I got the most amazing piece of advice from a friend's mother. Judy is a mom to four beautiful, strong daughters, she's a grandmother, a community leader and she has a great sense of humor and a deep husky voice. I asked her how she turned out such lovely women and kept her family so close. Her answer?
"I said yes, as often as possible."
That has stayed with me, and it was especially meaningful at a time when I found myself telling the boys "NO" for no real reason. Like, "no I won't play that game with you" or "no, I don't want you doing xyz." And honestly, why not? Why was I so quick to say no? To begin, now is a time when moments of my undivided attention are critical. I understand this is fleeting, and that their indifference to me will surely break my heart one day. Number two, kids need the freedom to test and create and explore their own ideas. If it's not truly dangerous or totally indulgent (I'm not talking about buying them stuff or letting them eat ice cream for breakfast) then I needed to start saying yes. As much as possible. Yes. This word can be SO powerful for my kids, yet I hoard it at home and let it fly with careless abandon most of the day. I fricking give it away for free at work. At their school. Everywhere it seems, but where it matters most. So I decided to switch gears... and now I pause and say yes to my kids whenever possible, and I think of Judy every time.
Since receiving that advice, I've read two books that speak to the power of our choices: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.
At first run, Tidying Up reads like an SNL sketch—taking decluttering to such an extreme I wondered if Ms. Kondo has been clinically diagnosed with an order disorder. She's disciplined, to say the least. Despite the fact that I won't be unpacking my purse nightly, and taking each sacred item from its bowels, and placing them into velvet lined boxes of perfect measure, her method really does makes sense.
You would think that a lifestyle approach to organization is about saying no to what you can live without. Big hint here, it's not. My aha moment, was that you don't start by having it all and reduce. You begin with nothing, and re-acquire (say YES) with intention. No to everything, then you keep only the items that truly move you. WHOA.
"Konmari," as this method of reduction is now referred to, is actually about the art of saying YES.
I get how this is common sense for some people. I'd always approached it from the opposite point of view... "well, what can i get rid of?". I felt a heaviness lift when everything was automatically categorized as a "toss" (or give) and I had to work to find a meaningful reason to say yes to something, to label it a "keep".
Essentialism offers a similar philosophy, but for time and people instead of things. From McKeown, "It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’." Once you have established what your priorities are—like having family dinners, or getting paid to do the things you're best at—then you can more easily make decisions TO DO, or NOT DO, the activities that serve your core values.
What is most important to me? What am I really good at? How do I want to spend my time?
We are constantly fielding requests from others, and it's our responsibility to engage in our response to these demands. While on autopilot, our instinct is often to say YES. Because we don't know how to say no, or we don't want to disappoint others, or perhaps because we simply can't provide (a good enough) reason NOT TO. It's just easier to say yes. At first. In the end, we're stressed, we're spread thin, we're not happy.
The key to happiness? Say NO to something that doesn't have great meaning or impact for you. And say YES to something that speaks to your core values and serves your higher purpose. Have you already mastered this? What's YOUR magic word?