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The double-edged “yes”

Hidden within every “yes”, there’s an implicit “no”.

Steve Jobs famously said that he was as proud of the things he hasn’t done as he is about those he did do. For him, saying “no” to many ideas meant that he had more time to focus on the things that deeply mattered to him and that he really did say “yes” to.

It’s an insight we tend to forget. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to all the things you could be doing instead of the thing you said “yes” to.

Saying “yes” often feels like the most harmonious response. Whether it’s agreeing to a colleague’s project proposal, accepting a social invitation, or undertaking a new responsibility, a “yes” can carry a world of positivity and opportunity.

But every choice has an opportunity cost. Each time we say “yes” to one endeavor, we are (consciously or unconsciously) saying “no” to another. Agreeing to work late on a project means declining the family dinner. Accepting an invitation for dinner with Tom means we can’t go out with Tim. These implicit “nos” often go unrecognized, but they have a profound impact on our time, priorities, and overall well-being.

Every “yes” is not just an acceptance, but also a decline of alternative possibilities. But is that what you really want?

Getting awareness of this duality allows us to be more deliberate in our choices and ensure that when we do say “yes”, it’s to the things that align most closely with our values and objectives.

Embracing “no” is not about becoming negative or closed-off. Rather, it’s about recognizing the interconnected nature of our decisions and the implicit trade-offs within them. It’s about making the unconscious conscious and empowering ourselves to choose with greater clarity.

How do you choose?

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