Personal Development

Why the Happiest, Most Successful People Say “No” to Almost Everything

Expertise: Personal Development, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Real Estate Investing Basics, Business Management
42 Articles Written

What is the difference between successful and average? Why do successful people seem more relaxed and less stressed, and yet they accomplish so much more?

All too often we believe that success comes down to willpower. We are brought up thinking of work as having a direct correlation to success. Therefore, more work equals more success. If someone is doing well, we believe it’s because they have the willpower to do more work.

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett.

Think of willpower as investing in stocks. We all start the day with a certain amount and invest a little in every activity we do. Most people start their day at work investing their willpower into checking emails, constant interruptions, and trying to accomplish a good day’s work. When they get home, they’ve already invested 90% of their willpower to maintain the status quo. There’s only 10% left to invest in getting ahead.

Your success will ultimately depend on the proportion of your willpower you invest in getting ahead.

Related: 6 Ridiculous Excuses That Are Holding You Back From Real Estate Success

Creating Goals is the First Step

The first step in being more successful is defining your success. Where do you want to go and what it will it take to get there? You need a scorecard to compare your daily activities to. You need to be able to ask, “Is this activity going to get to where I want to be, or should I say no?” Only once you have this idea in your mind should you read on.

Do Your Activities Help or Hurt Your Goals?

Make list of all of the activities you do in an average day. Every one of them. Now, put “+” signs next to the activities that are helping you get to where you need to be. Put a “-” next to the activities that are taking you in the opposite direction. What “-” activities can you say no to so you have more time for the “+” activities? This isn’t an easy task, but that’s why so few people end up successful.

Willpower is Strongest in the Morning

You have the most willpower in the morning and slowly spend it throughout the day. If you want to learn about real estate investing, get in shape, or do something amazing, start working on it in the morning when willpower is the greatest. Have you ever wondered why most jobs start in the morning? Employers want to maximize your willpower to their benefit. Waking up and doing important tasks in the morning will help you invest more in yourself. Let your job get what’s left over, not your future.

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planed for you? Not much.” – Jim Rohn

Want more articles like this?

Create an account today to get BiggerPocket's best blog articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up for free

Related: The Simple Mentality That Sets Successful Investors Apart From the Rest


Saying yes to everything is being lazy. It brings a false sense of accomplishment and importance. If you say yes all the time, you are investing your willpower into someone else’s success. It’s no different than going on a long road trip and giving gas to every person on the side of the road with a sign. Bad idea.

Bronnie Ware was a palliative nurse whose patients only had only a few months to live. She would ask them what they regretted before they died. The number one answer was: “I wished I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” And in second place: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

You only have one life to live. If you invest all of your willpower into activities that aren’t helping you get where you want to be, to live the life you dream of, then you’re wasting it.

What are you going to say no to?

Be sure to leave a comment below!

