The Sound of Silence, Part II – Saying No

Getting Personal: Too much of a Good Thing. 

I love the Internet. I love my iPhone. I love how technology has democratized storytelling, learning, publishing…and so much more.

Yet lately, I’ve been suffering from an over-stimulated, inter-connected, 21st century nervous breakdown of sorts. Perhaps you’re feeling the same frustration?

It’s not easy to find balance in this 24/7 never ending flow of information, requests for your attention, and voluminous social chatter. New York City probably doesn’t help matters. How do you turn off the noise?

As I found out the hard way, it led to my own burn-out and illness.


As some of you recall, I got pretty sick back in November 2011.

Eighteen months later, I’m still finding my health on the journey back from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, hormone imbalance, and beneath it all—Lyme disease. While I would never wish such ill on anybody, this illness has been a great teacher.

I’ve learned an incredible amount about chronic illnesses that affect the immune and endocrine systems, and integrative therapies to get you well. (If you’re interested, I wrote a blog post a while back about my healing protocol and regimen).

I’m also learning new ways of structuring of my life, my work, and my energy—choosing to embrace more silence as a way of learning and letting go. (Thus, one of the reasons you haven’t heard from us in a while at Get Storied).

Before I got sick, I operated at 120%. I’ve always been a doer, a passion junkie, a dude on a mission. Forget the marathons; I ran in sprints. Not always the most effective 120% but a storm of activity nonetheless. This often led to double shifts late into the evening, often finding inspiration in the wee hours of the morning.

I kept up with the pounding pace that feels all too normal in our creative culture. It was a pace I couldn’t keep up for long.

Getting Sick Forced Me to Set New Boundaries.

When I got sick, I was literally too weak to walk across a room. I suddenly found myself operating at 10%. This meant I had to learn to say no to literally 110% of my life! Can you imagine? My ego was crawling on the floor. I had to accept that I could no longer be everything to everyone. It was a painful process, but it forced me to get clear about what really matters.

As I slowly regained my health, I’ve learned (reality: I am still learning) to set boundaries for how best to use my energy. This means: what’s mine to do? What’s critical path? What activities energize me versus suck the life out? Just because somebody asks for something, doesn’t mean I should do it. Especially in this new age of social media.

We’re all struggling—internally and externally—to set new boundaries.

Trust me, I know it’s hard. If you’re anything like me…whether you’re a changemaker or a creative, an entrepreneur or an empathic people pleaser…you’re problem isn’t about saying Yes. It’s about saying No.

Of course, I’m afraid of missing out. You might be too. What if I’m not around to answer that important new client email? Or what if I miss that enlightening bit of content in my social feed? Or god forbid, I might disappoint someone…

Here’s the thing: we continue to apply an old set of values to a new set of social relations. Think about it: We were all taught to be polite, give everyone our time and attention. But in a culture of inter-connectedness where we’re bombarded daily with demands for our attention—the emails, the voicemail, the Twitter feeds and requests from friends of a friend—it leaves us entangled in everybody else’s needs. These may or may not be in alignment with your priorities and agenda. “Opting-out” is a lot easier said then done.

What if you could just say NO to the noise—without repercussion?

I know, we’re all trying to unplug a bit more. Whether that means turning off your smart phone for a few hours, or resisting the urge to check Facebook when waiting in line at the post office. But it doesn’t address the underlying issues taking you away from your life, your mission, and the present moment.

When I was really ill, a mentor of mine Dan Mezick taught me some of the most valuable lessons about saying No. He said to me: “Michael, you’re on the cusp of a big breakthrough. I can feel it. You just need to work on the following mantra:

“It’s okay for 5% of the world to think I’m an asshole.”

At first I resisted.

“This is stupid! I’m not comfortable with this statement,” I snapped back at Dan.

“Interesting…let’s look at this…Why?” he asked patiently.

“This stands in direct opposition to what I believe in,” I huffed.


And then came the breakthrough.

