Saying Yes

I recently finished Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit. He presented a great question that I have been pondering over the last few weeks. Bungay Stanier wrote, “Let’s be clear: What exactly are you saying yes to?” The converse of that is: “What are you saying no to?” I have been weighing out committing to some type of self-development program since the start of the year. I am weighing out what will have to change or what I will have to say “no” to in order to fit a new program into my life. Because saying yes will be saying no to something else. That or the yes will end up being something to bail out on two weeks into the program, since I am unwilling to say no to what is already in my life.


When I say yes, I want it to be a firm, clear yes. Not a yes and then I never show up for the monthly meeting or do the homework or give only partial effort. It’s a hell yes or a hell no. I’m all in or all out.

This is what to consider when saying yes:

Be very clear

For me, being very clear is understanding the full ramifications of saying yes. How much time out of my day, week, or month will be committed if I say yes? Where will I fit this into my schedule? If I am on the road traveling, can I still remain committed? Is my physical presence needed or could this be possible virtually? Do I need to show up at meetings at a specific time or can I complete something at 1 AM on my smartphone? What is the investment in money, time and, most importantly, energy? This takes digging unless you’ve committed to something easy like buying cupcakes for the soccer game or offering to collect your neighbor’s mail. Unless it’s straight forward, make sure that you are clear on what you are saying yes to.

Have defined boundaries

We all have people (or animals) in our lives that test our boundaries. The person who is consistently late, the dog who scratches at the bedroom door at 4 in the morning or the co-worker who never turns the project in as prescribed. They are all just testing your boundaries. Be clear that you will be leaving at 8 AM, no exceptions. Don’t open the door for your dog unless there is thunder or fireworks. Only accept the project in PowerPoint and never in Excel. When you have defined boundaries, it makes saying yes (and no) a lot easier.

Know your priorities

For me personally, this has changed dramatically over the last two years. I am no longer married, I no longer drink and I eat a plant-based diet. What I said yes to two years ago wouldn’t work now. I traveled to Peru with a friend instead of a husband. My rotary club’s biggest fund raiser is a beer festival, so I opted out. I need to find new uses for my sous vide and outdoor grill. As I weigh out these two self-development programs, one is focused on writing and the other is about aligning with abundance. Is writing my focus or aligning with abundance? I think that aligning with abundance will help fund the writing down the road. My priority is abundance.

Nope. You cannot do it all.

I feel like I coach a lot more women who suffer from this than men. I coach some folks with StrengthsFinder and I find that if someone has Responsibility (take psychological ownership of what they say they will do) in their top 5 strengths, they have a REAL hard time saying no. Or letting go. Heck, I don’t have Responsibility in my top 10 strengths, but I had a real hard time letting go that I was not sending Christmas Cards out this year (so as not to feel like I overlooked my friends when they didn’t get one). Acknowledging that you can’t do it all can be powerful. Instead of planning and worrying and losing sleep on what you can’t possibly accomplish, let go and don’t say yes. If you say yes, make sure it doesn’t tip the scale towards overwhelm.

Pleasing others

I love the Wayne Dwyer quote: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” So, don’t say yes purely in the hope of impressing others. I thought about this with my Christmas cards this year. I didn’t have a recent family photo, I didn’t have much to report, and I feel like sending cards has been diminishing over the last few years. I felt the need to send cards was about pleasing others. I believe it’s a nice gesture and I appreciate the cards sent to me, but with a busy travel schedule around the holidays, it was a point that overwhelmed me rather than filled me with holiday warmth. I found other ways to share holiday warmth and stopped worrying about pleasing others. Say yes for yourself.

Everything is a trade-off. If I say yes to one thing, it means no to something else. It also works in reverse; if I say no to something, it means yes to something else. It’s all an act of discernment and being choosy about what you engage with. What are you saying no to that really should be a yes?

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