The big question is whether you are going
to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.
—Joseph Campbell

The power of YES

Mother Nature has programmed us with a powerful survival instinct: the ability to say ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ helps us to avoid danger and keeps us safe in times of uncertainty. It is our automatic response to situations when we perceive risk to ourselves – for example, if we think we might lose money, be let down, get hurt in a relationship, or lose our jobs.

As toddlers, we are totally dependent and vulnerable. We must rely on our parents for everything. But when we start to talk, one of the first words we learn to use is ‘no’. We want to show our parents that we have some power in this world: to resist. This is how ego is born. And so we come to believe that our ability to say ‘no’ gives us some sense of control over the world.

But by saying ‘no’ and staying safe, we are putting ourselves at an even greater risk: the risk of not living our lives fully. We later may come to regret it. This is what Bronnie Ware, a nurse who worked with many patients in the last weeks of their lives, shares with us in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

These were her patients’ most common regrets:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Indeed, avoidance comes with a heavy price. As much as we try to prepare for the future and control the next moment, there are always things about life we cannot predict. By accepting that the unknown is an inevitable part of your life’s journey, you can begin to make peace with life. The unknown can be scary, but it can also be exciting.

The Hebrew word amen, which we often say in prayer, means ‘yes’ or ‘so be it’. This reflects an affirming relationship with the mystery of life. With an attitude of yes, life becomes an ongoing experience of learning and growing – of unraveling the mystery.

Faith is taking the first step
even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

How does ‘yes’ affect us?

When we say ‘yes’, we lower our defenses and begin to approach life with more openness and curiosity. We embrace all the possible consequences, and have faith that we will be able to cope. We begin to affirm our own unique dreams and connect openly to others.

While ‘no’ is more analytical and critical, ‘yes’ is more imaginative and creative. ‘Yes’ is future-oriented. Yes is how we apply the power of our intention. Yes is not just about thinking positively, but constructively and creatively. Saying ‘yes’ to life means being open to new growth.

Have you noticed yourself saying ‘yes’ more often when you are on holiday? Feelings of shame – which is how socially we are controlled – are less effective when we are outside our usual social context. There is no risk of rejection or judgement from our peers. ‘Yes’ is how you express your sense of adventure and authenticity in life.

A ship in harbor is safe –
but that is not what ships are built for.
—John A. Shedd 

It is in our relationships that ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are most dramatic in their impact. With an attitude of ‘yes’, we turn towards each other, daring to be open and vulnerable. With ‘no’, we turn away or against. This ‘yes’ attitude will make you approach your partner’s behaviours with more acceptance and curiosity rather than judgement. You respond to each other with goodwill rather than avoidance. You work together, rather than resisting each other.

Making the shift

I imagine that yes is the only living thing.
—E. E. Cummings 

Trust is not just a feeling. Trust can be a choice. Choosing trust in conditions of uncertainty takes courage.

Trusting is the ultimate path away from our defensive and resistant ego. One way to begin shifting your mindset from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ is to build trust in some kind of authority, whether it is a teacher, a partner or a community. We often choose to be sceptical because it makes us seem smarter – surely we won’t let any foolish ideas mislead us. But in the end, mistrust will get us nowhere. If we learn to have faith in others, we open ourselves up to opportunities and new ideas.

Saying ‘yes’ is about leading a life with a sense of purpose and direction; a life where your values and strengths are fulfilled. This is what the Positive Psychology movement is all about.

Each time you say ‘yes’, you are planting the seed of a flourishing life. Let’s cultivate these seeds and begin to flourish.

The top 5 regrets of the dieing

Read more about Bronnie Ware’s book at The Age website.
The Age: Top Five Regrets of the Dying >>

About the author:

Guy (Hagai) Avisar is a psychologist with more than 30 years of experience helping people with relationship issues


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