It's just one tiny word but it can make enormous changes to your life, says Terry Tavner
A few years ago I thought I had my life sorted – a job I loved, a man who loved me and a family I adored. And then the man decided he loved someone else, and at work the boss decided to make us all redundant. Within a few weeks, my world came crashing down. In many ways, I’d been defined by my relationship and by my work, and now they were no longer there, all I could see was a woman in her late 50s who didn’t know who she was any more.
I’m a gregarious person and usually the last to leave a party, but I retreated into myself. I stopped going out, turned down invitations and disappeared into a shell. This behaviour lasted for six months until, after a miserable Christmas, I decided my New Year’s resolution was going to be to start saying yes. I'd realised the safety of saying no meant I never left the confines of my own little bubble. I could wallow in negativity and never have to face the world again.
According to clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew, as we get older, we maintain a sense of safety by surrounding ourselves with people and things we feel most comfortable with. ‘But that can be limiting,’ she says. ‘Saying yes can really open up your world and your ideas.’
And so, on that New Year’s Day, I woke up with a renewed determination to accept whatever life might throw at me.
My first yes was to some friends who live on the south coast of England. They were spending their retirement travelling around the world for six months. Did I fancy doing a spot of house-sitting for them? I moved in, believing I was doing them a huge favour, but the reality couldn’t have been more different – turns out they were my saviours.
For a start, they left me Dixie, an adorable golden retriever, who literally licked my wounds during our time together. Could she tell how low I was feeling? I like to think she could. And being responsible for a dog means routine. I had to get up early, go for walks on the beach, stop and chat with other dog owners and talk to the dog instead of myself. I’d imagined that being away from home would be a struggle, that I’d miss the buzz of London. Not remotely the case. I loved living by the sea.
Reclaiming my life
I returned home enriched and empowered by my experience and determined to start reclaiming my life. I began catching up with my long-suffering and loyal friends – one of them presented me with my second challenge to say yes. She’s a busy magazine editor who’d been invited to take part in a charity bike ride in Vietnam and Cambodia. She couldn’t go but told the Genesis Research Trust charity that she knew someone who might take her place. Those five days were arguably some of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced, but the women I met on that bike ride, women who have endured far more difficulties than I have, all served to make me realise just how very lucky I am.
‘Saying yes can build your confidence, especially when it’s something you previously thought you wouldn’t be able to do,’ says Rachel, ‘because once you realise you can, you start to think about yourself in a different way. Maybe it’s being stronger, more agile or smarter than you thought you were. Or discovering you’re more popular, more sociable, funnier than you imagined.’
Whatever it is, don’t shy away from the opportunity. A friend and I had been mulling over setting up our own company making ski-helmet covers for children. Then, one day, we simply said, ‘Let’s do it today!’ It was terrifying as neither of us had any experience of running a company. But Sara, my business partner, is a fantastic seamstress, so she made the prototype designs, while I did the marketing. And within a matter of weeks, we’d found a factory to make them – Headztrong was up and running and continues to stand out on ski slopes around the world.
Kick the 'No' Habit
Author and adventurer Dave Cornthwaite runs a project called SayYesMore (sayyesmore.com). According to Dave, ‘It’s easy to get into the habit of saying no by default and hiding away, not challenging yourself and growing stale. Saying yes more means you become more interesting, you create memories and you learn new skills. You learn to communicate better and surround yourself with good people.’ And his is an ethos that can work for anyone at any stage in their life.
Letting the yes word into your vocabulary doesn’t have to involve huge challenges. A small nod in the affirmative can reap big rewards. Rachel believes it could be as simple as saying yes to taking better care of yourself emotionally, joining a group or doing something as a one-off, like my bike ride, where you meet different people. Even just listening to different music or going out to a new restaurant challenges the way you see yourself. Since my initial resolution, eight years ago, I’ve embarked on Italian classes, started a movie club and taken in lodgers from Australia, Germany and the US.
Of course, I get the fear about the crazy thing I’m about to do next, but I haven’t regretted a single time I've chosen to say yes instead of no. In the words of Richard Branson, ‘Even if I have no idea where I’m going or how to get there, I prefer to say yes instead of no and learn along the way – because life is more fun when you say yes.’
And it’s a yes from me, too!
Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, on seven ways to harness the power of yes…
Say yes to invitations to a new country.
- Say yes to meeting new people.
- Say yes to learning something new.
- Saying yes means you will do something new, meet someone new and make a difference.
- Yes is a tiny word that can do big things.
- Yes lets you stand out in a crowd, be the optimist, see the glass full, be the one everyone comes to.
- Yes is what keeps us all young. Say it often.
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