This has been a struggle for me to put it mildly. I am far better than I used to be, but far from where I would like to be.
As life goes on you will find that there are more and more good opportunities, enjoyable activities, and important responsibilities that will come into your life. It is so easy to simply say “Yes! Absolutely!” when a good opportunity comes along.
You are asked to volunteer for an organization that you truly believe in. You are asked to serve on a board for a cause you truly believe in. You are asked to take on a client that needs your help. You are asked by a friend or relative for a favor. You are asked to attend or speak at a meeting or conference to share your expertise or experience, which will be of great help to others.
There will be no shortage of good opportunities that you will be presented to over the years and many of them you will most definitely want to say “yes” to. But you can’t commit to everything as then your contribution to everything will suffer.
This has, and continues to be, a constant struggle for me. And I suspect that it always will be. However, I have learned how to use a tremendous tool to help me make better decisions.
The Defendable “Yes!”
Make your “Yes!” defendable by a thousand “no’s”.
I definitely didn’t come up with this phrase and I’m not sure who did but it is truly life-changing. You need to be careful not to look at the phrase too quickly without realizing its deep implications. It doesn’t simply say, “Make sure that what you’re saying ‘Yes’ to is better than other things that could fill in that spot in your life.”
A thousand. Really think about that.
That means that when you’re thinking about saying “yes” to something, adding that something into your life, your first response should be to begin thinking about all of the “no’s” that you will have to be willing to say to defend your commitment. This is the test to see how truly important the “yes” really is.
As an example, if you agree to that evening board meeting twice per month, this may be a list of “no’s” you will have to be willing to say to defend that decision:
No to family time those evenings,
no to time with your spouse,
no to meals with friends or family,
no to vacations that overlap those evenings,
no to winding down and relaxing after a day of work,
no to being as rested for your commitments for the following day,
no to spontaneous get together’s,
no to evening games with your children, etc.
The list should get very long in your mind very quickly. Be realistic on what your “yes” really means. Don't kid yourself. What are you really committing to? What are committing to NOT do?
In the example of the board meeting, you may decide that it is so important to you and that it is an organization that you believe in so strongly, that the trade-offs are worth it. That’s great if you come to that conclusion! Just make sure that you let yourself really think through the “thousand no’s” that will be required. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’ll “just make it work”.
The ability to say “yes” in light of the thousand “no’s” is a muscle that will always need to be continually trained, but that will get stronger with time.
If you use this criteria for saying “yes” you will very likely have a life with great and fulfilling commitments, rather than regrettable tedious ones.