Ep. 88 – Replay: Why Yes & No Are Hard to Say

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of conflicting points of view about saying Yes or saying No all in an effort to focus, grow, prioritize, innovate, etc. There are numerous books and posts and opinions on both side of the all-in-or-all-out debate. 

This conversation isn’t about a rule or philosophy on which word to choose; it’s about having you explore the hesitation that can happen with either Yes or No when you are faced with a request, opportunity, or decision. 

There are many variations on how Yes or No can be communicated and there’s even the bonus of Maybe that gets thrown into the mix. In some circumstances, there are the very quick and sure Yes-es and No-s. We know the answer immediately. Yes, I will take the free upgrade to first class on an airplane; No, I will not eat that blue cheese. Hey, sometimes one person’s no is another person’s yes – and that’s okay. 

The point is that we know what it feels like when there is a full Yes or a full No. Similar to a low battery charge on our phone, we also know what it feels like when we have a Half Yes or a Half No. 

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that each answer you select is an investment. Some will collect deposits and others will require withdrawals. Not all answers will have evident returns immediately for you.  

And not every decision needs a full Yes or a full No. I can run an errand or pay a bill or do a household chore without needing a full Yes to get it done. Preserve your energy where you can but pay attention to where a decision is taking too much energy. 

We each have signals when we start to resist one answer over the other. Sometimes it’s social conditioning, other times it’s requirements of a role in our life, and a lot of times it’s the burdens we place on our own balance sheet that are visible only to us. 

Episode 3 outlined the accurate but unpopular fact that multitasking is a myth. As such, our brain is constantly having to make decisions about what to do next. Episode 10 then dug into our daily decision making and offered a few tools to help when a tired or overwhelmed brain needs help making decisions in the moment.

Today’s topic takes a more macro view of how to identify the signals of when you are resisting an answer. Unpacking the initial response will help clarify the root of the resistance. We may resist setting an early alarm, for example, but when you double down on the obvious (I’m so tired! I just need more sleep), it helps you better understand the pattern your brains is feeding you as you’re faced with decisions. 

Remember, our brains are wired to keep us safe. So the initial instinct will be to say Yes or No to what brings comfort or ease. That’s not a weakness, it’s information. When you feel (and sometimes it is an actual feel in your body) a reluctance to Yes or No, it’s simply a signal that you want additional information. 

Look beyond the initial impulse and see what is revealed. 

Let’s start with Yes. 

When you are drawn to saying Yes, is the impulse here coming from excitement or ego? Meaning – are you feeling the positive interest, energy, time, and ability to do what is being asked or offered? Or is it more about a pull for visibility, extra credit, expectation, or obligation? Any or all of these can be internal or external drivers – and often are both. Ask if your Yes is originating from a Could or Should vs. a Want. What was previously rewarded (or reprimanded) that’s influencing your desire to say Yes this time?  

These are important inputs into the decision algorithm running in your brain. It’s busy behind-the-scenes filling in potential scenarios of “If then, then this…” Previous patterns are key inputs that seek out safer, known outcomes. 

This also applies to No. 

A full No feels solid. It can be tied to the same drivers as Yes when you have negative indicators around lack of interest, energy, time, or ability. The resistance you may feel in offering a solid No likely comes from pressure or expectation versus uncertainty. 

Instinctually, the mind also signals a No when there are other, unrelated stressors. In today’s noisy world, No often feels like the first option when anything new is presented – even if that offer is seen as a potential positive thing. Forgoing a day off because there’s too much to do or the work will pile up when I’m away – that’s one example. Or I’m interested in dating this person, but I don’t have the energy to be “on” right now. Or that’s a great opportunity but I don’t have time to fill out the paperwork, do the interview, etc.  

These are examples of Half No-s. A desire might be there but the perceived effort shifts the inclination away from Yes. A Half No often carries unspoken asterisks. Those could mean Not Yet, Not Right Now, or Not for Me. The No is still valid, and exploring that extra context is information that gets logged in your brain for a future decision.  

But what about when you’re in Maybe mode?

Maybe is often a No that just wants to be polite. It’s a way to distract, deflect, or dodge a Half Yes or Half No. There are, of course, circumstances where a Maybe is appropriate but they are usually the exception. If you find yourself collecting a lot of Maybe-s, see if this is really about leaving a door open to something or if it’s trying to wrap a soft pillow around a No. 

There isn’t a perfect formula for decisions. But there is a weight we carry when a decision isn’t clear. We may know what we want to say but just not *how* to say it. 

A few minutes of discomfort in saying Yes can offer you potential ideas, connections, and energy later. 

A few minutes of discomfort in saying No can save you hours later, and likely avoid some resentments.  

And of course, you always have the right to change your mind. That can even be part of the words in your decision. “Right now, this is my answer.” 

One final point: Yes or No is always a complete sentence. If you’re in a situation where you feel the need to over-explain your answer, re-evaluate the ask not the answer. 

Whatever you decide, invest in yourself. It’s the place where we get the best returns. 

Until next time, take care to take good care. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.