In Tokyo, Jiro Ono owns a small sushi restaurant called Sukiyabashi Jiro, which is located inside of a subway station. Jiro's sushi restaurant is extremely popular. His prices are high; his restaurant and menu are small, and he has ample opportunity to earn more money with his business.
Jiro could expand his restaurant. With only 10 seats, Jiro could easily earn more money by squeezing in another seat or two.
He could move from his post inside a subway station to a larger location with double the amount of seats. After all, double the seats equals double the money, right?
Jiro could expand his menu. He could offer more than just the current sushi. After all, if he could upsell menu items, he'd make more revenue, right?
But Jiro doesn't do any of these things. Because for Jiro, these aren't opportunities; they're responsibilities.
Jiro is focused on one thing: mastering the art of sushi. He's given his life to the craft of sushi. He's specialized in sushi, focused on sushi and has said "no" to all of the "opportunities" that don't lend themselves to his one goal of mastering sushi.
So, sure, he could do all of these things and potentially make more money. But if he's not excited by them? If they don't help him reach his goal?
"No" is the best answer.
The Power of "No" and Why It Works
We tend to think of the word "no" as a bad thing.
We're taught to say yes, to keep our minds open to new opportunities and to chase the next shiny thing that is dangled in front of us. Yet, success in history shows us that "no" is the more powerful word.
"No" works because it enables you to maintain your focus on the one or two things that are truly important to you. It works because it allows you to see things through until completion. It works because when you say "yes" to one thing, you're saying "no" to absolutely everything else.
Let's say you're working to get your side business off the ground. You have the opportunity for a more demanding role at work, but it would require an additional 10 hours of your attention each week.
By saying "yes" to that opportunity, you're saying "no" to spending those 10 hours building your business. You're saying "no" to the potential business that would come from it. You're saying "no" to opportunities for business growth that you could use those 10 hours to foster.
You're also saying "no" to spending those 10 hours with your friends and family, and "no" to spending those 10 hours working out or becoming more healthy.
You're saying "no" to an infinite number of things you could be doing with that amount of time and mental resources.
But, even if those other things are more important to you, saying "no" to the opportunity can be painful.
Why It's So Difficult to Say "No"
Maybe you are, or you know, a "yes" (wo)man. It's difficult to say no to an opportunity because our minds run away on us.
We can't help but ask ourselves these questions: What if an opportunity like this never comes up again? What if I say no to this potential client or contract, and I end up not making any money? What if I say no to an opportunity that could change my entire life, make me millions of dollars and end up leading to huge, exciting things?
Research shows we feel a loss more painfully than the lack of a gain. So, if you were given $20 and then it was taken away, you'd feel it far more painfully than if you were never given the $20 in the first place, even though you'd be in the same financial position.
In an experiment done by Dan Ariely at Duke University (described in more detail in his book, "Predictably Irrational"), researchers asked a group of students what price they'd pay for NCAA Final Four tournament tickets.
The NCAA games were very popular at Duke at the time, making the tickets desirable to most students. On average, the students in this group said they'd pay $150 for the tickets.
The researchers asked the next group to imagine they already had tickets for the game. How much would they sell them for? On average, the students who already "owned" the tickets reported they'd sell them for $1,500.
You read that right.
That's 10 times more than what non-ticket holders would buy them for.
This is called the endowment effect, and it has been proved in study after study. Humans value things they already have far more than things they don't yet have.
You might wonder what this has to do with opportunities.
The last opportunity you were presented with was likely one you didn't even know existed before it became an option for you. If you did, it may not have been something you were actively pursuing.
However, when you are offered the opportunity, meaning, you already have it in the bag, you value it up to 10 times more.
An opportunity offered is 10 times more difficult to say no to than an opportunity never offered at all, even if the opportunity doesn't light you up.
It can be much easier to say no with some guidelines of what is a true opportunity, rather than something you should have said no to.
How to Spot a True Opportunity (And What to Say No To)
As hard as it is to say no, it's one of the most important things you can do for success.
Warren Buffet said,
The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say 'no' to almost everything.
To get into that "really successful people" category, you need to set your priority.
Notice I said "priority" rather than "priorities."
If you have more than one priority, you aren't prioritizing anything. Everybody has one thing that works overtime for him or her, where 20 percent of the actions he or she takes yields 80 percent of the results. That one thing needs to be your priority.
If you're a new blogger, your priority could be writing for blogs larger than yours.
If you're trying to get your photography business off the ground, your priority could be creating a beautiful portfolio.
If you're an aspiring freelance writer, your priority may be to increase your writing speed and quality by practicing.
After you've set your priority, write it somewhere visible.
Then, say no to everything that doesn't lend itself to your priority.
If your priority is guest blogging, say "no" to hopping on the newest social media bandwagon.
If your priority is writing, say "no" to starting a podcast.
If your priority is pitching freelance web design clients, say "no" to freelance writing work.
As you say "no" to opportunities that don't fit with your priority, you'll find that something interesting happens.
Your productivity skyrockets.
You take advantage of more opportunities that do fit with your priority, and your priority begins to pay off.
After you've mastered the art of extreme focus by saying no to opportunities, you'll realize an opportunity you're not excited about isn't an opportunity. It's a responsibility.
If you're a blogger, and you say "no" to spending even half an hour each day on yet another social media platform, you'll have gained three and a half hours each week to spend on your priority. In terms of building an audience, you could write one to two guest posts in that amount of time, bringing in hundreds of subscribers.
If you're a web designer, and you say "no" to work that doesn't fit within your realm of expertise, you'll have gained hours each week to work on finding your dream clients.
If you're an aspiring writer, and you say "no" to a project your friend wants to work on with you that would take up two hours each week, you can use those hours to practice. And over the course of a month, you'll have gained eight hours of practice time and thousands of words.
With extreme focus on one priority, you'll conquer your projects. You'll become more effective, efficient and, yes, successful.
Don't chase opportunities for the sake of opportunity. Remember your priority.
This post originally appeared on Unsettle.org