I suddenly saw it in stark contrast. My fear of being perceived as an asshole was sabotaging the ability to truly live and speak my truth. Or from another perspective, my desire to ‘be loved by everyone’ was taking me down a path of pleasing everyone at the sacrifice of my own needs.

Dan later continued with part 2 of his come to jesus:

“You must always have at least 5 reasons for saying Yes.”

In other words, if I can’t come up with at least 5 good reasons for doing something, than it’s a No. Just like that. No. Unless I have 5 good reasons.

Think about how often we say Yes because we think something is going to happen, but then that expectation doesn’t actually materialize. Forcing myself to come up with 5 reasons is a way to ensure I’ve questioned my assumptions. It also manages risk, since I have 5 assumptions, reasons, or motivations to support the decision instead of just 1 or 2. So if some of them don’t pan out, I’ve got a good chance of creating value nonetheless.

So now, before I take something on—whether it’s a new commitment, project or relationship, it better damn well be something that supports the things I really care about.

Ready to Set Some Rule-Breaking Boundaries? Here’s How:

When any choice comes up, ask yourself: Do I have 5 reasons for saying yes? List them.

Part of the trick about this exercise is asking yourself why again and again.

  • Why do I want to do this (whatever this is)?
  • Am I attracted or repelled? Is this a clear YES, or is there hesitancy?
  • Where is the synergy or leverage in saying YES?
  • How do I belong in this story? Why do I want to be part of this story?
  • Is this something I would be proud to share with others?

With this simple practice of 5 Reasons, I’m working on cutting through the distractions and staying focused on what matters most. It continues to be a work in progress, but one that appears to be an important lesson for the times we’re in.

Maybe this practice can help you too.

Silence can Help You Stay Clear on What You’re Here to Do. 

Which brings me back to silence. And emptying the cup.

We go through life, collecting experiences, in order to have stories to tell, about that which we already knew all along. We’re already at the end of the story—but we keep ourselves busy trying to fill in all the pages, backwards.

It’s a paradox: We all have a deeper knowing. Certain things that we just know, or come natural to us. We just don’t know necessarily how to express them at first.

So we go through life, seeking one experience after the next, trying on different things for size, until we find a story that seems to fit. But soon it doesn’t fit anymore, and we go searching for another one. The whole time, we’re seeking stimuli in order to express that which we’ve always been and known all along. That’s the ironic cycle of life.

So consider your inputs. We live in a world of constant inputs, like we’re drinking from the firehose. What choices are you making with the inputs in your life – especially food, friends, feeds? They all have a huge effect on your state of mind. And they can help, or hinder, getting clear on what you care about, and where you want to spend your time.

Instead of the endless seeking and the mind-numbing need to know—I’ve been hitting the OFF switch on email, social media, and other inputs more often. There’s incredible and infinite wisdom within me, just as there is within you. Yet it’s a lot easier to distract ourselves than to spend the time connecting with our inner guidance.

In silence, you find time to remember who you really are, and what you are here to do. And that’s a story only you can write the ending to.

So if you don’t hear from me on email, Twitter or Facebook as much as you used to, you now understand why. I’m still here, and I still love you. I’m still doing the same boundary-pushing storytelling that I’m on this planet to do. Only I’m trying to be more mindful and healthy about the path.

I’m wishing you, too, the courage to say No when you need to…and just the right amount of silence to find and live your truth.

49 thoughts on “The Sound of Silence, Part II – Saying No”

  1. It looks like we suffer from the same illnesses and burn out. Forcing yourself to slow down makes you able to see all of the things you were missing because you were “too busy”.

    Rev. Liz

  2. Michelle Gordon

    I completely understand where you’re coming from. Since I got a phone that is basically a mini-computer, I am online 24/7. I never switch off. Which means that when I need to write my novels, it’s really hard to get into the zone because I am constantly distracted by facebook or whatsapp or email or twitter etc etc.
    I could just switch off my phone, but it has become something of an addiction. I find my only break is when I go to the gym and leave my phone at home.
    I do believe that there will soon be clinics and recovery centres for addicts just like me!
    But until then, I must go check facebook…

  3. Pamela DeLoatch

    Intriguing idea of needing reasons to say “Yes.” Often I do things I may not want to do because I feel I don’t have a good reason to say “no.” Maybe I should assume it’s no unless I have 5 good reasons to go in the other direction. Best of luck for continued recovery and good health.

