I sometimes wonder how a world might look where we truly loved the word “no.” Would it be customary to send our exes a “thank you for not choosing me” note when we get married to the person who is right for us?

Would we understand what gift they have given us by concluding our relationship—allowing us the freedom to find a better fit?

I think changing how we feel about the word “no” is one of the biggest steps we can take to improve our lives, and the lives of those around us.

While this is a never-ending journey, here are four steps that can help us get started:

1. Become aware of our preferences

In most cultures, it’s not only salespeople who dislike the word “no.” Many people subconsciously prefer its more positive counterpart.

You can easily find out if you have a similar preference by saying “yes” and “no” out loud. How does the first word make you feel in comparison with the second?

In my experience, most people who do this exercise feel better when they say “yes.” They might report that it sounds uplifting, or they may notice a sense of possibility, openness, and movement.

In contrast, saying “no” can have a more distancing energy tied into its meaning. It can feel like we are shutting things down, and it may even threaten our sense of belonging to a group. Many of us may have learned during adolescence that in some group settings saying “no” to a suggestion would make you the outsider.

2. Become aware of the personal meaning we ascribe to the word “no”

In addition to the cultural and group-related reasons above, many people dislike the word “no” for personal reasons. Specifically, it is common to make this word about us, and our values. If a magazine doesn’t accept our article, if a company doesn’t respond to our job application, or if a person we dated never gets back to us, a typical response is to feel like we are not good enough for them, or that something is wrong with us.

Similarly, we may not like saying “no” out of fear that the other person will feel rejected.

3. Changing the story of what “no” means

But what happens if we changed our internal story about what “no” means?

What if a “no” were not actually a judgement about our value as a human (or as a writer, an employee, or a date), but just a judgement of the fit between what someone is seeking out and what you can offer?

Let me use a personal example: when talking with potential coaching clients, some of them will decide that what I have to offer is not for them. Now, I could choose to take their “no” (or “not yet”) as a value judgement about me as a person, or at least about me as a coach.

However, the truth is that their “no” is not about my value, just as my “no” wouldn’t be about their value. A “no” is merely about the appropriateness of the fit between us, as well as the timing of our connection. Ultimately, it boils down to whether what someone is looking for is a good fit with what I can offer.

The best thing I could do for them (and myself) is to tell them as soon as possible that I don’t have what they are looking for.

4. Seeing the value of the word “no”

Many people would hate to hear the word “no” from a person they went on a date with—even if they themselves had no interest in pursuing a relationship with them.

I believe that is because we do not see the perniciousness of an inauthentic “yes.” What I mean is a “yes” that we’ve said when we really want to say “no,” but we don’t listen to our intuition.

When you hear such a “yes,” it may temporarily make you feel better about yourself. It may give you hope that you have a potential partner, job opportunity, or customer in front of you. The problem is that unless the “yes” is authentic, this hope is not based on reality. Thus, an inauthentic “yes” can lead to you wasting time and energy going down a dead end, instead of spending it somewhere where it could yield great results.

Similarly, when you say “yes” to another person (even though they are a “no” for you), you may temporarily feel better because you think you are not hurting someone by “rejecting” them. However, expressing an authentic “no” is often the kindest thing you can do in a situation where there’s not a fit. In addition to saving both of you time and energy, it gives clarity and direction.

A genuine “no” can help everyone involved to find their authentic “yes.” And what greater gift could we give to, or receive from anyone?

As Richard Norton put it: “Say no to everything, so you can say yes to the one thing.”