Lots has been said – and rightly so! – about developing the ability to say no when we mean it; over a range of different contexts, from parenting to consensual sex to professional authority, we are so often reminded to emphasise, to stand firm and be clear that “No means no!” But choosing to say yes and truly meaning it… that can be hard too!
I’ve been reflecting on the differences between agreement and acquiescence: how do you say a whole-hearted yes, without the simmering discontent or quiet regret that often accompanies a ‘Yes, though I mean maybe’, or the rolled eyes and steaming ears as ‘Okay fine, yes’ is growled through gritted teeth? Or even the hesitation and self-doubt that can plague the thereafter with a “Should I really have said yes?” For me, it comes down to two active processes: before and after each choice, and I’m trying to remind myself to focus on these better.
1. Respecting my own reasoning: Before I arrive at any conscious decision, whether trivial or profound, I’ve invariably weighed several factors: some of which I am aware of (how much pleasure I’ll get from another coffee vs my struggle to fall asleep tonight) while others are background processes (the smell of roasted coffee beans, for instance) that make a choice more obvious or more irresistible. But I reason, I weigh my options, and I choose to be led by my desire or my rationality. What I need to do next is honour that process. Trust in myself better, and accept without regret once I have made that choice. Whether the choice was made by my head or my heart, instinctively or empirically, I need to respect the reasoning that got me there… And stop second-guessing myself!
2. Committing to the decision, wholly: Saying yes is often only the beginning! The real challenge is to follow through with a truly open heart, and participate whole-heartedly in what follows. Whether it means giving up something, giving in to a temptation or giving of myself, a ‘Yes’ can be rendered meaningless without generosity and commitment. Choosing to work freelance, for instance – one of my bigger professional decisions – would be so much less fulfilling and less effective if I did not commit to it, invest in it and stay true to the decision once I had made it. That’s not to suggest there is no going back or reconsidering a decision when new factors emerge. There always is. But, until something significant changes, I need to remind myself to commit myself fully to each decision I’ve made, and stay generous in spirit as I go along with the decision. (If I agree to cook a meal for friends but grumble through the afternoon as I do it, I would certainly not be much fun by the time the meal is served!)
And the best part of the yes cycle is what follows next: Gratitude. Saying yes, and consciously choosing to live up to that yes, has opened me up to greater gratitude – and I am hoping to get better at both expressing it, and accepting it. But maybe gratitude deserves a separate post all of its own…
Until then, I close with a beautiful Thich Nhat Hanh visualisation technique; use it to approach your next YES!
“Breathing in, feel something positive; breathing out, say yes.
Breathe in energy, breathe out yes.
Breathe in calm, breathe out yes.”
(Some of my thinking along these lines has been triggered by my current reading of ‘The Righteous Mind“. A fascinating exploration of morality related to politics and religion, it prompted me to question how we make the choices we do. I’m only just beginning to read the book, so I won’t/can’t share much more, but I do recommend it highly!)