For whatever reason, I’ve always been a cautious and reserved person. I tend not to agree to plans on a whim or leave the house unprepared. Even in college, my nickname was “Sensible.”
For years, whenever someone would present me with an opportunity, my default response was always “No.” I couldn’t commit to something without all the details — where, when, what, who, why — I wanted to know everything and weigh my options before giving an answer. But the problem was, I already had. I was saying “No” to things and never actually reconsidering them. Or worse, I was reconsidering, but the opportunity had already passed.
Over the years, I’ve realized that what I always considered to be extreme cautiousness was more likely a mild anxiety issue — a fear of the things I couldn’t predict, plan, or control. And as a result, I was missing out on a lot of amazing opportunities.
Start Saying Yes
The best thing I ever did for myself was to start saying, “Yes.”
Yes took me on a last-minute trip to Puerto Rico, which changed my life. Yes reconnected me with old friends. Yes is why I’m moving to Colorado this summer.
It wasn’t easy or comfortable to start saying “Yes” more often. The problem with saying yes to most things is that you’re going to realize after you’ve agreed that maybe it’s not something you actually want to do. You have to accept that it’s okay to say no later. This isn’t about negotiating your relationship to risk — that’s different, though just as important.
This is about changing your default response from “No” to “Yes”, or even a simple, “Let me think about it.” It’s about not turning down opportunities, but at least considering them.
How do you change such a fundamental and instinctive response? By figuring out why “No” is your first response.
For me, I was saying “No” because I feared the unknown. But learning to accept that what I shouldn’t waste time worrying about things that I can’t control gave me the freedom to accept chance — to accept mishaps and bad luck — and to trust myself, knowing that I could take on whatever I hadn’t planned for.
[Tweet “A bird sitting in a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not in the branch but in her own wings.”]
Take Peru, for example. I never expected my flight to get cancelled, forcing me to travel and stay the night alone in Lima or spend hours trying to find my friends in a foreign city. There were no backup plans in case that happened — there was just, “Get there and figure it out.” And the trip was amazing! But it never would have happened if I hadn’t said “Yes” when my friends asked me to go, or if I hadn’t said “Yes” to the airline rebooking me (rather than just cancelling the trip) when my plans went south. I knew I could do it — whatever it took to get there, I could handle. And that’s what made me say “Yes.”
It’s Okay to Say No
If you don’t want to do something, it’s still, and always will be, okay to say “No.”
Not everyone wants to jump out of a plane or move across the country to start over, and there is nothing wrong with that. But knowing your boundaries may require finding them first. How can you know what you don’t want in your life if you haven’t said yes to a few things first?
Remember: it’s about considering your opportunities before turning them down.
When someone ask you to do something, take a deep breath. Don’t turn an opportuntiy because it’s new, different or scary. Think about it. Tell them you’ll think about it.
The best people in your life will respect that, but you have to make sure to give them an answer, too.
When You Say Yes, Mean It!
This has always been my greatest flaw — I’ve worked so hard to try and say “yes” to more things, but anxiety sometimes still gets the better of me. I get nervous and afraid, worried or honestly just lazy, and I back out at the last minute.
Don’t be like me. I don’t want to be like me. I’m sick of being a flake. I want others to know that when I say I’ll do something, it will get done. (This is my #1 goal for 2016.)
But this is all the more reason to really think about that first response. Maybe don’t agree right away, but don’t just outright say no. Say you’ll think about, then really think about it.
Stop defaulting to NO and watch your life begin to happen.