How embracing “no” can improve your life and make your “yes” more formidable.

Over coffee this morning, a friend of mine and I were reflecting on how we, as women over 60, are now being urged to say “yes” to everything rather than “no.” In our previous lives as young mothers, the word “no” dominated. It had to. We were responsible. We were in charge. That was before we realized that life is too short.

For years I saw the word “no” as a declaration of my limitations and I hated that feeling. I never wanted anyone or anything to stop me from achieving, not even as a child. “No” became a trigger that I didn’t have “the right stuff.” It sparked a fire in me to prove otherwise. I have since come to realize that “no” and “yes” are close companions, opposite sides of the same coin. One impacts the other in our decision making. A commitment to one always comes with a second commitment to the other; saying “no” to one thing is saying “yes” to something else.

When taking chances, “no” becomes an unconscious “yes.” Ventures I had undertaken based on a false “you can do it” mantra ended up breaking my heart. In retrospect, I never failed at what I did, I failed to trust my “no.” I entered courageously and often blindly into those failed ventures by listening to an outer authority, one that did not know or understand me or my dreams. Left in tears, I knew somewhere deep inside I had betrayed myself. I have come to know it is not just my frailty, but a shared human frailty. We are taught from a very young age to listen to an outside authority that often fails us. We become soft targets to propaganda and chicanery. I certainly did. After years of trial and error, the word “no” is now my friend. It’s the first line of defense as I go into the final chapters of my life.

Discomfort is Sexier than Resentment and Regret

Dr. Brené Brown, the woman who made vulnerability sexy, suggests it is far more important “to choose discomfort over resentment.” Saying “yes” when your answer is truly “no” is deeply uncomfortable. The resulting toxic inner waste can lead to mental, emotional and physical unrest, even ill health.

None of us can redo the past. We all have those rear-view moments, those times when we should have said “no” but didn’t. In the aftermath of regret over personal failure, I eventually found comfort with, “Well, at least I tried.” There is personal power and strength in a timely retreat as we surrender to our “no,” by walking away from something that is hurting us. Dwelling on regret, I have found, is a gigantic waste of energy that keeps a person mired in excuses and plagued by ill health.

Saying “no” is my yield sign, waiting my Zen sword. A powerful force in my life. It gives grace to waiting, a practice that always benefits me and, by default, benefits others. By turning deaf ears to outside advice and waiting for the right moment or clarity, the trajectory of my path has become less painful. While I would never divest myself of what I now have due to the twists and turns of past trajectories, my preference would be to never pass that way again.

As we enter this new year, heading into a new decade and all the challenges and opportunities that will come our way, embracing “no” as your personal collaborator could end up being an important strategic tool for you in the year ahead.

A Practical Experiment

Do not take my word for it! I invite you to experiment with saying “no” more often.

Buy a pocket-sized spiral notepad and pen to keep with you. Each time you’re pushed to say “yes,” use the power of “no” first and then wait. Consider how you would respond to an opportunity offered by a close friend or relative:

You’ve just got to try ________________; You’re going to just love it! Remember the last time you didn’t jump in? You don’t want to miss out on this great deal!”

The pressure is on. You do not want to miss out on anything. But before jumping into the fray, wait. Take time to listen to what your mind is telling you and write it down. Here are a few things you might “hear”:

My mind thinks I should go.”

My mind thinks my friend is right.”

My mind is telling me it’s a good idea. This time is different.”

Beginning with “My mind” is purposeful and necessary. It spotlights how our mind works. Most the time we don’t even pay attention to the thoughts that drag us from one experience to another, one opinion to another, one belief to another. Becoming aware of how the shifting sands of the mind is the beginning of self-awareness and personal mastery.

Only you can decide whether the answer will benefit your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Only you can be your own true authority.

Time Moves Fast Enough so What’s the Hurry?

As I am faced with a decision these days, I ask myself, “What’s my hurry?” Our day-in, day-out decisions are generally not crucial. Sometimes saying yes is a quick response (Do you want to go out to dinner?) Using “no” is not meant to strip you of fun and bury you deeper in confusion. But a decision to buy a car (or certainly a timeshare) needs time!

Considering “no” first can result in fewer detours. When the pause button is pushed, time seems to slow down. Any feeling of guilt simply disappears. A sense of satisfaction, peace, success and wonder washes over us.

A worthy “no” makes our “yes” potent, our life an intoxicatingly sweet adventure!

Candace George Conradi

Candace is a published writer, teacher, coach and student of history. A wife, mother & grandmother, writing has been her life-long passion.

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