When I was in high school and college, I was notorious among my group of friends as the naysayer. If someone suggested going to see a movie I wasn’t interested in seeing, I’d share my negative opinions about the movie to try and prevent us from going. If someone suggested going out dancing at a club, I’d drag my feet and resist and come up with all kinds of reasons why we shouldn’t go. Usually, I protested doing the things that made me uncomfortable. Little did I know at the time that this was my inner introvert speaking up as loudly as she could. Mostly, I’m amazed that my friends kept me around.
In the end, I’d usually give in for the sake of friendship. More often than not, I’d surprise myself by having a good time.
However, those positive experiences didn’t make much of a dent in my overall pattern of NO.
I continued saying no to things that were not as convenient or comfortable for a long time.
An invitation to a party in which I only knew the host? I’d politely decline, coming up with some personal conflict preventing me from attending.
An event in downtown DC? Too bad it’s happening on a “school night.” I have to be up early the next morning. Tough break.
A concert in which the headlining act was unfamiliar to me? Money has been really tight this month. I just can’t swing any extra expenses.
I did start saying yes more frequently, but on very rare occasions and usually when I realized I hadn’t done anything remotely social or adventurous for awhile. I tend to say no, not because I don’t enjoy having fun or seeing friends or being social or doing interesting things. I usually say no because if I said yes, it would break with my familiar routine.
And for someone who considers herself staunchly anti-establishment and non-conformist, I really like my routines.
You could call this an introvert issue, but it’s not. At least not for me.
If someone invited me out to do something I really truly enjoyed or felt comfortable doing, I was more than happy to break my routines. Invite me to go on a hike pretty much anywhere, I’m there. Ask me to go see a band that I love, I will do my best to make it happen. Invite me to a movie I want to see or pretty much any musical ever created, I am your girl.
Suggest a night of partying at a club with a high cover, techno music, and too many gropey guys, and I’ll come up with an excuse to miss it.
As a mom, I have fallen into the same trap. I love going to playgrounds. I dislike almost anything that requires me and the toddler to get in the car and drive to it.
To be fair, I am a “work at home mom”.
That means that although Milly does go to school for a few hours in the morning, she is home with me for the entire afternoon. Some mornings, I teach yoga. That leaves only 2 mornings for me to get work done without an adorable but needy toddler demanding my attention. I also teach some evenings. So I have a 3 hour window in the afternoon on most days, in which I need to get work done. Then I have to make dinner, feed myself and my family, then get out the door to teach yoga.
As much as I want to say yes to weekday afternoon adventures, the resistance comes from a place of, “but I have so much work to get done and Milly might fall asleep in the car and then bedtime will never happen and did I mention the piles of work waiting for me to tackle them?”
And weekends? Forget about it. Nathan and I have precious little time together, so if I’m not working on the weekend, I’m spending as much time with that hunk of man I share my life with as possible.
Truthfully, though, these are just excuses. There is nothing comfortable or convenient about changing deeply rooted patterns. That’s part of what makes habit change so tricky. That’s part of why we so frequently struggle or even “fail” when we do attempt to make shifts, big or small. The discomfort stops us before we even start.
There’s this great improv exercise, which I learned in high school called “Yes, Let’s.” The idea was that you had to say YES to everything, no matter what it was, in your improv scene. If you say yes, then the action can continue smoothly but if you say no, you immediately block the action and your improv partner has to come up with something else on the spot to redirect. Not an easy task.
In improv, you are tasked with “going with the flow.” Allowing the events that come up to play out smoothly because you not only say yes to things, but you go on the adventure willingly, with curiosity and desire.
Life isn’t necessarily improv, although it might sometimes feels that way. We can’t legitimately or even safely say yes to everything. But when we say no, we are effectively stopping the flow or preventing forward motion just because it’s uncomfortable.
I’ve finally realized that I need get more uncomfortable. Or be willing to work within the inconvenience of what those yesses might create. It’s the only way I’m going to be able to make a meaningful shift in my life in this area. I need to start saying yes more and saying no less. Because the no’s are holding me back.
Yesterday, one of my dearest mama friends invited me and Milly to go ice skating with her and her daughter (who is one of Milly’s besties, very conveniently). We were supposed to have an afternoon playdate, but I had expected something more mellow. Maybe playground. Maybe hanging out at one of our houses. When I got her suggestion via text, I felt immediate panic.
“ICE SKATING? In the middle of the afternoon on a Monday?” Myno started to voice her opinion loudly. “But all of my work! But dinner! But unfamiliar! But ice skating at 7 months pregnant!”
I decided to ignore my no. Instead, I said yes.
Was it tricky to ice skate with a toddler at 7 months pregnant? A little. Did I get a little bit behind on work? Yes, a little. Did I have dinner a little later than our ordinary routine? A little.
But did Milly have a ridiculous amount of fun? ABSOLUTELY. Did I feel nourished by spending time with a good friend? 100%.
It was worth the discomfort and the inconvenience. In fact, it wasn’t all that inconvenient at all. It was worth every single second away from my work and off of my normal routine, because we had fun.
There’s not much I value more than time with good friends, especially when a little adventure is involved.
Good friendships nourish my soul. I can tell they do the same for Milly.
So really, how could I possibly have said no?
Plus, Milly was a natural! She was a little nervous at first but eventually got the hang of her skates. After tightly holding onto her penguin and requiring me to push them both, she eventually wanted to try on her own. Then she wanted to try without the penguin while holding my hand.
I could not have been more proud.
And we would have missed it if I had been silly and said no.
Glad I said yes.