The Zen of “Yes” or “No”

Written by Tabby Biddle

Are you a “Yes” person or a “No” person, and is one better than the other?

YesManMovies like The Yes Man starring Jim Carrey would have you believe that saying “no” leads to a boring life and a host of unexplored possibilities. After saying “no” to just about everything, Carrey’s character is depressed, disconnected and on the verge of missing out on life altogether. As an antidote, he attends a self-help seminar that advocates saying “YES” to EVERYTHING. His life totally turns around: he goes bungee jumping, takes guitar lessons, learns Korean, flies an airplane, and finds love.

All good things.

But what really happens to people who go through life saying “yes” (note the lower case) to every request made of them without a “no” in sight?

LouiseHayLouise Hay, teacher, author and expert in looking at the emotional causes of disease, says in her book Empowering Women that there is a consistent pattern that she has noticed with almost every woman she knows who has breast cancer. She says that they usually have a tremendous inability to say “no.” “Breasts represent nourishment, and people with breast cancer seem to nourish everybody in their world but themselves,” she says. “They give and they give until there is no nourishment left for them.”

True or not, there seems to be a fine line between moments when we say “yes” to  open up to new life possibilities, and, when we say “no” to honor ourselves and maintain a healthy boundary.

For example, do you say yes to donating your time to a cause because you feel it is a good thing to do, but then start bouncing checks because you gave too much of yourself and your bank account? Maybe that should have been a no.

Do you say yes to learning another language, traveling abroad and possibly meeting the love of your life? That yes could work.

Sometimes the Zen of “Yes” or “No” can be a tough call.

We’ve all probably had the experience of sharing a confidence with a friend, and then they later spilled the beans to someone else. The next time around when they asked you to share something intimate, you thought twice about this.

If you are a yes person, learning to say no can feel difficult  — especially the first time! The first time I said “no” to someone when they asked for one too many favors, I was so nervous. I was so afraid the person was going to get angry with me. I wondered if I was being selfish, or even worse, not nice. I even contemplated reversing back to “yes.” If I said yes though, I would be betraying what I knew to be true for me — deep down I wanted to say “no.” After much deliberation, I stuck with my no.

“Anybody who is learning to say no has to put up with anger for awhile,” says Louise. “You can expect that reaction.” The people around you have become so used to you saying yes, that this disruption in the pattern can be unsettling for them.

Although some people would have you believe that when you say no, you are closing off to possibilities in your life … I would like to challenge that by saying that sometimes saying no, will open up tremendous possibilities.

Maybe when you say no to someone in certain circumstances, you are actually saying YES to yourself!


Tabby Biddle is a writer and editor specializing in helping women entrepreneurs and emerging authors get their message out. Additionally she is the founder of Lotus Blossom Style, a yoga lifestyle company created to support women in their personal transformation. She lives in Santa Monica, CA.


9 thoughts on “The Zen of “Yes” or “No”

  1. By saying no, we are often opening up our lives to say yes to something else. It might be another appointment, another task, or just time for ourselves, which clarifies our role in life. Go with our instincts and say no when we can!

  2. If we always say “yes”, we run the risk of running on empty…when were empty we cannot possibly be there for anyone else. Nurture yourself, so that you may be there to nurture others, and always remember, we are not responsible for the reaction of others…that is about them, not us.

  3. I hear you all on this. It is a big one to say “no” without guilt. That’s the trick. It sounds easy, but I find it takes some doing. Each time I do say no when I know a no is right for me — I do find I gain more and more self-respect and the guilt showers off of me. It’s a learning and a practice.

    Thanks for your sharing.

  4. Thanks for this…I face this problem often, and recently have offered my services “pro-bono” and now I am overwhelmed, and falling behind on my “to-do” list…I wish I had said NO to a few things now. There is always the option of saying, I can’t do this anymore…I think that is what I need to do for a few things. Thanks fr sharing the power of NO!

  5. Hi Greg.

    Yes, there is always the option of saying, “I can’t do this anymore,” or “I’m needing to change my course of action, and I can’t do this now.”

    Good luck! I know you can get things back in balance.


  6. As often is the case, the norm is the ‘masculine’, which is harsh, and rejecting, and then thrives on embracing life with a YES. And for the feminine, almost always the opposite. Being so overburdened by all the yes’es, that there’s nothing left. Then a NO becomes the true life-giver, the nourishment we need.

    Love your new style, Tabby! Professional and inspiring!

  7. Thank you for this post! I am finishing up a divorce and I believe that one reason my marriage failed was my inability to say no. On the one hand, if I had said no to some behaviors sooner, we might have been able to discuss our differences and work something out. On the other hand, the marriage might also have been shorter because it would have been clear that our differences were not going to go away easily. I’m glad the marriage lasted as long as it did: I have two beautiful boys. On the other hand, I feel sad that doormattism on my part was a key player in the end of my family life. Learning to say No in a way that honors myself and others is a key part of my post-divorce rebuild.

  8. Anna,

    Thank you so much for sharing so honestly about the journey you have been on. I like how you say, “Learning to say No in a way that honors myself and others is a key part of my post-divorce rebuild.” This is HUGE. I honor your courage. You are on a great new path.

    Many good wishes,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s