Preliminary thoughts on balancing “Yes… And” with “No”

Recently, two friends got me started on this book titled Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, and one particular chapter on saying ‘No’ tripped me up a bit, because of what I know about “Yes… And.”

Some years ago, I learnt how “Yes… And” have the power to liberate overselves from false dichotomies. As explained to me, when we are faced with the dilemma of doing homework and catching a movie with friends on a Saturday evening, most of us immediately fall into a “Yes… But” situation, forcing ourselves to choose between doing homework and catching a movie. However, when we reframe the problem into “Yes… And,” i.e. “Yes, I have homework, and I also want to catch a movie,” we move into a possibility mode, finding a solution that will allow us to fulfil both desires. This of course is a very attractive proposition. After all, Isn’t it nice to not have to choose between one or the other?

As such, when the idea of trade-offs being essential, and the idea that saying ‘No’ is crucial is presented to me, I find it to be rather challenging to reconcile the two. Being the chronic over-committer that I am, I live by the belief that if someone genuinely needs help and asks for it, I should not turn him or her away. As such, I apply the “Yes… And” principle far and wide in my life. However, the more I think about it, the more I realise that “Yes… And” needs to be applied selectively for the practice to be sustainable; for everything we do requires time and energy, and both are limited. For us to do everything almost always means taking time away from rest and renewal. Over time, we can only head to burn-out, both physically and emotionally. And having gone through that, looking back, I see how not saying ‘No’ often enough have pushed me to the brink.

This leads to a simplistic conclusion that we need to really balance “Yes…And” with the appropriate “No.” In fact, the more I consider the issue, the more I am beginning to think that in the context of life, ‘No’ should be the first principle and “Yes… And” to follow under very selective circumstances. I have also learnt recently that when I stop saying ‘Yes’ to all who asked for help, I am giving others an opportunity to say ‘Yes’ and lend a helping hand. It is comforting and humbling to be reminded that I don’t have to solve all the problems before me and the importance of protecting my best asset – myself.

Thank you to the two friends (you know who you are) who got me the book. I am still in the midst of it and have already benefited much from it. I strongly recommend anyone who have time to read it, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

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