Life is full of opportunities. There’s work of course, or school if you’re a student. There are chores, and errands, but also workout time, evenings with your family, organizations you want to support…so many things you can take part in.

But if you end up saying yes to all of it, then before you know it you end up, overcommitted, stressed out, or just plain fried. You also need to know how to say no.

The clues…

How do you know you’re saying yes too much? Here are a few of the warning signs:

You’re busy all day, but by the end of the day your to-do list is just as long as when you started. Even though you’ve worked hard, you’re not sure what you’ve really accomplished.
You don’t even look at a to-do list. Instead, you rush through things — a few miles an hour over the speed limit, feeling impatient at red lights and with grocery shoppers ahead of you in line. The at the end of the day, you crash.
You feel bad about saying no. Maybe you don’t want to disappoint someone, or maybe you want to show that you’re super-committed.
If any of these seem like you, it’s probably time to make a shift.

Here’s the thing: A well-lived life isn’t about how much you do; it’s about the quality of the moments you live. Doing less makes things memorable.

A different perspective

Kids know this instinctively. I remember when I first took my twins to a fabulous science museum. I was looking forward to standing on moving platforms to learn about earthquakes, watching light break apart into prisms, and watching them pet a chinchilla.

But my kids, who were about five, had a different idea. About 50 feet past the door, they found something truly captivating — a drinking fountain. We must have spend an hour there. All that driving, not to mention the entrance fee, just to watching the water splash into the fountain’s bowl.

But those are the moments — the ones where you stop and enjoy what’s in front of you instead of hurrying to do something else — those are the moments that make up a well-lived life.

Every yes is also a no

Let’s face it: there’s only so much time in a day. Everytime you agree to do something, you’re saying no to something else. Wouldn’t it be great to choose your yesses and nos with more intention?

In my practice, I think about knowing how to say no as one of the skills for living with grace in the modern world.

Imagine….if you lived this way, it could be the difference between collapsing on the couch at the end of the day and pulling up Netflix, and putting your feet up with your partner, looking at him or her with a satisfied sigh and a smile, because you know you lived the day on your terms.

How to say no so you can say yes

An effective no has three parts. Here’s a work-related example:

Appreciate the intent: I would absolutely like to see this project finished before the deadline…
Be simple and clear: …but I know that after hours I don’t have the focus I need to think clearly and do a good job.
Suggest an alternative: How about we sit down tomorrow morning at 9:00 and brainstorm some ways we might speed things up?
And here’s a more personal one:

I very much appreciate the work you’ve put into this fundraiser…
…but I’m not available next Saturday.
However, I’d like to donate $50; I’ll get a check in the mail by tomorrow.
The essence

If you’re someone who says yes too much, learning this skill will help you slow down and savor the moments that make your days memorable.

Whether it’s watching the water splash into the fountain’s bowl or leaning back with your feet up after a productive day’s work, saying no to some of the compelling opportunities that come your way will help you say yes to the ones that really matter.

Like this article — and want support and guidance as you make shift in your own life? I work with clients to help them find simple ways to work, parent, and live joyfully — no matter how crazy life gets. Call 510-277-0456 or email to set up a chat to talk about how we might work together.

Author's Bio: 

Pat LaDouceur, PhD, is author of the forthcoming book, The Remarkable Power of Small Choices: Simple Actions that Shape Your Life. She is a licensed psychotherapist (CA24003), Board Certified Neurofeedback practitioner, author, speaker, and former Director of Operations at a nonprofit agency. For almost three decades, Pat has taught staff, students, and her private clients to be more confident, focused and connected at work and in meaningful relationships. If you like what you're reading, sign up for her Anxiety-Free News at