  4. So. Good. You are such a great writer Michael and as I said on Twitter, I could have written every word. Some of the breaks I’ve taken in my career have been forced (illness) and some were by choice (baby) but both were such huge eye-openers. I realized what is *really* important and many of the things that I thought were mega-super-duper important pre-those moments turned out to not be so important after all. Huge hugs my friend.

    1. Maybe you should start writing all my articles. 😉 Nothing but a mutual admiration society Erin. I always love learning from you. You know, you were my first big social media inspiration/teacher…that made me go WOW! for realz…

  5. This resonates so much with me – 5 years ago, after burn out,
    I unplugged myself, stopped watching and reading
    News and stopped watching TV. People gasp in horror when i tell them this (especially as i work in digital!) and wonder How I can operate so ‘disconnected’ from reality, but weirdly I feel More in touch, less stressed and less fearful. It takes courage to do that, so well done!

  6. Hi Michael, kindred-spirit, love the honest story you told us here and even more your silence. Keep it up. I don’t understand twitter, I don’t have an account and have zero interest in opening one. And I am a life-long learner with a hungry mind that delights in intelectual discovery. I cannot relate to those strange codes people invite to write or to send. My eyes get just dizzy and my heart beats with anxiety thinking that I’d have to be in my life sending bits of info here there and everywhere. Non sense. Who invented that invented a sure formula to enslave humans and to steal our peace of mind. So congrats on your little blue bird fast. Somebody sent me a few days ago a note on infobesity with a picture of the twitty bird bloated, it was cute and felt sorry for him. Compassion for oneself and others also brings peace to our hearts. You’re doing well my friend…

  7. I love this. Love the honesty, love the courage, love the willingness to be open and to help others find their way through this mire of technological, spirit-sapping, non-essential and counter-productive over-doing (that we all do!). Happiness, Inspiration and Much Love to you, Michael! And thank you!

  8. Yes, Michael. This is superb!

    One time, you responded to my request about doing a collaborative article by saying, “Erin, I simply don’t have the band-with right now.” That was such a clean reply. It didn’t make me feel dismissed or disappointed at all. In fact, it taught me how to say no to others.

    Additionally, I’m on a mission to stop the glorification and overuse of the word “busy.” I’m a very busy person like we all are, but if Oprah called, I would find the time. We all find time for the things that truly matter.

    Here’s my new reply when I want or need to say NO, “I’m really engaged in my work right now and want to stay focused on some projects. Thanks for thinking of me.” It feels good and it reminds me that time for myself (and others) is valuable.

    You’re the bomb, MM!
    Many cheers, Erin

  9. Aloha Michael ~

    WOW! I’m going to send this to everybody I know and probably to a bunch of folks I don’t know, too! Practically every word on the page could have come through me (although probably not so beautifully written). I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in October, 2008. The experience has been devastating as well as extraordinarily rich with blessings, delivering me into a deeper understanding of who I am, why I am here and how I can serve. I’ve struggled with this boundary thing for years and PD has trumped the issue. As a 62 year-old earth mother/grandmother type woman, I find it challenging to shift the energetic dynamics of practically all the relationships in my life. It seems I am expected to be unconditionally and lovingly present in the lives of my family, my lover, my friends and my clients and students. There are so many layers to uncover and process in order to re-define and restore a more optimum energy flow. Sometimes the necessary changes are internal, other times external. It’s important to remind myself that this is a long term process sometimes requiring many baby steps before progress is visible.

    Also, in my family chocolate is considered to be in the 5 main food groups. Life would be incomplete without chocolate, so go for the best!

