Self

What Happened When I Promised To Only Say "Yes" For A Whole Year

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Beautiful young woman happy and excited expressing winning gesture

Many years ago, I was in a slump. I reached a point in my life where my creativity had stalled and although my career was rolling along nicely, I hadn’t really taken my potential to the next level.

I knew I had to change the way I was thinking and my approach to life.

Since my background was in improvisation, which is based on the idea of saying “Yes” to life, I decided I would embark on a year-long journey of saying “Yes” to as many things as I could and see what transpired.

I began this journey with a couple of caveats:

1. I would only say “Yes” to things that wouldn’t cause harm to another or myself.

2. I would always ask first: will this be for my greatest good and the greatest good for all?

3. If for some reason I had to say “No,” I would write out the reasons why it wouldn’t work for me and I would search for an alternative that would fulfill my mission of saying “Yes.”

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What unfolded was the beginning of one of the most expansive years of my life.

I began saying “Yes” and I took to journaling each day to track my progress and note what came from saying yes while writing about my state of mind during the process.

At the end of each day, I would grade myself on a scale of A (succeeding greatly) to F (failing miserably).

The thing I most noticed at the beginning was my knee-jerk reaction of saying “No” to things without really considering them.

I didn’t realize at the time how much societal conditioning had programmed me to be negative and not capitalize on opportunities.

I slowly began changing this habit by taking time to consider saying “Yes” to things I normally would say “No” to. It wasn’t long before I broke out of my engrained routine and began doing things I had never done before.

The Power of Yes

It started simple enough. My kids were young at the time and when they came home from school they would ask, “Dad, will you go for a bike ride with us?”

I went through my criteria. A bike ride wouldn’t hurt me or anyone else, so this was in line with saying “Yes” — bike ride it is, kids!

Before long, I became even more brave and started saying “Yes” to things that brought me out of my comfort zone.

I traveled to Europe on a whim to visit new friends, tried new foods, saw shows in Vegas I otherwise would have declined to see, danced in a salsa class and began painting again, all the while opening the doorway to what would become one of the best decades of my life.

This all started by saying “Yes” to life. What happened was life began opening up to me in ways it hadn’t before.

I know many of you may be thinking, but we have to say “No” sometimes.

This is true — you won’t get any argument from me. I tell people all the time that if you say “Yes” to things you tried in the past that haven’t worked out this is the very definition of insanity.

What I ask is that you make it a “considerate” no, meaning that you actually begin the process by at least considering saying “Yes" before you say “No.”

If you find after looking at a possibility that it isn’t for your greatest good or that it may hurt someone, then by all means decline.

But first, consider.

There were times during that year when I was faced with having to say “No.”

Let’s do a shot of tequila and dance naked in the town square...

Okay, this didn’t happen but if it did, this would be one of those rare instances where “No” would have been appropriate. Instead, we could have offered, let’s have a coffee and dance with our clothes on.

You get the point — try to find a “Yes” solution that still keeps the spirit of the moment.

couple dancing in publicPhoto: Syda Productions via Canva

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As my year-long experiment unfolded, the most profound realization was the pervasive nature of my default “No” response.

I had unwittingly internalized societal conditioning that had ingrained a negativity bias, causing me to dismiss opportunities without genuine consideration. This recognition marked the beginning of a conscious effort to reprogram my instinctive reactions.

By choosing to consider saying “Yes” first, I discovered the transformative power of openness. Each affirmative response became a stepping-stone, gradually dismantling the barriers I had unknowingly constructed around myself.

The process wasn’t about recklessness or blind acceptance but rather a thoughtful and intentional evaluation of possibilities.

This change in mindset not only broadened my experiences but also fostered a sense of curiosity and adaptability. I became more attuned to the rhythm of life, recognizing that unexpected opportunities often carried hidden gifts. Whether it was attending a networking event that I initially deemed unimportant or engaging in a spontaneous conversation with a stranger, each “Yes” cultivated connections and insights that contributed to my personal and professional growth.

As I continued to challenge my preconceptions and embrace the unknown, I found that the fear of the unfamiliar began to wane.

Saying “Yes” became a catalyst for self-discovery and a testament to the untapped potential residing in stepping beyond comfort zones.

The journey wasn’t without its challenges, and there were moments when my old habits threatened to resurface. However, the commitment to intentional consideration before declining allowed me to maintain a balance between embracing new opportunities and respecting my own boundaries.

As I mentioned, this transformative year of saying “Yes” laid the foundation for one of the most rewarding decades of my life.

   

   

The newfound openness permeated various aspects, from personal relationships to professional endeavors, and I discovered that a simple shift in perspective could lead to profound and lasting change.

In essence, the journey of saying “Yes” was not just a temporary experiment but a lifelong practice. It taught me the importance of challenging assumptions, embracing the unknown, and continuously evaluating my responses to the ever-evolving landscape of opportunities.

Through this ongoing commitment, I found that the potential for growth and fulfillment was not limited by external circumstances but deeply rooted in the choices I made and the mindset I cultivated.

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David Ahearn is the author of "Happy Accidents: The Transformative Power of 'Yes, and' at Work and in Life" and “21 Days to Saying Yes to Life,” a journal born out of his passion for helping people embrace the richness of life.

This article was originally published at David Ahearn's website. Reprinted with permission from the author.