When to Say Yes and When to Say No


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

To say yes or to say no? Should I be a “yes” person, or should I be a “no” person?

Life advice can be paradoxical. You can find plenty of advice telling you to say yes in life. Stephen Colbert told a crowd of college graduates to be “yes and” people. Shona Rhimes wrote an entire book titled Year of Yes.

Just say yes. Sounds straightforward.

But every time we are taught to say “yes,” we are taught to say no. Robin Sharma says to say no to the little things so you can say yes to the big things. Amit Kalantri says, “Real freedom is saying ‘no’ without giving a reason.”

Do we default to yes or no? That is the question.

There are no hard and fast rules when to say yes and when to say no. Instead, use guidelines to make decisions. As with many things in life, we should evaluate each decision on a case-by-case basis.

Bottom line — don’t do anything stupid. Use common sense. These are guidelines, not rules.

Below you will find three reasons to say yes and three reasons to say no.


3 Reasons to Say Yes

1. Say yes when there isn’t anything better to do

On the evening of October 16, 2003, my dad asked me if I wanted to attend Game 7 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) between the New York Yankees and their archrival, the Boston Red Sox.

My 10-year-old self told my dad I would prefer not to go. Instead, my dad took my younger brother to the game. The rest is history.

Long story short, the Yankees won a thrilling extra-innings game that ended on a walk-off home run by Aaron Boone. It is considered one of the greatest baseball games ever played.

And I could have been there. Instead, I may as well have been watching paint dry. I regretted the decision immediately.

This is a classic example of when I should have said yes. When you’re doing something of triviality or nonimportance is when then you should be most receptive to saying yes.

Yes, I’d rather hang out with my friends than watch TV. Yes, I’d rather attend a cultural event over reading the paper. Yes, I’d rather go to a Yankees game than sit pretty at home.

Don’t let time fillers take time away from memorable experiences. Ask yourself, “Which of these experiences will I remember better five years from now?”

2. Say yes to something that slightly scares you

Say yes to something that makes you a tad uncomfortable.

Talk to a stranger. Play a sport you haven’t played before. Attend a seminar about which you know nothing.

What scares us is showing vulnerability. We don’t like to show weakness. We don’t like show ineptitude (I’m going to be the worst player on the team!). We believe if we show vulnerability, this will result in embarrassing ourselves.

But it’s in our moments of vulnerability we grow the most. Say yes to the uncomfortable work. One of the best ways to earn respect is to put yourself out there. Take the dive.

3. Say yes to games

Always say yes to games. Yes to cornhole. Yes to card games. Yes to trivia.

Games forge bonds among the people you do them with. The people I’ve played trivia with the last few years have become some of my closest friends.

Games reveal a side of people you can’t find in alternative settings. Games challenge you, force you to think differently, and can provide extremely humorous moments.

It’s not whether you won or lost. It’s how well you connected with those you participated with. Say yes to games.


3 Reasons to Say No

1. Say no when your values are threatened

In specific circumstances, a yes to a bad choice is simultaneously a no towards your values.

If you value hard work, you should say no when there’s an opportunity to cut corners. If you value your honesty, you should say no when it’d be easier to lie to somebody. If you value respect, you should say no when you see your peers acting nasty.

We have all experienced moments when we feel like saying no but end up saying yes. Peer pressure doesn’t make things any easier. We must hold firm to our values, which starts with saying no.

2. Say no when your priorities are threatened

Let’s say you prioritize components of your life in the following hierarchy:

  1. Family
  2. Wellness
  3. Work

If work is destroying your health, you may need to say no to your job. In this context, “no” could mean finding a new job or telling your boss you can’t take on certain projects. Wellness takes precedent over work.

You can say no with confidence if you’re clear on your priorities. Use “no” to make it clear what components in your life take precedent.

3. Say no to set boundaries

At some point, you have to draw the line. Take this lovely conversation between myself and my friend:

Me: “Hey, can I come over to your house this evening?”

My Friend: “Sure thing.”

Me: “Can I grab some food out of your fridge?”

My Friend: “Sure thing, make yourself at home.”

Me: “Can I crash on your couch?”

My Friend: “Absolutely not!”

Me: “Sob.”

“No” draws a line in the sand. No is your greatest defense when others attempt to cross the line you have carefully drawn.

Without no, there are no boundaries. Without no, you are at the mercy of what other people want. You become a piece of trash that others kick around on the streets.

Don’t become a piece of trash others kick around through the streets. Just say no.


Yes and No — Your Greatest Assets

If used wisely, yes and no become your best friends.

Yes is your key to the city. Say yes to opportunities. Say yes to challenges. Say yes to games.

No is your protective armor. Say no to what goes against your values. Say no when your priorities become messed up. Say no to set boundaries.

If used wisely, yes and no become your greatest assets. Use them with care.


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