How many times have you said to yourself something like this, ‘Okay? I am not having carbs for a while!” Or perhaps it’s more like this, ‘If we go out tonight, I won’t have desert.’ Maybe with the kids it’s more obvious, where daily you repeat something like:

  • “No. You can’t have play video games before your homework.’
  • “No. You can’t eat those donuts before dinner.”
  • “Please stop that whining. The answer is NO.”
  • “How many times have I told you to NOT leave your bike in the driveway!”
  • “No. You can’t sleep over on a school night. We have discussed a dozen times.” 

For many of us, we see that the ‘no’ is simply not working. If it was, we wouldn’t need to keep saying it over and over. More importantly, we would see that it works. But it doesn’t work. We still have the carbs. We still eat desert. We still battle over the video games daily. We still end up backing over the bicycle! All these no’s just don’t seem to work, so…

Do We Really Need the ‘No’?

On occasion, I find someone who is absurdly positioned themselves where they want their children, and their lives, to be without any limits. They do no want to use the word ‘no’ and don’t want their children to experience any real limits. In this position, they are often hoping to nurture a sense of life without limits, and an ideal freedom that comes from that.

However, success, happiness and inner freedom…you can’t find them with this approach. Health, energy and vitality will not last with this approach. The same is true for any value that we exude consistently, such as courage, kindness or compassion.

There is a reason we call them ‘values.’ Because…because they are valuable. You just can’t stumble upon them. You can’t haphazardly develop them. They require consistent effort. We must nurture them with care and attention, to own them fully.

The ‘No’ Is About Setting Limits

And we need those limits so that we can discipline ourselves to a path if we are seeking those higher values. Without the limits, the mind will choose the easiest, most convenient and most appealing option. If no limits, the mind will choose ease over growth, comfort over struggle and escape over more effort.

This is undeniably true. Look at anyone living without limits in their life. With no limits on eating, what happens? If no limit on TV, video games or picking up the phone, what happens? If no limits on surfing at work, what happens? If no limits on kids getting what they want, what happens to their lives?

Thus, the ‘no’ is meant to establish a limit to protect us from the inevitable pull of the easeful, the comfortable and the most readily appealing aspects of life. The ‘no’ is intended to guard us, or our children, from the impulsive, in the moment temptations that are contrary to growth, happiness and success.

And yet, for many of us, the current method of using ‘no’ is not working, or not working well. This is evident through the futile repetitions of the same comments over and over, whether to ourselves or our families.

The Secret to a Better No: Can You Experience It?

The fundamental problem is that we overvalue words as a pathway to behavior change. We think that repetition of the same verbal formula, that didn’t work yesterday or last week, is somehow going to do it today. It won’t!

Thus, if you are serious about setting a limit, it’s time to look at this differently. Forget all the word-based stuff. Instead, we focus on actions you can take that ensure that you, or your children, will EXPERIENCE the no. There can be no doubt about the no because you literally ‘bump’ into it.

You don’t have to lecture yourself about carbs because you emptied the pantry of all the simple carbs. You don’t have to turn off the TV because it turns itself off on a timer. You don’t have to resist the ice cream because you threw it all away. You don’t have to tell the kids to put down their phones at dinner because they do not have them available. You don’t have to worry about hours of wasted time on video games because nothing works until you say so.

The secret then is about control. We as humans simply aren’t very controllable…at least with words. When we use words to try to control ourselves or our children, it usually turns out poorly. But when we instead focus on controlling the controllable aspects of life, we can take charge. We set limits by ensuring the limits are experienced, and thus felt. We can’t miss it.

So, if you happen to be serious about any futile ‘no’ that you have been living with in your life, take the action right now to ensure you experience the limit when the time comes. Don’t try for the willful change. It will usually fail you. Use action and get excited about watching the limits nurture the behaviors you want to have in your home.