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  • Mick Scott

What YES and NO Really Mean

In the car with one of my sons this weekend, we had a conversation about freedom and limitations.


He said that freedom means no limitations. I told him that my freedom is only possible with limitations.


He called BS, and here's my response...


One of those all-important life lessons that we never learn anywhere:

💥 Every YES is defined by the NOs that come with it.

💥 Every NO is in service of a more important YES.


Saying YES

When we say YES, we’re exercising our freedom to choose. We are committing to something. Being free to say YES is an expression of our liberty.


It’s important to recognize that when we say YES, though, that we’re also saying NO. In fact, every YES is defined by its NOs.


YES to a committed relationship usually means NO to sleeping around.

YES to this job usually means NO to working on other things during work hours.

YES to a big project means NO to the default avoidance strategies that get in the way.


Try it out - everything we say yes to is inevitably supported by a handful of NOs.


This is powerful! It's the access to honoring our YES, to allowing our YES to produce results. Every YES is defined by the myriad NOs that come with it.


If I say YES to my boss that I’ll handle a task on the weekend, I’m maybe saying NO to being 100% present with my family. I might also be saying NO to my health and well-being. I’m likely saying NO to my own integrity that’s telling me not to agree to this task.


If I say YES, even tacitly, to participating in negative and complaining gossip at work, then I’m saying NO to living powerfully.


So many times we’ll say YES to something, then complain about it. Or complain about someone. Or play the victim.


When we say YES, let’s mean it. Let’s be responsible about the NOs that come with it. Let’s say YES wholeheartedly, or let’s say NO instead.


And if we one day see that we're no longer willing to be a YES, then let's say NO. Because that NO will likely mean that we're in touch with a more important YES.


Saying NO

When I say NO to something, it's because I'm committed to something bigger behind it. When I say NO, I'm actually saying YES to that other thing.


Every time we say NO to something, we’re actually honoring something else we’ve said YES to. NOs are in service of the YESes in life.


NO to unhealthy foods is a YES to health.

NO to another episode is a YES to sleeping better.

NO to this relationship is a YES to creating the next one.

NO to my boss might be a YES to my family.


One of my clients is a self-professed YES-Mom. She always says YES to her kids. She can't help it! When she got that NOs are always in service of something else, it blew her freaking mind. All of a sudden, NO became an access to her saying YES to something more important and valuable.


NO to shopping means YES to appreciating what we've got.

NO to sweets means YES to health and well-being.


Here are a couple ways we can practice making each YES a HELL YES and empowering each NO to be in service of a bigger YES:

  • YES practice: before saying YES, get clear for yourself what NOs may be coming along with that YES. Are you willing to say NO in all those ways in service of the YES on the table?

  • NO practice: when you feel like saying NO, get clear what your YES is behind it. So many of us are trapped by wanting to please others that we often say YES when we don’t authentically want to. Knowing what our NOs are in service of empowers us to say NO.

And as is true with many distinctions, there are pitfalls to this YES/NO distinction: using YES and using NO in service of our insecure, ego self.


Our authentic desires and yearnings are often clouded behind the fog of societal conditioning in our minds. Pleasing is an obvious one - so many of us sell out on our own integrity to please another, to be liked, to avoid hurting someone's feelings. There are others too.


A way around this is to bring another mind into the equation, one as committed to you as you are. A friend, a coach, a teacher, etc. Intentional conversations with people who listen to our best self help us regain clarity and take empowered action forward.


Thanks so much for reading. ❤️


P.S. Big shout out to Michael Bungay Steiner and his book The Coaching Habit for teaching me this powerful YES/NO distinction a while back.



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