How to Go from Automatic No to Creative Possibility


Doctor Neha: Hi, everybody and welcome. Today we have a special guest, Devon. We met in a workshop together.

Devon: Yes we did.

Doctor Neha: So thanks for being a brave soul and being willing to ask a communication questions so other people can learn. What’s on your mind?

Devon: For this year, I want to work on my negative mind. I’d like to work on that because it seems like I’m more of a no before a yes. So if somebody presents something to me, my first thought is, Why I would not do that kind of thing?

Doctor Neha: You think of all the reasons why you wouldn’t do that.

Devon: Yes, I’ve always been that way. So I want to reach the yes before I even indicate an answer at all….Can we start over?

Doctor Neha: Yes, we can always do a take-two. Let’s do it again. It’s good for people to see that you can start something over, especially when you do something live and organic and your thoughts (or emotions) are flowing out of you. You can do a take two; you can do it in a relationship; you can do it now. So let’s start again. What’s your question? What have you been thinking about?

Devon: What I want to work on is being a yes or a maybe before I come up with the answer. When somebody asks me to do something, for some reason, my inclination is no. I’ve always been this way. But then I often think about it later and find my yes. That’s my pattern. I guess what I’d like to do is speed up that process to a yes.

Doctor Neha: OK, so what would a yes give you?

Devon: I get very frustrated when I say no, but then I think about it and realize I am a yes. I’d like to get rid of that frustration. And I know that for people in my life it’s very frustrating too.

Doctor Neha: All right. So when I asked you, “What’s yes going to give you?” you told me what a no gives you. So I’m going to ask the question again: What would saying yes give you?

Devon: Well, at this point more yeses would actually feel more freeing and positive. That’s what I’m looking for. So a more positive outlook in life in general.

Doctor Neha: If you had a positive outlook in life, what would that give you?

Devon: It would show my more authentic self or more exuberance. More joyfulness. More that “it” factor.

Doctor Neha: So if you said yes more often, you could be authentically you, you’d be more connected to people, and you’d have freedom. Even as you’re speaking, your tone is changing. It’s almost like you’d get to play more, like there would be more fun.

Devon: Right.

Doctor Neha: It seems like right now with all the no’s you’re kind of having regret afterward, or you’re missing opportunities and having to kind of rework things with your relationships, like with your friendships and your community because you’ve said no. And it’s always so much work to get you to a yes. Is that what’s going on?

Devon: Well, it’s mostly no. And then I always go back to the person when I realize I am a yes for whatever they asked.

Doctor Neha: So tell me what a no gives you.

Devon: I’m not committing to something I’ll later regret committing to.

Doctor Neha: OK. So your no is to protect you and save you from having to break a commitment. But in the end you’re realizing that it’s a lot of work and kind of breaking the connection between you and others?

Devon: Yeah. I would agree to that.

Doctor Neha: Give me one example of a time when you just said yes without a no first. An opportunity when you were a yes right away…

Devon: Going to my friend’s wedding in Guatemala.

Doctor Neha: That’s a good one.

Devon: I had no hesitation at all.

Doctor Neha: And you’d figure it out. What did you value about that experience?

Devon: There was no question.

Doctor Neha: What about that made you a yes?

Devon: I care about these people so much. I trusted there were only positives to come out of it. It was an easy commitment to make.

Doctor Neha: And you probably like travel, right? So you like travel, you like the people. It was a special occasion and you knew you’d figure it out. It sounds like it’s important for you to know how to navigate changing your answer once you’ve said yes to someone. What I’m talking about is that it seems to me you’re doing this no thing and then you working your way back to yes. But the truth is you’re just afraid of having the conversation should your yes turn to a no.

Devon: Right.

Doctor Neha: Do you remember a time when you had said yes to someone and then you had to say no?

Devon: Not off the top of my head.

Doctor Neha: Maybe it’s something from a long time ago, like in your upbringing or your family. Like the belief that once you say yes to something, you’ve got to stick to it no matter what. If you don’t remember a specific incident, then it means it is like the blueprint of you. It has been going on for so long that you it’s just the way your neurons in your brain function and fire.

Devon: It seems like it’s always been that way.

Doctor Neha: Interesting. Then I would ask you, who in your life is a no before they are ever a yes.

Devon: My mother! I’ve actually put a lot of thought into it, and I know where the source is.

Doctor Neha: How about if we teach you how to say yes to me and then come around and say no, so it’s not so scary if it should happen. Then you can allow yourself to feel freedom and play and joy in saying yes and connecting to people.

