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How to say no

How to say no gracefully, guidelines for deciding when to say no, and how saying no made me $125,930

Ramit Sethi

We’ve all been there: we want to say no, but don’t.

You get asked to do something — maybe get drinks with a friend or go see a show — and want to say no but, instead, end up saying something like:

  • “Sorry, something came up. I’ll catch you next time though!”
  • “I don’t know if I can make it tonight. I’m just so swamped, you know?”
  • “I’m too busy right now. I’ll get to it later.”

The funny thing is, we always plan on “getting to it later” but NEVER actually end up doing it.

Why do we do this? Why do we insist on accepting obligations that we know we’ll never end up doing?

Here’s the thing: All of us — CEOs, politicians, Ph.D. candidates, mothers of two — have the same 24 hours in a day. It’s okay to recognize when “no time” is actually a blanket excuse for not doing something you don’t want to do.

When you do come to this realization, it makes it that much easier to say “no” when you need to.

That’s why I want to introduce a concept to you that’ll help you recognize these moments and act upon them: The Rules of Letting Go.

How to Say No – Ramit’s Rules of Letting Go

When it comes to saying no, we must first:

  1. Stop blaming time for our problems
  2. Recognize our priorities

Once you do those things, you’ll be able to turn down what doesn’t really matter and focus your energies on the things that’ll give you the biggest wins.

In order to properly “let go” of the things that don’t matter, you’re going to have to follow these three rules.

Rule #1: Let go of the should-do’s that you don’t actually care about

A few years ago, I went to my cousin’s wedding in India and saw one of my friends order his food in fluent Hindi. I was impressed, so I thought, “Hmm I should take Hindi lessons. That way, I can become fluent and impress people too!”

So when I got back to NYC I put it on my to-do list

…where it stayed for MONTHS. Every time I saw it, I would skip over it and put it off.

Of course, I told myself ALL of the same excuses over and over:

  • “I’ll get to it next week.”
  • “I have other things to worry about right now.”
  • “Maybe in a month or two. I’m too swamped.”

After a few months, I had a realization: I really didn’t care enough to try and learn Hindi. It just wasn’t important enough to me.

When I acknowledged I wasn’t going to learn Hindi and crossed it off my list, it was like a small burden lifted from my shoulders. It freed me up to focus on doing the things that I really wanted to do.

A while back, I sat down to pick the brain of my good friend, Noah Kagan, on the topic of saying no. In the video below, he reveals how to eliminate all of life’s little distractions and why we have to say NO to most things in order to accelerate our path to success.

Rule #2: Let go of waiting for inspiration to strike

Inspiration is for amateurs. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining outside or if I wake up feeling absolutely awful. I always get to work.

Not because I’m a machine, or a better person than anyone, but because I have systems that I depend on.

Willpower and inspiration fade quickly. For example, have you ever been SUPER EXCITED TO START SOMETHING…only to feel as apathetic as a college senior on finals week a few days later?

Systems, however, last. A good system doesn’t have to be a complex monstrosity that takes you 16 years and 4 Ph.D.s to decipher. For example, here are some systems I use:

Relying on your “muse to visit” or “inspiration to strike” is what unprofitable life coaches do. It’s also an easy way to randomly pursue something quickly, then give up, only to yo-yo back a couple of weeks later.

Instead, start with a small system — like my calendar system above — and spend more time focusing on what MATTERS and less time procrastinating on things that don’t.

Rule #3: Let go of feeling guilty

With so many things we could do — and so much pressure from everyone around us — it’s no wonder we feel so guilty all of the time.

Think about the last time you felt like you should do something. Maybe it was learning a new language you thought would be “good to know.” Maybe you wanted to try a new sport because a friend told you to do it.

When these things happen, it’s easy to say, “Yeah, I should do that” only to never get around to it and feel TERRIBLE. But the truth is, nobody is making you feel guilty except YOU.

We realistically have time to learn maybe three new major things per year. Make sure you want this to be one of them.

I want to show you an exclusive video from my premium course, Success Triggers. It’s about defeating guilt and enjoying the things that make YOU happy.

After all, we’re constantly told what we should do. It’s important to reward ourselves when we work hard and earn something.

Video Thumbnail

The next time you find yourself saying something like “I’ll get to it later,” stop and evaluate why.

