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The other day my father was telling me a business-related story about the old days of yore and it ended with this bit, “So, I asked John if he’d join me on this new project, and he said, ‘I’m trying to get stuff out of my life, not get more stuff in my life.'”

Trying to get stuff out of my life.

I realized that I have been doing this myself recently, but not in necessarily by choice, and because I’m not making the active choice to get stuff out of my life, the things that are leaving might not be the things I want to leave.

I have the ‘yes’ disease. I love to say yes! It feels good, like I’m embracing life and infinite possibility every time I utter the word. In contrast, saying ‘no’ feels like shutting a door in someone’s face, and cutting off a connection. There has to be a healthy balance.

In an effort to figure out a way to stop being so addicted to ‘yes’, I googled “simplify your life by saying no” and found quite a few links.

This organization newsletter spoke to me and made me not feel so alone. Other people experience ‘yes’ and ‘no’ the same way that I do! (All of the caps are theirs, not mine.)

Saying “yes” is a way for us to connect with others, to establish relationships and build community. People invite us into their lives by asking us to PARTICIPATE in some way, and it’s only human to want to say “yes” to this. On the flip side, therefore, we experience saying “no” as a disconnection, as a way of SEPARATING ourselves from others, and creating distance. Connection to others is a big part of the human experience. And I want to suggest that connection with ourselves is just as (if not more) critical. It’s easy to avoid addressing our own needs when our calendars and to-do lists are filled with addressing others’ needs. This is not to say that addressing others’ needs is not a noble thing to do; of course it is! But when it’s at the expense of your own self-actualization, then you owe it to yourself to ask “WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU SAY NO?”

So, what will happen if I say no instead of yes? It could sever some connections, it might cut off an immediate option to bond and connect, but by freeing that time I might also be opening up a wide field of opportunity for future bonding and connection that might happen at some higher level.

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Excuse me while I look suspiciously at that last line I typed. It resembles a bunch of elitist hooey. Is it dangerous to think that some unknown future interaction might be more valuable than an interaction I am being offered right here and now? Is it dangerous to rank experiences and relationships in this way? At the same time, as someone who has now edited three novels before finishing one of her own, I think it’s time for me to really evaluate what happens if I say no.

I need to cure the ‘yes’ sickness. I need to make my peace with ‘no’. I need to make my peace with disconnection. I need to embrace, to a degree, being someone who can wield a knife. If only to cut out this ‘yes’ disease.

8 thoughts on “Simplify: Curing the ‘Yes’ Disease

  1. I have the opposite problem. My default reaction is, “No.” No, I can’t do that. No, I don’t have time to attend. No, I’m not interested. Often, after I think it over, I have to go back and ask if it’s too late to say Yes. Sometimes it is, and I miss out on something I would have enjoyed or where I could have made a difference. My default is as flawed as yours.

    As a result, I try very very hard not to react immediately, to say, “I’ll get back to you on that.” Or, “I have to check my schedule.” Or – cravenly – “I have to check with my son/granddaughter/friend to see if they can change their schedule to free me up” when, really,I’m not even on their schedule. (This is a variation on the adolescent tried-and-true, “I’d love to, but my mother won’t let me.”)

    I don’t always remember to temporize, but when I do, it usually works. njs

    1. Ah, that’s fascinating! During my big depression, I was a very ‘no’ person, and resisted everything or got very anxious about everything asked of me. One of the ‘rules’ I made to turn my life around was to say ‘yes’ to every request so long as it didn’t violate my personal ethics or morals and so long as I could reasonably afford it. It was a massive change in my life when I did that, and now I just need to learn to find balance. Saying ‘yes’ isn’t the only way to embrace life. Sometimes saying ‘no’ is for the higher good. ❤

  2. I think we’re both similarly optimistic people who like saying yes. But you have to find a balance. There are times when saying yes just isn’t possible. There’s only so much one person can juggle! When you try to do too much, everything suffers because you get burnt out. Balance is key! 🙂

    1. Yes, balance is totally key. I think you’re right. As I was saying above, back during my Big Bad Depression, part of how I clawed my way out of it was by making a kind of rule for myself that I had to say ‘yes’ to everything that was not a violation of my life rules and which I could reasonably afford. Just embracing life that way was huge for me, and it was key to turning me around entirely. Now, though, I have to learn balance and say ‘yes’ a lot less. *nods*

  3. I think there are different times for yes and no in our lives. A friend once told me, as a single person, that I should accept every invitation because one day, I might meet The One and as soon as that happened, my ability to say yes to everything would change, as that person, and subsequently children, would alter – yes, limit – my ability to do everything, anything, any time. Her reasoning was that when someone wonderful came into your life, then the tradeoff would be worth it for a new, special and intimate way of being, but in the meantime, or perhaps forever, lots of fun could be had and new connections made, so we should take advantage of the opportunity. In her eyes and mine it was a win-win scenario.

    I also think that because our lives tend to be rather longer than we expect, if all goes well, there is going to be time at the front and the back to say yes more often. When kids are grown, maybe partners gone or, if we’re very lucky, work days over and we’re comfortably retired, then there are just as many chances to say “yes” as when we were single and in college.

    1. I think these are great points, BKelly. I think that balance is definitely key, and figuring out when ‘yes’ is the right answer is important. I think that, for me, balance is definitely what I’m looking for because I think I’ve gone too far to the ‘yes’ side. Of course, this is, in part, because during my bout with depression, saying ‘yes’ was part of what saved me. When things really started turning around for me was when I decided to start saying ‘yes’ to everything instead of ‘no’ to everything. Now, I try to say ‘yes’ to most every experience that doesn’t violate my personal ethical code. Like, clearly, saying ‘yes’ to an affair is out, but saying ‘yes’ to anything I can reasonably afford and doesn’t violate my life rules has, for a long time, been a requirement for me. But I need to change my rules so that saying ‘yes’ is only done if it is for the higher good for everyone involved…including me! Sometimes I put myself last too much. ❤

  4. I have trouble saying ‘no’, too. I guess I am a people pleaser and hate to disappoint, so I will agree to do things that I really don’t feel like doing. I find it hard to think on the spot, to think of an excuse why I can’t do such-and-such, so I say ‘yes’. 🙂

    1. I have a complicated relationship with saying ‘yes’ because, in a way, saying ‘yes’ was a life-saver for me. During my bout with depression, nearly 8 years ago now, I managed to fight my way out of it by saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ to almost everything asked of me. So, in that way, I found that ‘yes’ is very life-giving, and it helped to save me. Now, though, I say ‘yes’ too much, and I need to learn some balance. 🙂

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