“If you must say yes, say it with an open heart. If you must say no, say it without fear.”
– Paulo Coelho
Ever notice how popular science and popular advice tend to come in diametrically opposed pairs? Making your bed is good….er, bad. Red wine is bad for you…er, good. It’s better to be an early riser … or maybe night owls have the advantage… You get the idea.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on conflicting advice about saying Yes and saying No. I think the idea of saying “Yes” to everything was made popular by Shonda Rhymes’ book, Year of Yes. At the same time, there are a bazillion books on the topic of learning to say “No” ̶ here’s one best-seller.
I was thoughtfully given the Year of Yes as I began to plan a career transition. The idea behind “yessing” everything is to push yourself out of your comfort zone, try new things, and be more open-minded. But after reading the book it occurred to me that I said “Yes” too much, to some very wrong things. On the other hand, I had also said “No” to many things that would, in retrospect, have been good for me.
As I contemplated my personal history with Yesses and Nos, I saw a long string of miscues resulting in BIG errors in judgement.
I bought a house I didn’t want. I took my business in a direction I didn’t want to go. I hired people who were terrible fits. I took on toxic clients. These were life-diminishing, financially damaging, psychologically exhausting errors.
That’s when I came up with the idea of Year of Me. I would take a year to figure out what was going on in my head. Here’s what I learned:
- Many of my Yesses were Nos in disguise. By saying “Yes” to other people’s “shoulds”, I often said No to my inner voice/intuition.
- My Nos often became Yesses against my better judgement thanks to some interesting mental gymnastics.
- It wasn’t about Yesses and Nos at all – it was about inner voice: having one, hearing it, speaking it, honouring it.
Yet, even once I had sorted out how and why I was misfiring on big, important decisions, trusting myself to make better decisions was difficult. Now I could visualize the change I wanted, but years of poor decision-making had made me skittish. I needed to strengthen some abandoned and never-developed muscles before I could hear, understand, and trust my inner voice.
In the end, it wasn’t about doing more or less Yes-ing or No-ing. It was about tuning-in to intuition, recognizing cognitive dissonance, and learning the difference between what I felt versus what others thought.
What began as a hostile battle with Fear and Ego has settled into light, sporadic sparring. I’m growing stronger at reading those opponents, anticipating their moves, and avoiding the blows.
Line up your exes and ohs.
Reflect on the decisions you’ve made that, in retrospect, were clearly wrong for you.
Also think about the decisions you’ve made that have turned out to be really great.
What do the wrong decisions have in common? What do the right decisions have in common? Don’t focus on the decisions themselves, but instead on the processes you used to make them.
- What do you do consistently when you make poor choices?
- What do you do consistently when you make great choices?
- Mindful Change
- The Adult Chair podcast
- How the Light Gets In: Writing as Spiritual Practice – Pat Schneider