First, tell me what physically happens in your body when someone asks you to do something. For example, they’re giving you an invitation to do something and that no response is coming up. How do you know in your body?

Devon: It’s an instant reaction: I don’t want to do that, and I kind of I shake it off.

Doctor Neha: So maybe your muscles get tense and you’ve got to shake that off.

Devon: It can get pretty frustrating. It feels frustrating in my body.

Doctor Neha: OK, invite me to something that you had maybe had gotten invited to but you’ve said no to.

Devon: An example is I don’t like change. So if I’ve gotten my schedule set for the day and I’m ready to go in the morning then my work asks me to see somebody else in my schedule, I find a lot of resistance initially. If I don’t have to answer right away, I can give it some space and then find my yes. So that’s the best example I can give where I’ve wanted to be a no but I found my yes. And then was glad I did later.

Doctor Neha: OK. So we’re going to do a little exercise that’s just about yes and—the only two words we can say to each other are”Yes, and…” at the beginning of what we say. We’re gonna build on whatever the other person says, even if it’s ridiculous.

Devon: OK.

Doctor Neha: Hey Devon, can you fly out to Boston to do this video blog live this week?

Devon: Yes.

Doctor Neha: And

Devon: And…let me talk to my bosses about getting time off.

Doctor Neha: Yes and I know you’ve been such an amazing worker that they are just going to pay for the ticket for you.

Devon: Yes, and…I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Doctor Neha: No, Devon, that’s not a yes. That response was really a “No, but…” All right, so let’s start another one. The only thing you can say is “Yes, and…” with me.

Devon, I heard that you won queen of wrestling crocodiles.

Devon: Yes, and…it was fun.

Doctor Neha: Yes, and I heard that you even took the crocodile tooth and turned it into jewelry that the queen of England wants.

Devon: Yes, and you should see it. You would love it.

Doctor Neha: Yes, and maybe we could go together to the queen’s and have tea with her.

Devon: Yes, and I’m in!

Doctor Neha: Did you feel the first time we tried that you were resisting? The reason I did that is because I want you to feel in your body what it feels like when you say no, but they never would…. Little kids are good at this game. I say, “I have a make-believe kingdom with fairies and queens.” And a five-year-old would come along and say, “Yes, and there are stars and butterflies”—they would build on the imagination of what is possible. That’s very different than as adults when we’ve been hurt or had experiences that have hardwired us to protect ourselves with a response of “No but…”

So this is the first place to start: allow yourself to explore the possibilities even if you don’t know how it would happen, even if it’s spontaneous in the moment. That’s why I did a spontaneous exercise with you because you said, “I have trouble when people are changing things in the moment.” So think about ways you can say yes first and notice what that feels like in your body. What felt different about the second time around in that little exercise?

Devon: More playful. Interesting.

Doctor Neha: Yes. Interesting. Fun, imaginative, playful, right? How about a little more of that in your life?

Devon: That would be great.

Doctor Neha: For any of you out there who know your initial instinct is to say no before you say yes, I want you to find a little kid or someone who hasn’t forgotten the joy of “Yes, and…” and play the “Yes, and…” game—no matter how ridiculous it gets. Notice in your body if your muscles get tight or your stomach starts churning when you start to say no (or yes) because the first place you’re going to pick this up is in your body. Your body is going to tell you first before words come out of your mouth.

Thanks for joining us, Devon. Thanks for asking your question because I know for a fact that you are not alone in this. We were honored to have you.


Awareness Prescription

Changing a yes to a no

  1. Notice your body’s signals (tight muscles, jaw clenching, heart racing, etc.) when your automatic response is going to be no.

  2. Take a deep breath in, soften your abdomen and pause.

  3. Try saying, “Sure, I’m open to that.”

  4. Pay attention to how it feels in your body to say yes.

  5. Notice the fears and negative self-talk that might arise. What are you afraid of?

  6. Should you need to change your answer, use one of these phrases to have an honest conversation with whom you need to renegotiate:

    I wanted to thank you for offer X. Even though I initially hesitated, I said yes. My intention was to be open-minded. But after thinking about it more, I’ve decided it’s not the right fit for me.

    When you asked me to do X, I said I was open to it. But afterward, I noticed I had [insert body signals, such as trouble sleeping last night, stomach churning], so I need to change my answer.

    Note: These two examples are just templates. Make them your own!


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