Brett Lee is a licensed Real Estate Broker in Portland Oregon where he helps people achieve a better future so they can do the things that truly make them happy. Brett is also a buy-and-hold invest...
Read more
    Daniel Ryu Investor from Irvine, CA
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Good stuff. What do you do to maintain your mindset and keep yourself motivated on the journey? And what do you think was key to developing this type of thinking? I like asking people who have a success mindset how that was developed. For a lot, it started at home but I know my own journey took a lot of reading and immersion in the right mindset and even overcoming message I learned at home – well intentioned messages, but not growth oriented.
    Brett Lee from Portland, Oregon
    Replied about 5 years ago
    I learned it all from books and use it every day. I make decisions based on the overall big picture not the squeaky wheel.
    Karen Rittenhouse Flipper/Rehabber from Greensboro, NC
    Replied about 5 years ago
    “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett. meaning that “very successful people” don’t say no as often. Be open to new ideas. Be open to new ways of solving your problems. Be open to the creativity of other minds, rather than always relying on what you’ve done in the past or what you think is the best way. Say “yes” to more of your options and see where that can take you beyond your own limitations.
    Allison Leung from Denver, CO
    Replied about 5 years ago
    @karen My fault–that Warren Buffett quote should read, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” ( Edited! Good catch, and you still make very valid points. Thanks for commenting.
    Benjamin Cowles from Cape Coral, FL
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I think you switched his quote around. Was that on purpose? I think the quote was more about discipline than open-mindedness
    David Goossens Investor from San Jose, California
    Replied about 5 years ago
    I’ve found that using the power of NO opens up more doors than always being a yes man. I like the idea of rating your activities with a + or – depending on if it helps or hinders your long term goals. It’s like making a budget for your time and helps keep you focused on the end game. Thanks for another great article, Brett.
    Darren Sager Investor from Summit, NJ
    Replied about 5 years ago
    You can’t do everything. Success comes from narrowing your focus so learning to say no is a very important step to being successful. Great article Brett!
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, MO
    Replied about 5 years ago
    I think one of the reason’s it’s so hard for many people to say no is that they have trouble handling their commitments or more accurately, knowing exactly what they have committed to and thereby properly allocating their time. If you don’t know, why not add something? In this respect, I would highly recommend Getting Things Done. It makes it a lot easier to know what time you have available and thereby say no more often.
    Sonia Spangenberg from Manassas, VA
    Replied about 5 years ago
    This was a great blog post. Reminds me i need to make the time to read a book that keeps popping up on my radar “The One Thing” by Gary Keller. I did finally get it downloaded to my Kindle a few weeks ago, now I need to read it. I think getting your One Thing clarified will help with the “Just Say No” philosophy of success! I also like the (+) or (-) evaluation of your tasks. Daily activity logs will help. I’ve started putting my to do tasks in a calendar book (instead of on sticky notes) so I can track what I am doing and how long it takes me to get stuff done. That will help with the +/- evaluation. Adding morning routine specifics to my calendar is another useful suggestion. I think I also need to delay my email checks til the early afternoon to avoid the distraction and rabbit trails that seems to create in my morning. Daily routine and discipline are areas I struggle in so articles like this I find to be great guidance and reminders. Thanks for allowing me to think out loud and internalize the results of my read of your blog. ; – )
    Stephen Hundley Realtor from Lafayette, LA
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Wow, very powerful article! Thank you for sharing!
    Jody Parkinson
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Hey Brett, I couldn\’t agree more with your article. Most of the successful people I know did many sacrifices before reaching their goals. Thanks for this very empowering post. Jody
    Victoria Avery Professional from Boston, Massachusetts
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Life is short. We all know that. So, I understand the great points made here , love Mr. Buffett, and thank you for posting. For the past two years, I have been saying no to the things that are truly unimportant to me – things like watching news or listening to angry political talk radio. Yes, these were entertaining, as well as, frequently upsetting, but I don’t miss them and have proven to have no real purpose in my life. Some have found it crazy that I don’t watch the news and became frustrated when I would respond with a smile and say if there is something that I actually need to know, the information will make its way to me. Because, I have said no to these two things, I am happier, have gained hours in my day, and any issue from these two aforementioned arenas that directly impact my life have, actually made way to me via other avenues and in a very timely fashion. No loss to me, only gains. Working with what we personally feel is valuable, and saying yes to our own list of important things like, for me, family and good friends, and wonderful adventures and opportunities, and saying no to useless and negative time vampires, is always a work in progress but, I think, that is what life is… Don’t ever say no to what truly makes you happy! 🙂 My two cents, Victoria
    Tek Chai from Podunk, Washington
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Great tips, Brett.
    Don Alberts from Frankfort, Illinois
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Brett, I think you Nailed it. No! I know you did. Have a nice day. Don
    Don Alberts from Frankfort, Illinois
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Brett, I think you Nailed it. No! I know you did. Have a nice day. Don
    Benjamin Cowles from Cape Coral, FL
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I think the point here is that saying no is a very difficult thing to do. When used properly, like any other tool in our toolboxes, it can lead to a more prosperous career. Careful not to get carried away and say no too much, stay focused and work hard.