If you’re struggling to say no to something maybe you should try saying yes instead.
Not to the same thing, of course! But instead of focusing on what you don’t want, why not focus on what you actually want?
Because, let’s face it: every no in one direction is a yes in another direction.
Put that way it probably sounds obvious, right? And yet every day I see people struggle with it—heck, I still struggle with it. Which means it’s not as simple as it sounds, or I wouldn’t need to be writing an essay on how I came up against my forgetting of this again with respect to fasting.
Why is it so hard to say no to saying no?
I was fasting recently—the kind where you go without food for breakfast and lunch—and the first two days were hard. If you’ve ever tried to fast before you know exactly what I mean. It’s hard not to think of food. And so help you God the smell of any crosses your nasal path. You try to tell yourself, “It’s just food, it’s no big deal,” and your stomach growls in defiance of the barefaced lying. It’s not just food.
It’s denial. And denial hurts.
But on the third day things shifted.
(No, this had nothing to do with the Christian symbolism around the third day—it just so happened.)
Anyway the third day—well I didn’t feel hungry. And the more I thought about why, the clearer it became to me that I wasn’t hungry because I had somehow changed my focus. I had been thinking for weeks prior about starting to take intermittent fasting seriously and at some point during the first two days I started toying with the idea that I could use the fast as sort of a testing ground for what intermittent fasting might look like over the longer term. And even that, it occurred to me, was really about changing my relationship with food to a more healthy one.
By the third day my goals had gone from “I’m not eating” to “I’m trying out a new relationship with food”.
Saying yes to things is far more empowering than saying no. To say yes is to affirm, while to say no feels like denial. And so when we feel more conscious of our no, we struggle with the feeling of being denied and even cheated. It’s the difference between running from rather than running to. Both are running but the focus being different matters greatly. When we are more conscious of our yes however, we are thinking of gain rather than of loss and it turns out that’s far more empowering.
An example personally is how fasting always feels more difficult them simply skipping meals because we’re busy with work. Or working out feels tougher when we’re more focused on how stressful it is rather then how fun it can be. This is why play can be so powerful: because it focuses as on the process rather than the destination or outcome. Play transforms any process into delight.
But play also begins with a yes.
My thanks to Michèle Eckart for the image.