Are you someone who finds yourself chronically saying “yes” to things that you don’t want to do? That extra shift at work? Those farewell drinks for someone you barely know? You want to answer “no” but it just doesn’t seem to happen.
Alternatively, perhaps you’re the type of person who breaks out in a sweat at the thought of saying “yes” to something? You’d really like to enrol in that cooking course, but before you can even contemplate doing so your brain comes up with 50 reasons why you shouldn’t do it.
Or maybe you’re someone who struggles to find the balance between yes and no?
If any of these sounds like you then perhaps you need to build up your muscles. By this I don’t mean you need to sign up to a gym and become a bodybuilder. Instead I mean that you need to develop your yes/no muscles. Just like any other muscle, your yes/no muscles get stronger the more you use them, and weaker when you don’t.
For the ‘yes’ people among us, this means your yes-muscle is well developed, but the no-muscle could do with some extra strengthening. If you’re more of a ‘no’ person then it’s your yes-muscle that could do with being flexed more often.
So, how do we build up these muscles? First off, the good news is that each time you use your yes/no muscles it will become that little bit easier. The main thing is to stick with the four P’s – pacing, practice, perseverance and patience.
Pacing: Just as a bodybuilder doesn’t start out lifting a 100kg bar, you don’t want to start flexing your yes/no muscles in a situation where there’s lots at stake. Instead start out on something small and build up from there. For example, rather than starting out with saying no to your boss begin with saying no to that party you don’t want to go to.
Practice: Saying yes or no is a skill that needs to be developed. As with all skills it will only become second nature with practice and repetition. A useful tip is to plan in advance some phrases you can use, and practice saying these out loud. For example, “Sorry, but I am already busy on that day” or “Yes thank-you that sounds good”. Having some preprepared and rehearsed responses will make it easier for you to manage difficult situations.
Another useful tip is to buy yourself some time before answering. When we are under pressure the problem solving part of our brain stops working so well, which means it’s harder to come up with new answers on the spot. Taking away the pressure to answer immediately will allow you to think through your answer. For example, “I need to check my schedule first. Is it okay for me to get back to you in a bit?”
Perseverance: Changing a long term habit takes determination and commitment. If your default answer to things has been “no” for 20 years it’s going to require some effort to develop a new habit. You’re likely to experience challenges along the way and you’ll need to be willing to persevere through these times and not give up. As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again”. Just remember, success doesn’t mean getting it right all of the time. Success is continuing to show up and trying your best in each moment.
Patience: Perhaps most important of all is the final P – patience. Building your yes/no muscles will take time and repetition. You wouldn’t expect yourself to be able to play guitar after one lesson, so don’t berate yourself for not having your muscles straight away. Instead, take things one step at a time, practice self-compassion and learn from each moment. Slowly but surely you’ll get where you want to be.
Once your yes/no muscles are more symmetrical you’ll have the ability to reflect on what you truly want and the strength to choose your answer based on what is right for you. That’s the real point here, choice. The choice to answer “yes” when you want to, and “no” when you don’t want to.