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When Saying Yes is the Mindful Answer

June 19, 2018
When Saying 'Yes' is the Mindful Answer | Tiny Ambitions

We’ve all read posts about how saying no will change our lives. In fact, I spoke about it in Tiny Bites 13. And, I stand by that. It can be incredibly powerful to say no to social commitments, or other responsibilities when your plate is already full.

However, I’ve recently come to realize there is a lot to be gained from saying ‘yes’. Even when you normally wouldn’t do so. If you’re saying ‘yes’ out of obligation that is one thing. But, if you’re saying ‘no’ out of fear, that is another thing altogether.

The simple living movement behind saying ‘no’ has essentially given me permission to say no to things under the guise of slowing down and not overwhelming my life. However, I’ve recently noticed that a lot of the time when I say ‘no’ to something, it’s out of fear, not as a means of self-empowerment. Saying no because you are afraid or fearful of something is not a courageous act of self-love – it’s the opposite.

When Saying Yes is the Mindful Answer {Pin} | Tiny Ambitions

Let me give you an example.

Last Friday at work was one of our biggest events of the year. Ok, it was THE biggest event of the year. It meant an early start, a late end and a lot of sunburns (that’s the last time I forget my sunscreen and wear a sleeveless dress in June). I could not have been more tired at the end of the day. I wasn’t even tired – I was exhausted.

So, when an invite came in to socialize for the first time with some old neighbours, my normal gut-instinct of no kicked in. Frankly, I had every right to not want to go. I was so tired and all I wanted to do was curl into a ball and sleep for 12 hours straight. This was one of the few times in my life that I felt a ‘no’ would be justified.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I heard the worst ‘Yes’ escape from my mouth.  Sure, I said, let’s hang out and grab a drink. We’ll bring the snacks – see you in twenty minutes!

I don’t know who was more shocked, myself or Mr. TA. I am not a socially inclined person on the very best of days, so to have committed to a social outing on this day, when I felt like gum being scraped off of a shoe, was a major achievement.

We had never socialized with this group of people before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. It could have easily been the worst decision I’ve ever made. And just thinking that it could potentially be the worst situation ever, would have been enough to normally convince me to say ‘no’ and pass.

But, you know what?

It was freaking awesome.

Yes, I was exhausted. And, yes, sleep is something I really like to do. But, it was equally enjoyable to hang out in a new friend’s backyard, stuff our faces with chips, and enjoy a cool beverage.

It was one of those evenings that you didn’t expect. And one that I wouldn’t have experienced if I stuck to my old ‘no, thanks’ standby.

Maybe it’s because it’s so freaking hard to make friends as a working adult. Or maybe it’s because I could just sense these new friends were going to be awesome. Either way, I decided to go for it.

I decided to stare my fear of socializing (and my social anxiety in general), and exhaustion in the face and say, ‘you know what? This is what I need right now’. ‘Even if I end up making a fool of myself and we never see these people again, I will know that I put myself out there and tried’.

That might sound melodramatic to you if you’re a social person. But to me, socializing has a ton of anxiety built into it that is (often) paralyzing and disempowering. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I spill wine on my shirt? What if we don’t have the same taste in music? These kinds of questions play on a loop in my brain until I’m convinced that socializing is some sort of evil plot to make me make a fool out of myself. Saying ‘no’ to that consistently saves me from having to deal with any potential pain, rejection or embarrassment.

The ‘saying no’ movement gave me permission to do that.

And, for a while, it worked and I was a perfectly happy non-socializing turtle.

But, the problem with ‘saying no’ is that, if you’re saying ‘no’ out of fear, you’re closing yourself off to all kinds of wonderful experiences and opportunities. Are you saying no to a promotion at work because you genuinely don’t want the responsibility (and stress) that comes along with that promotion? Or, are you saying no to it because you are afraid of failing? Those are two very different scenarios.  

The first one is absolutely valid. Maybe you have enough on your plate already and really enjoy working with your team. Saying no to a promotion (or added responsibilities, or an overseas transfer) in that context might very well be the right decision for you. The second one is holding you back from achieving your true potential (of which, I’m sure you have a lot). Making that decision driven by fear is a sure way to make certain that you never have to find out if you’re capable of handling it.

So how do you know if you’re making a decision (aka saying no) out of fear?

For me, it starts with the negative self-talk. Like, ‘oh, I’m sure they wouldn’t be interested in what I’m saying anyway. So we don’t have to bother going’. Or ‘I’m sure I wouldn’t be any good at that job, so I won’t bother accepting their offer’.

