It has been said that “life is the sum of all your choices.” To a great degree, this is true. We’re deciding all the time, and these decisions create our reality. How well we make these decisions dictates how we live. Deciding well is an indispensable skill. In reflecting on this quote by Richard Branson, I realize that, while I agree in a general sense, saying no is just as important as saying yes. It’s all about discernment–a combination of judgment and intuition that guides your decisions and shapes your destiny. Don’t leave home without it!
“Yes!” has a certain exuberance and adventure to it. “Yes, I will jump off the 20 foot cliff into fresh water.” I actually did this on our holiday trip to Mexico a few weeks ago. I also said yes to parasailing. While this was a bit uncharacteristic for me, these experiences add something to who I am. In that sense, Richard is right. Saying yes was more fun than choosing fear and saying no. However, I’ve also said yes to riding one too many waves in the ocean when I knew better and found myself at the local hospital. (Read the full story in my book.)
Saying yes sounds cool, yet saying yes can totally derail us. When we go around saying yes to every invitation and every bid for our time, what we create might be fun, but it’ll probably end up being a big mess. Picture this: two sweet Jehovah’s Witnesses come to your door and would like to sit in your living room with you for an hour or so. Yes?
Absolutes are unrealistic, because life is about balance. To say yes to something, in fact, you must say no to something else. Yes, I will take the dog for a hike, which means, no, I will not organize that drawer. (Good choice, right?)
Unsure about a direction? Choose one and try it out. People can get very stuck in a comfort zone that really does nothing for oneself or the world. Shrinking from challenges means knowing no victory. “No risk, no reward” is an apt saying. We have the flexibility to change course if a “yes” turns out later to be the wrong choice. We can turn our attention, at that point, to another “yes.”
In my experience with clients, I’ve seen things go wrong when people go to extremes; either saying no all the time or saying yes too much. People who tend to say no often look depressed. Literally shut down, their lives constrict and they feel paralyzed to create. People who say yes too much end up with lots of experiences that don’t necessarily add up to much more than confusion. That is, they dissipate their energy in so many directions that they fail to build something tangible and fortifying.
Personality has everything to do with our tendency to go for it or to decline. An Enneagram 6, who favors caution, may say no to a trip to the Galapagos Islands. While an Enneagram 7, who favors adventure, may be globe-trotting so much that they can’t keep a job to pay for all the travel. So, it comes down to discernment. Meeting life with an attitude of yes is exciting. Saying yes often is fun. Yet, we have to be judicious. The idea that yes is good and no is bad could get us into a heap of trouble.
Here’s a rule of thumb. If it makes your heart soar and you get the inner yes, engage your intellect. What are the pros and cons? (Caution: do NOT overanalyze.) If it makes enough sense, say yes. And realize that saying yes too much is like having too much chocolate. A bit is medicinal, and too much can be toxic. In order to fully embrace “Yes,” as a lifestyle choice, think of it as an orientation rather than an answer. Can you generally greet life with an expansive, curious attitude that smiles openly to embrace all of life? To that, I say, “Yes!”