The other day, I was talking to a cousin of mine. She was rattling off a litany of complaints: how life is hard, how she’s always working to the bone but never seems to have enough saved up…

And those complaints are valid – life is indeed hard. 

The thing is, in her case, it was doubly hard because she had a habit of impulsive spending. Whenever she had a craving for something, she’d go ahead and satisfy it. 

Look, I understand this very well; it’s just so easy to fall into an excessive “I deserve this!” mindset. And maybe you do deserve it, but you know what you deserve more? 

The freedom of self-discipline. 

That sounds rather counterintuitive, right? But as Venus Williams says in this clip, when you have discipline, you ultimately get what you want. 

If you pay the price of curbing your impulses, you enjoy more financial freedom, more time, more energy…all of which will help you achieve your dreams faster. 

I mean, whom would you rather listen to – that impatient voice that always says “Go ahead, you deserve this,” or a seasoned, successful athlete who knows what she’s talking about?  

4) Overcommitting

What else will give you more time and energy? Saying no to every invite and every favor people ask of you. 

This is also going to sound counterintuitive – you don’t need to do more to move forward. You just need to be smart about what to commit to. 

Now, this calls for a lot of self-reflection. A lot of thinking about what truly matters to you. Only then can you weed out what doesn’t. 

So, saying yes to being on every committee in the PTA? Nope. 

That wedding invite from a grade school best friend you no longer really know anymore? Sorry. 

New project 5? And 6 and 7? When you’re not even done with projects 1 to 4 yet? Yikes. 

Sure, you might be successful if you say yes to a lot of things, but I can guarantee that you’ll also be drained and burned out. In my opinion, that’s not what real success looks like

5) Perfectionism

Another habit that you might think is serving you well but is actually more likely to put you on the path to burnout is perfectionism.

I come from a family with high parental expectations, so growing up, I tended to focus too much on what I could achieve. I wanted that praise so badly. 

But in the real world, I quickly found out that perfectionism slowed me down instead of getting me where I wanted faster. With the side dish of an inner critic that never shuts up. And decision paralysis. And anxiety.

So believe me, if you have a perfectionist streak, it’s time to say no to that. Once I did that and focused on progress instead, I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. 

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to say you should be okay with mediocrity. By all means, go on aiming for excellence but leave the idea of perfection behind. 

6) Unhealthy relationships

Saying no to relationships that bring you down is perhaps one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself. 

If you don’t know yet, energy is contagious. That’s why it absolutely matters who we surround ourselves with. 

Surrounding yourself with negative people can leave you feeling drained and uninspired. Positive connections can uplift and motivate you. This is why it’s important to be selective about who you let into your life.

There were times I clung to certain relationships out of habit or fear of being alone. But those relationships always left me exhausted. That was my gut telling me that it was time to let go. 

I do believe that people come into our lives for a reason. But not all of them are meant to stay. 

How do you know they aren’t? When they rob you of inner peace. When they deplete you more than enrich you.  

7) Past mistakes, grudges, and regrets

Just as it’s important to let go of toxic relationships, so is letting go of the past. Specifically, all the things you regret doing. 

I know that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re dealing with really heavy stuff like a failed marriage, abuse, or a bad business decision. 

But – the past is done and over with. When you think about it, all we’ve really got is today. The present. 

The future? We don’t know that for certain. 

But one thing is sure – today is happening, and we can either live in the moment and do something meaningful or stay in the past beating ourselves up over things we can’t change. 

Look, you are not your failed relationship. You may have been a victim of abuse, but that’s not all you are. 

All the bad decisions and past circumstances you’ve had don’t define you. It’s what you learn from them that moves you forward to the next version of you. 

8) The comparison trap

We humans are a distractible lot. Instead of putting our heads down and focusing on what we ought to do to move forward, we look around and compare ourselves with one another. 

Comparison is natural, but also, it’s more harmful than helpful. 

For one, when we look at someone else’s life and measure our progress against theirs, we’re not seeing the full picture. We don’t see their struggles, their failures, and everything else they had to do to get where they are. 

Two, we’re blessed differently. Our gifts and abilities are unique to us, so it doesn’t make sense to compare. There’s no universal scale to tell us that one is better than the other. 

And three – comparison merely pulls away our focus, which we definitely need if we want to get ahead in life

9) The idea that “you either have it or you don’t”

Finally, I’d like to talk about the fixed mindset, where we think our abilities are unchangeable. 

I remember when I was starting out in my art journey, I quickly became frustrated because I wasn’t progressing at the pace I wanted. I’d look over at other artist friends and think, wow, I wish I were that prolific! (Yup, the comparison trap at work.)

Then I’d conclude, maybe being an artist is something you have…you either have it or you don’t. 

It took another artist friend to tell me to drop that mentality. He showed me his old sketchbooks and I could see how far his starting point was. 

The point is, thinking with a fixed mindset is  no way to get ahead. Because getting ahead, by its very nature, involves growth and learning. 

If you believe that “you don’t have what it takes”, then yeah, you really won’t. What you believe is what will play out in your life. 

That’s what it all comes down to, really. Self-belief. If you have that, and enough self-discipline and focus, then the road is wide open for you. It’s that simple. 

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Roselle Umlas

I am a freelance writer with a lifelong interest in helping people become more reflective and self-aware so that they can communicate better and enjoy meaningful relationships.

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