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In 2013, Learn How to Say 'No'

Wednesday, 19 Dec 2012 | 12:20 PM ET
Source: amazon.com

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG by Greg Cootsona, author of "The Time for Yes: Enjoying What's Best in Life, Work, and Love."

"My New Year's Resolution: Finding the Right Rhythm."

This will be a special new year for me. With a December 31 birthday, I'll start 2013 as a newly minted 50 year old.

That marker has given me both pause and resolve to live a successful life. And here's what I've discovered: Success is grooving with the right rhythm of Yeses and Nos. A successful 2013 is not simply saying Yes to a series of new resolutions.

Several years ago, I learned firsthand the peril of too many Yeses.

I found myself on a treadmill for the purpose of generating an EKG. This on the recommendation of my doctor: "The pains you feel in your chest might be something more serious. Let's have your heart get checked."

With electrodes strapped to my chest in a Manhattan cardiologist's office, worried and confused thoughts filling my mind: "What? Me? Is this serious?" I was young with no previous health problems.

It may be sacrilege to say in our current technology-crazed world, but saying a constant Yes to technology partly caused the problem. It was the hundreds of emails I'd receive after a week of vacation, the fact I could listen to calls on my cell as I walked home from work, and the experience of being "wired in" at all times in a fast-paced, technologically advanced city where (I've been told) "you're 55% more likely to have a heart attack if you're a New Yorker."

But soon enough, I heard the words: "Your heart is fine. Any problems you're experiencing are elsewhere." (In fact, I later found it's a genetic predisposition toward hypertension.) That day I felt elated. Grateful. But I also realized that I needed strategic Nos to support the important Yeses in my life.

That realization led me to five simple new year's resolutions:


First: Live in flow

Psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihaly described the right rhythm in Flow: "when consciousness is harmoniously ordered:" A flow experience is "so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous." Finding flow happens at that sweet spot, the "Goldilocks" point, between too much stress (too many Yeses) and too little stress or boredom (too many Nos).

Second: Be quiet

To find this rhythm we start here: Be quiet. I quote the Oxford literary professor and Christian spiritual writer, C. S. Lewis: Every morning "all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. The first job each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in." When we get quiet, we can listen "to inward voice one recognizes as wiser than one's own, and transcribes without fear," as Naomi Wolf phrased it.

Third: Chip away through strategic Nos

Michelangelo once described his sculpting technique as "chipping away" in order to release the "angel in the marble." Contemporary cognitive science has emphasized the importance of "chipping away" in order to free our best thinking: One University of London study found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capacity by an average of ten points on IQ tests. Staying overly "wired in" also increases our allostatic load, a reading of stress hormones. It's fight or flight—great in the past for running away from tigers, but today it creates an artificial sense of constant crisis. So we are locked in continual partial attention. Or continual partial IN-attention.

Fourth: Keep working my personal brand

Try this exercise in personal branding. Take ten seconds to write down every word you'd like to describe you. Witty. Intelligent. Dynamic. Patient. Spiritual. Now say no to all but three. Why? Branding experts tell us that a product brand should be able to be aptly described by no more than three words. And the same is true for you and me, for our "personal brands."

My three words? Creative. Teacher. Mentor. This personal brand defines everything I do. Every day I seek to design a plan with these three characteristics in mind. I'm constantly strategizing how to engage those key branding strategies, which moves me toward a successful, beautiful, excellent life. Put simply: "Some dream of success. Some wake up and get to work."

Fifth: Take time for strategic breaks

Stemming from ancient Jewish and Christian spiritual practices as well as contemporary brain science, I resolve to practice strategic breaks: one full day/week and 30-60 minutes/day. Times when I can do what I love and spend time alone or with the ones I love. There I return to my branding identity and seek to say strategic Nos so that I can find deeper Yeses. In strategic breaks, I find the rhythm of no-work makes my work better.

I have to admit, the right rhythm cannot be fully described. We ultimately have to live it to get it. That's my hope for a successful 2013. Even as a 50 year old.

More CNBC Stories on Becoming a Better 'You'

Greg Cootsona's new book is "The Time for Yes," and he blogs athttp://cootsona.blogspot.com.

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