Maybe it’s not a priority for you right now. Maybe you just don’t want to do it. Both of these thoughts are perfectly fine. You’ll save everyone a lot of time and effort by recognizing and acting on what’s really going on.

Action step: How to say “no”

The next time someone offers you an invitation, instead of saying, “I don’t have time,” be honest with yourself and them.

Here’s an exact script that’ll help you say “no”:

“That sounds really interesting, but I’m going to pass so I can focus on a couple other things I really want to do.”

This will:

  1. Make others value your time and commitments.
  2. Force you to be honest with yourself about what’s important.
  3. Free up your mental energy to worry about things you actually care about.

How I made $125,930/mo. by saying “no”

A few years ago, I found myself getting tons of emails from readers, my team, and friends. I’m talking 1,000+ emails/day. It was getting ridiculous.

Just as I would wake up and start answering them, I’d get DOZENS more.

At first, I thought I HAD to answer every email. That’s how I built my business in the first place. But I quickly saw that if I replied to every email, I wouldn’t have time to focus on anything else.

I could spend the entire month answering emails — and have nothing to show for it.

Let’s see…my options are:

  • Wake up and spend my entire day fighting other people’s fires
  • Decide to take control of my time and do what I WANT to do

Notice how it’s so easy to say, “DUH RAMIT, SECOND BULLET POINT, LOLZZ.”

But the minute you say “I’m going to take control of my time,” that stupid voice in your head starts saying things like:

“Yeah, BUT…”

  • “You HAVE to answer everyone’s emails”
  • “Maybe that might work for YOU, but not everyone runs their own business”
  • “I’m already behind. I don’t have enough time for this weird strategy stuff”

Screw that.

If I was going to make a massive impact, I needed to get out of the day-to-day and work on my business, instead of in it.

If I kept waiting for an opening in my schedule or for an amazing business idea to strike, it never would’ve happened. I had to intentionally set aside the time in my week for thinking about “big picture” stuff.

No meetings. No calls. Just time to think about strategy and where I was going with IWT.

I started by carving out a couple hours on Wednesdays. Then I expanded to a half-day, and finally made Wednesdays totally my own.

ramit calendar wed blog
Bad, better, GREAT. By the way, “DND” = Do Not Disturb.

When Wednesday rolls around, I have a list of books and articles to read, and a notepad I take notes in. And every so often, a big idea hits…

In fact, the idea for one of my previous programs, Brain Trust, came up during one of these strategy sessions. Here are the numbers:


We’ve since closed the program, but that’s over 2,500 members at $49/month — people from around the world who loved the program.

rbt past

All from one of those Wednesday sessions.

I could have spent my entire year answering emails and I never would have come up with this idea. The key was (1) having time set aside for myself and (2) studying high-level business strategy from the masters.

The same is true for you.

Do you have time set aside to focus on big wins? Do you know what to study and how to apply it?

When I decided to grow, I stopped studying the people who were in my market. Why do I care if they make 10% more than I do? I wanted to know how multibillion-dollar companies and CEOs do it. What questions does Jeff Bezos ask when he interviews people? How did Steve Jobs run a meeting?

I quickly learned that successful CEOs think differently than scrappy entrepreneurs. The latter look for shortcuts and ways to get off the ground. That’s fine — they have to do that when they’re starting out.

But at a certain point, you can’t just “hustle” your way bigger. You have to completely change your thinking, your strategy, and even your team. This is what separates constantly hustling entrepreneurs from true CEOs.

How to manufacture time by saying “no”

As you may have noticed, our struggles with saying “no” are really struggles with creating habits and systems that protect our time — which is why I put together the very best material on setting goals, creating habits that stick, and getting back on track if you ever fall off.

If you’re ready to stop making excuses, break out of that rut, and make a major change in your life, this free guide is for you.

ultimate guide habits 1

Take a look at what’s inside:

  • How to wake up productive and get more done by noon than most people do all day (covered in Part 2)
  • “If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d ____.” I’ll teach you how to keep accomplishing goals even when you “don’t feel like it” (covered in Part 3)
  • Ever spent a busy day filled with distractions — answering emails and putting out fires — and walked away feeling like you finished nothing? I’ll show you how to stay laser-focused on tasks and eliminate distractions (covered in Part 6)

This guide includes HD videos, downloadable worksheets, lessons from the world’s leading experts on behavioral change, and much, much more.

So check it out. Try out the techniques. And enjoy the results you get for the rest of your life.

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