    Thank you so much for sharing your heart, mind and spirit here and may you always be able to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    ~ Judith Kahealani Lynne

      1. Thanks, Michael. I’ll take a good luck at your recommendation. It looks like an interesting product.

  10. 5%? I heard 20% once… :-0 And good for you for embracing your inner asshole and learning to say NO. I’m happy to hear that your taking care of yourself and will continue to do so—or else who’d teach us about storytelling?

    in my fourth semester of college I fainted in the cafeteria. I hadn’t really slept in 3 days, was drinking way to much coffee and not eating enough. In the end and after sleeping for 1.5 days I was fine, but I never did that again. And I’ve always stuck to my guns when asked to work too many late nights in a row. I know what this body can handle and if someone wants to challenge that boundary, I will quit—no joke.

    The math is so simple. 3-4 days of 12-14 hours = a week of me being sick after.

    So 3-4 days of 9-10 hours and no downtime is much more cost effective in the short term (no sick days) and long term (employee retention).

    Take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. And if that’s being an asshole, then be the biggest asshole you can be.

  11. I love it! It is very sympatico to how I’ve reoriented my own life. Bravo to listening to the silence.

  12. Sylvia Burgos Toftness

    A great post. You’ve hit on a struggle more and more of us are living with – and shouldn’t be! Best wishes on your continuing journey.

  13. Nedra Weinreich

    Thank you for sharing your story, Michael – it’s healthier for the rest of us to learn from your experience than to have to experience it ourselves. I’m still working on fighting my ego and my desire not to disappoint others, as well as the late night double shifts and constant drinking from the firehose (what if I miss something?!?!). I’m glad you’ve found your balance, and I’m going to try using your “5 reasons to say yes” approach.

  14. Great post. Having just come back from a holiday with very little access to the web or a mobile signal I am completely in agreement with the value of silence. Switching off is very valuable. All the best with keeping your balance and your health.

  15. Thanks for this. Good to know I’m not the only one feeling completely overwhelmed and invaded by social and being online all the time. I could swear it’s contributed to my near breakdown recently!

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  18. HI Mike, how is your energy level now? Are you tired during the day? Based on your blog I am going to see Dr Ricky Mitchell. Do you think it is worth it? I have fibro (and was doing great for a year!) but now develop early stage of Sjogren’s and the fatigue is a daily issue for me. Many thx

    1. Thanks, I’m feeling much better now. Dr Mitchell is very talented and specialized. Doesn’t take insurance though. A wonderful general practitioner who takes all insurance is Dr Polina Liss.

  19. I know what you are saying, while the internet has helped us writers a lot It seems to of brainwashed us into thinking we must know everything yesterday.
    My son who is a travel blogger wrote something similar, we keep in touch with Skype and sometimes he writes me,With envelopes and stamps and everything! There is something comforting getting a letter almost as comforting as knowing there is family size bar of chocolate in the fridge waiting for you( well it is the law in this country) and like Michelle was saying I think there will be a technologyholics meeting and all 3 of us will be there

  20. Hi Michael! I do not know if you check this thread anymore, but I read that you have been going to two doctors (Liss & Mitchell) in NYC in your posts. I wanted to ask which one of the two has diagnosed you with Lyme. The reason I am asking is because I have been told I have CFS and have been dealing with profound fatigue for over 7 months, but I was never tested for Lyme and never got any treatment for CFS. I am debating which doctor to go to from the ones you recommended. Any advice would be much appreciated.

    1. Hi Hannah – neither of these doctors diagnosed my Lyme. And I don’t blame them for it. There’s all sorts of things that can be going on, and Lyme is very difficult and controversial to diagnose.

      I went to another doctor in Los Angeles – Dr Murray Susser that flagged Lyme as suspect. My Western Blot was borderline, though my CD-57 lymphocite test confirmed a lyme spectrum infection. Then a Chinese Doctor in NYC – Dr Zhang eventually treated me using his clinically proven chinese herb protocol.

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