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A Single Word That Can Change Your Life

The power of embracing "yes."

Key points

  • The word “yes” is so much more than a word of agreement.
  • It is easy to get stuck into a "no" attitude as a way to avoid hurt or pain.
  • Too much "no" thwarts growth and learning, while a simple "yes" can open doors for problem-solving, creativity, and cultivating possibilities.

In 1966, Yoko Ono launched an interactive art exhibit that required viewers to climb a ladder and use a magnifying glass to look up at a white paper suspended from the ceiling. What they saw was the word, “Yes!”

The word “yes” by definition is a positive affirmation, a word of agreement, but it is so much more. It opens dialogue, allows for possibilities, encourages further inquiry, and moves people forward.

Unfortunately, it is easy to get stuck into a "no" attitude. Especially if you have been hurt before. We are biologically wired to protect ourselves. No is a natural barrier. It stops whatever is being requested, offered, or asked of us. Even in its polite form of “no thank you,” no effectively brings the conversation to a halt.

Acknowledging that change or the unknown can be uncomfortable, using no is a simple and elegant way to preserve the status quo. No protects us from new or threatening experiences. Just say “no,” and nothing happens. If you assume negative or poor outcomes, then no single-handedly avoids the whole situation. For example, if someone invites you to a social event, and you are afraid or worried about your experience or any potential bad outcome, then declining the offer avoids the experience.

This is helpful if what you are avoiding is truly dangerous, unhealthy, or a deterrent from your goals. No holds your boundaries and honors your integrity. There is a healthy time and place for “no.”

However, no can be misdirected. If you are responding to fear, then ask yourself whether this fear is coming from an emotional place, based on the past, or whether it is a realistic fear based on current variables. Think about if your no is based on things that have not happened, and in some cases, may be highly unlikely to happen. Just because you can imagine a possible negative or dangerous outcome does not mean that it is likely to occur. This is the “what-if” thinking versus “what-is” thinking. Determining realistic levels of threat or danger requires calming the emotional mind, and listening to your rational mind.

Too much no is not healthy. It stops growth. It blocks you from stretching beyond your comfort zone. It stops brainstorming, problem-solving, and creativity. Think of how many people or opportunities you have missed because of no. Think of how many ideas have silently withered to the sound of no.

Recently, I asked my supervisor about a far-fetched idea, and fully expected to be shut down with a “well, but…” kind of no. But instead, I was completely derailed when she said "yes.” In fact, it threw me for a bit of a loop, but then I felt a surge of motivation to do more. How did she do that? It’s the power of yes.

Source: stockfreeimages/Dreamstime

In the 2008 movie Yes Man, the main character played by Jim Carrey transforms his life by saying "yes.” Imagine infinite possibilities with the simple and incredibly powerful word, “Yes!” Yes, is fuel for creativity. It fosters collaboration, and problem-solving. It is a catalyst for growth and change. Ideas are nurtured to the sound of yes. Possibilities emerge, new pathways are forged, and yes, change does happen.

Experiential exercise: Sit back, ground your feet, and take in a deep breath and exhale out slowly and completely. If you’d like, close your eyes. Say the word "no” repeatedly in your head. Maybe add, “No, I can’t,” “I can’t do it," or "I can’t have it.” How does that make you feel? Now, do the same but say the word “yes.” Maybe add, “Yes, I can!” "I can do it!" or "I can have it!" How does that make you feel?

The truth is, yes, you can. Amaze yourself with what you can do. Now, the question is, what would you like to create in your life? What would bring you joy, good health, and supportive relationships? What could you say “yes” to that moves you forward in your goals?

Opportunities are numerous, but it takes being open to seeing them and welcoming them into your life. Keep your no in your back pocket. It may be useful in some circumstances. But see what happens when you invite yes into your life.

So, the next time when someone asks you something, presents an idea, or offers you an opportunity, start by saying “yes,” and then consider how.


Soller, N., Paul, J., & Mogel, A. (2008). Yes Man, Warner Bros. Productions.