The 'No' Muscle

I recently wrote about the importance of sharpening your tools. At its core it was an abstract set of hints and suggestions as to how everyone can develop strategies for dealing with the difficult emotions that we experience in our lives.

One of the tools I've been honing lately is what I have identified as the 'no' muscle. As members of a Western society, every day we are presented with an infinite amount of choices. And boy, do we love choices. Choosing makes us powerful, the masters of own own destiny. Whether it is choosing to be the one to put that last, lonely biscuit out of its misery or debating whether or not to pull the trigger on that pair of shoes we've had on our mind, we find ourselves in control of our own decisions.

In these sorts of situations, I've always found it easier to say yes. OK, I'll have that biscuit. Yeah, I'll go to the shoe store tomorrow. I've found saying no so difficult that lately I've decided to put in some practice.

During the last couple of weeks I've arrived at the office and decided then and there whether or not I'll eat any of the lollies sitting on the desk just around from me. The decision is instant and essentially arbitrary. And that's it. If it's a 'no' day, I try not to eat any. My record isn't perfect but I'd suggest that on half of those days I eat none and even on unsuccessful 'no' days I normally cave in just once.

The part of me that loves systematic approaches frowns upon this practice due to the sheer inconsistency of the whole experiment. But I think that this haphazard approach is what has made the process somewhat successful: it leaves no room for any crazy forms of intellectual bargaining that can go on in situations like this. I think, should I eat a lolly? No. That's it. Just no. Straight up, no questions asked, nothing. Just don't do it, man. If saying no was part of some grander strategy I could manufacture some justification, but this inflexible, crazy approach doesn't give me that.

The way I see it, I'm strengthening the 'no' muscle. The idea is that I'm starting small and developing the emotional and psychological capacity to refuse myself something for almost no reason other than to feel what it's like to refuse myself something. I generally experience a craving then a pang of mental resistance to the whole exercise. This sucks, those lollies are great, I want to eat one. Then I remember that it's no day, grab a couple of almonds and get back to what I was doing.

How often do you say no to yourself? I'm prepared to admit it's not that often for me. I have enough money, food and time, so very few things are excluded from my life other than by choice. That is a scary thought. Coming to terms with how no feels is important because being able to handle that builds a barrier to any form of unhealthy dependencies we might come across in our lives.