If you’re approaching a decision from that kind of negative place, it’s a sure sign that fear (rather than self-love) is playing a role.  

The next time you feel your gut instinct of ‘no’ kicking in, it may be worth it to take some time to interrogate if you’re saying no out of self-love, or out of fear.

If it’s out of self-love and maintaining your boundaries, all the power to you. Stick to your ‘no’ firmly. But, if you’re saying no out of fear, it may be time to wrestle that fear. How else will you make sure cool new friends or accept an awesome promotion or start a blog (etc, etc) if you never put yourself out there?

Have you ever said no to something you know wanted deep down, out of fear?

P.S. If you missed Tiny Bites 30: Creativity and Minimalism, have a listen!

Image Credit: Tiny Ambitions

  • Anne July 16, 2018 at 5:35 am

    I’m glad you said YES to that! It’s often the times when we get out of our comfort zone (and also get past the tiredness of the moment) – it’s those moments that bring us joy and help us grow. We all need to keep an eye out for these moments when we’re considering saying NO just for the sake of it or because of fear. A moderation of YES and NO is probably the right thing to do but the difficult part is to know when you should say what.

    • Britt July 16, 2018 at 8:20 am

      I completely agree! It’s hard to tell the difference between a yes and no for the right reasons at the beginning. Once you get a feel for it though, it’s much easier! Thanks for reading, Anne.

  • snarkingtofreedom June 25, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    Ohhhh, that is such a good way to separate fear from actual impossibility. This is really timely, I have been trying (with limited success) to say yes to more new things, but it can be so scary😭

    • Britt June 25, 2018 at 10:32 pm

      It is such a scary process to move out of a place of fear and into a place where you can trust yourself. Keep working on it- it might not happen every time for you, but it’s well worth the effort.

  • Tread Lightly, Retire Early June 20, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    I love this as the flip side to the Yes post I wrote a couple months ago – I tend to swing the other direction of saying yes to wayyyy too many (good) things that I didn’t even consider it from the other direction.

    • Britt June 20, 2018 at 3:59 pm

      I swing on a pendulum at either end. I’ll say no to everything for a while and then realize I’ve been shutting myself off from experiences. Then I’ll say yes to everything and end up burning myself out. There is definitely a fine balance to be struck!

  • Erin | Reaching for FI June 20, 2018 at 11:24 am

    It’s such a delicate balance between saying yes or no for the right reasons, isn’t it?! I’ve been trying to say yes to new things for the last year or so now without overwhelming or overcommitting myself. And I’ve also been saying no to things because I’m too tired to go and fully enjoy it, or because I just need some time off. I guess all I can do is continue interrogating WHY I want to say no: is it because I am actually too exhausted, or am I just using that as an excuse to avoid a new/uncertain/potentially unsettling but potentially awesome situation?

    • Britt June 20, 2018 at 3:58 pm

      It is such a balancing act! And you’re right – the only way to know which answer is the right one in any given situation is to be honest with yourself about your motivations. Maybe you are really tired on a given day. Or, maybe you just don’t want to go because it could be challenging or uncomfortable. Either answer is fine, as long as you’re being honest with yourself. Thanks for your insightful comment, Erin!

  • Penny (@picksuppennies) June 20, 2018 at 7:23 am

    Yes! (<—ha!) It is so easy for me to retreat from something that challenges me by saying no. I'm trying to lean into more opportunities.

    • Britt June 20, 2018 at 8:07 am

      100% Penny! I can’t say that I say yes to all of the challenges and growth opportunities when they’re presented to me, but I’m working on it.

  • steveark June 19, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    Great post, I have always lived by the rule, say yes, unless there was a positive and honest reason to say no, and there rarely was. Almost every success I’ve had I can directly trace to stepping out into uncertainty and saying yes when part of me wanted to say no. It bothers me when people advise saying no unless they have a whole hearted yes in them. I think whole hearted yes’s are very rare and that only saying no when your heart is wholly opposed is the better course if you want success in life. But I guess if you are very self aware then you probably can go either way with your gut and be OK. I have good reason to not trust mine when it says no, it is usually being lazy or fearful.

    • Britt June 19, 2018 at 6:04 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Steve! I think you’re right – it does take a very self aware person to know when a yes or no is the right answer. For me, I have to operate within the boundaries of my anxiety (when saying yes will be too much for me), and my desire to grow (when a yes is more feasible).

    Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.