Have a ‘Yes!’ Mind-set (and Change your Life)

If you’re a busy woman, you’ve heard the ad­vice to scale back, take a breather, go slow. But a) that’s not ex­actly re­al­is­tic and b) it doesn’t al­ways help any­way. Turns out there are real and amaz­ing ben­e­fits to say­ing yes to things – if you do it right.

Good Housekeeping (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - By Meghan Rab­bitt

Open your­self up to a hap­pier, health­ier and more pro­duc­tive life

As a time-strapped mom of two, Jes­sica Downey said no a lot, and not just to her chil­dren. ‘When you’re in the thick of rais­ing kids, feel­ing like ev­ery­one al­ways needs some­thing from you, “no” is an­other way of say­ing “I’m at my max,”’ says the mom of El­liot, 10, and Gabe, 6. As help­ful as it could be, it also made her world smaller. ‘Be­fore kids, I was pretty ad­ven­tur­ous and up for new ex­pe­ri­ences. But when you have kids, their needs take pri­or­ity – as they should – and that part of me was pushed to the back burner,’ she says.

So just over a year ago, Jes­sica made a res­o­lu­tion to start say­ing yes more of­ten. When a girl­friend in­vited her to join a dragon-boat row­ing team, she agreed to the weekly train­ing ses­sions and week­end races even though she barely had time to make it to the gym. When an­other friend asked if she wanted to head to the coun­try­side for a long week­end, she spent an evening wor­ry­ing about how her hus­band, Sean, would han­dle school drop-off and pick-up, gui­tar lessons and bed­time alone – then they fig­ured it out and she booked her slot. Jes­sica was even all in on smaller things, like go­ing to a party where she didn’t know any­one, join­ing a doc­u­men­tary club and tak­ing her kids to a movie on a school night. She en­joyed each of them (the movie more than the party, she ad­mits).

Be­ing will­ing to take on what­ever the world has to of­fer has its high-pro­file ad­vo­cates – in 2015, Shonda Rhimes came out with a book about her Year Of Yes (Si­mon & Schus­ter) – but it tends to sound doable only for peo­ple with plenty of money and con­trol over their time. For the rest of us, say­ing yes

left and right seems, frankly, nuts. But that’s your ‘no’ mind-set talk­ing, ex­perts say, and it’s cru­cial for all of us to get out of it. We’ll be not just hap­pier, but health­ier and more pro­duc­tive too. Th­ese days, we get (and give!) con­stant re­minders that it’s okay to turn down re­quests and in­vi­ta­tions, all in the name of tak­ing bet­ter care of our­selves. That’s im­por­tant, but you can set bound­aries and still ben­e­fit from a ‘yes’ mind-set. If you want to make the most of the one life you’ve got – with­out dis­man­tling ev­ery­thing you’ve built so far – this is how you do it.

The power of yes

De­clin­ing an in­vite or pass­ing on a re­quest trig­gers the brain’s re­ac­tive state, ex­plains Dr Daniel Siegel, a clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at the UCLA School of Medicine and found­ing codi­rec­tor of the UCLA Mind­ful Aware­ness Re­search Center, both in the US. That’s sim­i­lar to what hap­pens when you’re fac­ing a threat. The tigers our an­ces­tors were fight­ing or flee­ing have been re­placed by things that make us feel guilty or wor­ried about re­jec­tion.

That might mean a mother-in-law who wants to take over our whole Satur­days or school fundrais­ing com­mit­tees that need home-made ve­gan cup­cakes for the bake sale. We re­spond by say­ing no to them – and then stay in this re­ac­tive state long after that, Siegel ex­plains. Your brain doesn’t just shut off after a stres­sor; it can stay in that state of sen­si­tiv­ity even as you are dis­cussing din­ner with your hus­band or try­ing to be pa­tient with a tod­dler. (Yep, that’s part of why those things can be so frus­trat­ing.) ‘Even though we know that be­ing in a re­cep­tive “yes” brain state feels bet­ter, there’s a lot of evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory that says, “I’d rather be re­ac­tive than re­cep­tive,”’ says Siegel.

