“No” is not a dirty word. Embrace it.

Wherever we look, there is a battle going on for our attention. It’s big business. There is a whole array of books, seminars and programmes devoted to it, because attention is priceless. Once someone is granted your attention, they can use their sales and marketing techniques to try and manipulate you into buying something you don’t want, or doing something you don’t want to.

Most of the time we don’t realise that we are being manipulated into doing another’s bidding . Even when we do, it’s only after the event, or because we feel unable to decline or picture any alternative and therefore just go along with it. The downside to all of this is that time, focus and energy is taken away from our own lives. We stop doing whats important to us. Our progress slows and our relationships become strained, all because somebody else convinced us that their need was all that mattered. This is why we should start saying no, and stop putting the wants and needs of others before our own. Of course, there must be give and take in life but we need to be careful of just how much of ourselves, our time and our energy we give.

If it sounds a little selfish, that’s because we sometimes have to be. In this case, putting yourself, and those you care about the most, first is absolutely necessary if you want to be happy. If you handle the situation respectfully and with tact, people will respect your decision to say no. What form this “no”  takes will differ from person to person. For me, I prioritise my own journey and the goals which I am working towards, alongside spending quality time with my family. As such, I say no to things which can divert my energy and attention away from what is important to me, such as resisting the temptation to check work emails at home. When you say no to things which you don’t want to do, strange things happen, such as an increase in productivity. You find yourself getting fewer requests, and having more time to do what makes you happy. Most significant of all, though, you get to focus on what’s important to you. Your confidence also gets a healthy boost as you take back control of your life and stop being led by others.

The more you try to help others  and accommodate their wishes, the more they will ask of you. However, if you say no to whatever you don’t feel to be a good use of your time, people will soon get the message and leave you in peace. Say no, and watch as your happiness, time, confidence and productivity all get a healthy boost

Before you help others, help yourself.

I recently watched a video in which serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk warns that you need to be selfish before you can even think of being selfless. I was initially surprised to hear this because they are complete opposites, but it gave me plenty of food for thought. A few days later, I had a flight to catch. As usual, my mind wandered as the safety demonstration began, but I came back around just in time to hear the announcement instruct passengers that, in the event of an emergency, they should secure their own safety vest before helping others with theirs. In other words, only after you have helped yourself should you attempt to help others. Cue even more reflection.

After my initial skepticism, I actually began to understand and appreciate the brilliance of this advice. If your intentions are noble and you only wish to help others and be kind, the first step is to be kind to yourself. After all, if you are struggling in your personal life or career, how are you going to help anyone else?

Helping others in place of helping yourself will neither make your troubles go away, nor is it a substitute for them. Simply put, if you prioritise the needs of others over your own, it’s just another form of escapism.

In order to achieve anything in life, regardless of your goals, you need to first work on yourself. You need to define your purpose, identify your goals and learn to become resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks. This, in turn, will help you to become stronger and more rounded as a person. From that position, you can use your experiences to help other people meet the challenges which they may be facing.

In short, the more you work on yourself and build your self-awareness and strength, the better you will be able to help others and make a difference in their lives.