Power of the Positive No: Strategies for Intentional Decision Making

This content and the idea of the Positive No are adapted from the work of William Ury1. This is not intended as a summary of his work or book but rather adapted and expanded ideas that I thought would be interesting and relevant for the Valhalla community.

What is a Positive No?

When we choose to say NO to something in the service of a higher priority, or a more important and valuable commitment, we are choosing a Positive No. We are reflecting our true values by saying no to the things that prevent us from fulfilling our critical commitments. This does not just mean saying no to bad or harmful things! On the contrary, it means saying no to most things. Many of them good and useful things. It means being concretely aware of our purpose and goals and understanding that we have limited resources and time to apply towards them.

What does this have to do with trading?

Everything. Successful trading is not about math, or information, or intelligence. It is about intentional decision making. Are we able to make the best decision in the moment with the information available to us and without the complication of emotional bias? That’s it.

The only way to make these kinds of informed decisions is to know explicitly what our goals and values are:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • What are willing to do (and not willing to do) to achieve it?
  • Why is it important to us?

Yes. No. Yes.

The positive no is in some ways more about saying yes than it is about saying no. This is what it looks like:

  • We say YES to our goals and values. We choose what is important to us and what we have set out to achieve and we commit to it with a yes.
  • We say NO to the things that are not in service of our goals and values. We remove the obstacles and distractions by saying no to them.
  • We have the freedom and the resources to say YES to what is required to achieve our goals and fulfill our commitments.

Examples of this show up everywhere in our life. Anywhere there is a goal, there are opportunities to exert our Positive No to remove distractions or setbacks, and to advance it. Some examples specific to trading:

  • Resisting the urge to enter late into a popular position that is no longer viable
  • Exiting a position when the risk profile or setup has changed even if the price target has not been met
  • Maintaining discipline on position sizing
  • Avoiding trades we do not understand or have not properly researched

Ury offers a visualization of the Yes, No, Yes formula as a tree:


We first say YES to our values and goals. We decide what is important and commit to it. These are the roots of the tree, the foundation. We build on those commitments by saying NO to the things that are not in support of our goals, the core strength of the tree, the trunk. The roots and the trunk are what give the tree the incredible ability to support the weight of the branches, leaves, and fruit. The success. Our success.

Rules are good. Values and Goals are better.

Many people (and traders) achieve the discipline of their NO by creating strict rules to operate within. Rules can often be a valuable and necessary tool in building discipline. Ultimately though, life and the market are dynamic, and it is important that we stretch beyond rule making and develop the ability to assess change and make dynamic decisions. The only way we do that is if we understand our values and our goals and we say NO often, so that we have the capital, resources, energy, and courage to say YES when it matters.

In closing, consider this well-known quote from the trading world and how closely it aligns with the concept of the Positive No:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” - Warren Buffett

[size=1]1. Ury, William. The Power of the Positive No: Save the Deal, Save the Relationship, and Still Say No. Bantam, 2007.[/size]