“Probably some of the best things that have ever happened to you in life, happened because you said yes to something. Otherwise things just sort of stay the same.”
Danny Wallace, Yes Man
I need to start with a confession. Yes Man changed my life; that and Rear Window, but that’s another story. I have the book on my bookshelf, which I eagerly said yes to when I saw it in a charity shop, and which remains unread to this day. But the film changed my life. It came at a time when I had had enough of saying no to things. I was ready to open up and as the saying goes, when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear. And Jim Carrey was my unlikely teacher.
Saying yes to things is a blog post in itself, but I’m talking about nos. Mindfulness is about balance; equanimity; the middle way. When I started saying yes, I really said yes. And like so many of us in the modern world, I found myself succumbing to the busy epidemic. It was fun at first. I was doing everything I dreamed of. And more. And more. And then the more got bigger, and there was less and less room for the ‘everything I dreamed of’.
One of the hardest things to accept, being human, is our limitations. We don’t live forever, and a year often seems to pass too quickly, never mind a week or a day. For me, saying yes to things has helped to combat this. I have said yes to so many things that when I look back and realise how much has happened in a year, it feels like it should have actually been longer. In that little way, I’ve slowed time down for me.
But slowing time down doesn’t stop it, and it’s important to think about how you want to spend it. The first step is to recognise that whenever we say yes to something, whether through conscious choice or unconscious habit, we also have a ‘no’ available to us. Used wisely, it’s one of the strongest weapons in our armour.
In her last blog post, Sarah talked about how mindfulness has helped her to focus more clearly and to gain greater insight into how wisely she is spending her time. I’ve definitely noticed the same effects since practicing mindfulness myself. When we realise we only have a limited amount of time and when we figure out what matters most to us (see my earlier posts for a lot of discussion about this), it becomes easier to say no to the things that detract from what matters.
I love projects and I can have a tendency to jump right in and just assume there will be time for everything. But I’ve just put my jewellery business up for sale so that I can focus more on playing guitar. I could do both, but I’m choosing to say even more yes to guitar. Another no I’ve said recently is to late nights. I was getting overtired, trying to fit too many forms of being productive into one day; squeezing every last bit of juice I could out of the day. Now I’ve said yes to self-care, to having energy the next day and to feeling relaxed and like life has a slower pace. Another no happened recently when I declined an invite and explained that I was tired and emotional and knew I needed to take care of myself. My friend was struck by my honesty and it made me realise how common it is that we only feel we have a valid reason to say no when we have an excuse to hand, usually in the form of something else that’s already in the diary. On reflection, I’m sure an excuse could cause far more offense – people sense when we’re being inauthentic.
I’ve tried extreme no-ism, and it brought me boredom, lack of confidence and a sense of stagnation. I’ve tried extreme yes-ism and it opened up a whole world of opportunities. Yes has brought with it excitement, challenge, fear, confidence, passion, courage, meaning, joy, pain and a sense of being fully alive. But it has also brought (at times) tiredness, confusion, choice paralysis and overwhelm. Now I find the path of being mindful and self-aware has led me to the point of choice and I’m so glad I’ve managed to make this transition. Nos provide us with a challenge – something to let go of. Mindfulness has helped me learn to let go.
I will always love yes; it gives my life meaning and brings me happiness. But I’ve also discovered that it’s OK to say no; you don’t need to justify anything (to yourself or others) when you are being authentic. The biggest learning curve for me in all this has been that if I value yes as much as I say I do, the only way to say a real, wholehearted, committed yes to some things is to know when to say no.