Be­ing in that re­ac­tive state can also fa­tigue your mus­cles and even make you feel like you’ve got flu, ac­cord­ing to re­search by Dr Stephen Porges, a psy­chi­a­try pro­fes­sor. Start be­ing a yes and you’ll have more en­ergy for the things you must do and those you want to do. Jes­sica found this to be true. ‘Even though it meant I started jug­gling a bit more, I was so in­vig­o­rated by the new ex­pe­ri­ences that I ac­tu­ally felt less stressed out,’ she says.

Say­ing yes re­laxes your mus­cles and turns on what’s called your ‘so­cial en­gage­ment sys­tem’, says Siegel; it prompts you to lean on oth­ers for sup­port and even en­gage with your­self more mind­fully. ‘A “yes” mind­set makes you feel more play­ful, cre­ative and able to see what’s pos­si­ble; a “no” mind-set makes you fo­cus on all of the road­blocks in your way,’ says fam­ily and re­la­tion­ship coach Alyson Sch­wabe Lanier. For Jes­sica, that meant that ‘all of the prac­ti­cal rea­sons I used to rat­tle off for not be­ing able to do some­thing felt easy to over­come’. Siegel ex­plains why: ‘Re­search shows that a “yes brain” in­creases the ca­pac­ity of the pre­frontal cor­tex to take in sig­nals from the out­side world, pause be­fore you act and then choose the best course of ac­tion.’ In other words, it’s help­ing you get more done – bet­ter.

Strik­ing the right bal­ance

To get the ben­e­fits of a ‘yes’ mind-set with­out hav­ing 10 000 com­mit­ments take over your life:

SAY YES TO STUFF THAT’LL SERVE YOU. ‘The point isn’t to just say yes to any­thing,’ says Lanier. It helps to ask your­self if a yes will get you closer to a goal or sup­port some­thing you value. Jes­sica, for in­stance, says yes to travel with friends and meet­ing new peo­ple. Her sug­ges­tion: ‘Think about the things that make you you that you’re miss­ing right now. Those are the things to say yes to.’

DO A GUT CHECK BE­FORE RE­SPOND­ING. A knee­jerk yes or no isn’t serv­ing you. So take the time – a mo­ment, a day – to think about what you re­ally feel. ‘Be­com­ing aware of your in­ter­nal world de­vel­ops your in­sula, the area of your brain that’s re­spon­si­ble for so­cial emo­tions, moral in­tu­ition and em­pa­thy,’ says Siegel – all qual­i­ties that can help you de­cide if you’re a true yes or a no to what­ever new re­quest has popped up.

Try this trick from Courte­nay Hameis­ter, au­thor of the book Okay Fine What­ever (Lit­tle, Brown and Company), about her own year­long quest to say yes more of­ten: ‘I pic­ture my­self do­ing some­thing and pay at­ten­tion to what hap­pens in my body,’ she says. ‘If I get such in­creased anx­i­ety that it doesn’t feel healthy, I’m prob­a­bly a no. If I get a twinge of anx­i­ety but mostly feel ex­cited, I’m prob­a­bly a yes.’

KNOW WHEN YOU NEED TO BE A YES TO YOUR NO. Hav­ing a day where you feel like the only things you want to say yes to are a big glass of rosé and an episode of The Bach­e­lor? Hon­our that, says Lanier. ‘You’ve got to know where you are, and if where you are is so tired that you just want some peace and quiet on the couch, then be a yes to that,’ she says. What’s hap­pen­ing here is that you are in con­trol of the shape of your evening – and your life. That’s a big re­spon­si­bil­ity we some­times for­get we even have. ‘You can cre­ate the life you want,’ re­minds Lanier. ‘Be a yes to fig­ur­ing out what that is.’

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