One of the things I’ve noticed over my years in my work is the amount of energy people invest in saying no. The form varies (No, I can’t. No, that’s not realistic. No, that’s not likely. No, they’ll never want to.), but at the heart of it all lies one central theme – a negative assessment of potential and possibility.
No as a default response
I’m not against saying no. Clearly, it has its place. But most people jump to it far too soon. Have you ever had a doctor test your reflexes by tapping your knee with a little rubber mallet, and your leg just jerks up of its own accord? For most people, saying no is a little like that. It’s a default, reflex response.
I’ve seen that default no ultimately turn to yes far too many times to set much stock in its inherent validity. But when you accept it as the final answer, you cheat yourself of the potential and possibility that yes might bring with it. And odds are good you’ve done it without even realizing it.
Let the possibility exist
Let’s say there’s something you really want to do, but your knee-jerk reaction is to shut down the idea. Make it something simple, like, “I want to take a glass-blowing class.” Your default no might feel very reasonable. Something like, “I don’t have enough time” or “it’s too expensive.”
But if you resist the urge to say no immediately, you can take stock of the things getting in your way. Let’s say one of the big things is that it feels too expensive. One thing you might do in that case is sit down and make an assessment of where your money is going. You might realize that you can cut out some other expenses to make room for the class. Or you might figure out how much money you can regularly set aside and make a goal to start the class in a certain number of months.
Note that all I’m talking about here is not saying no. You don’t have to say yes to taking action. You simply need to say yes to allowing the possibility to exist. When you allow a possibility to exist, you keep the door open to exploring ways to make it happen. When you say no prematurely, you slam that door shut.
Try making a habit of saying yes to allowing possibility to exist. Here are some steps to help you make it a habit.
Notice: Pay attention to when you default to saying no.
Step back from no: Just for the moment, step back from saying a decisive no.
Examine the reasons: Take a look at why you are saying no. Make a list.
Explore ways to make it yes: For each of those reasons you’re saying no, explore ways you might make it yes. Depending on what it is you’re looking at, that could be as simple as a quick brainstorm of ideas or as deeply involved as researching it, getting ideas from other people, etc. You might also take a close look at whether your reasons for saying no are really valid, or whether they are based on faulty assumptions.
Say yes or no to taking action: Finally, make a decision on whether or not to take action. At this point, you’re prepared to make that choice based on a deep insight and understanding, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.
You can use this approach for small things like the glass-blowing class I mentioned here, as well as big things, like a potential career path. You have nothing to lose by saying yes until it really is time to say no (or yes!). There is only upside.
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After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As a speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren’s blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.