Reality Check: I Never Looked at “No” That Way

If we make a habit of seeking out information, we may occasionally find something that prompts us to think, “Huh! I never looked at it that way.” This came to my mind recently when I read an article by James Clear on the topic of saying “No.”
Clear’s statement about making yes/no decisions that attracted my attention was, “When you say no, you are only saying no to one option. When you say yes, you are saying no to every other option.”
A yes is not just a yes. It’s also a “no” to everything else.
We could argue that this isn’t true for all cases. For example, while saying yes to, “Will you marry me?” generally means all other marriage propositions are no longer an option, saying yes to, “Will you be my friend?” doesn’t mean you are saying no to having other friends.
It’s in our use of time where it’s easier to see that saying yes eliminates other options. Setting aside the perception that we can multitask, if I spend my time doing one thing, then I am not spending my time doing something else. It sounds obvious. Do we act as if it’s true?
Saying “yes” is a kind of default response for some folks, at least according to my observations. Unless there’s a clear reason to say no, they automatically say yes. Perhaps it reflects a perception that “yes” is a positive approach; it speaks of agreeableness, embracing opportunities, and being open to adventure. Fair enough.
Others take a different view; they are more likely to say no unless given a clear reason to say yes. That response may reflect a view that it’s wiser to say no to anything that would distract them from the purposes, goals or values that are important to them.
When I say yes to an activity, I am also saying no to other activities that I could do during that time. If I say yes to reading material that dulls and dispirits, then I’m also saying no to all the uplifting reading that I could be doing. And, if I say yes to fiddling with my phone, then I’m also saying no to paying attention to the person beside me.
This isn’t to suggest that one option is the right choice and others are wrong. It simply clarifies that when we say yes, we have made a choice. That choice of yes also contains no—we’re saying no to every other possibility for how we spend that time.
Is saying yes an effective choice? Like so many questions, the answer depends on what we want. Do we want to thank someone? Tell them that we love them? Encourage them? If those are the questions, then yes may be the answer that will take us where we want to go.
However, if we say yes to lashing out, to revisiting old hurts, to resenting another’s good fortune, then we might consider whether saying yes to those actions is an effective way to use our precious time.
“No” can get a bad rap, being associated with negativity and all. Yet, yes isn’t always the answer, is it? When we choose what we do, we also choose what we don’t do.
Light would have little meaning if we never had darkness, and “yes” would have little meaning if we didn’t have “no.” How does “no” fit into your life?

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