Ja, si, oui, 是的 — the language doesn’t matter. Yes is one of the most powerful words on our planet.

As winter approaches, I fear a hardening of position by individuals and communities on so many levels. As recession and inflation and war and technology and our ever-mutating BFF Covid swirl around us with a force that dwarfs Fiona and Ian, each of us is torn between searching for our own unique rock to crawl under, to find comfort and shelter from all of the above, or to silently scream to ourselves, “Not going to happen, I will not let all this bring me down.”

I sense many of us are finding renewed comfort in the tried and true of yesterday, which we believe served everyone much better. There is a longing for the way things used to be in the air as we search for any excuse to throw up our hands and ask, “Why bother?”

Our communication with one another is uncertain. There are those of us that no longer talk as openly as we did, afraid that we might be overly scrutinized, unsure of our positions or simply less interested in sharing our views. Many of us are hardening our positions, holding tight to them lest they be proven wrong or challenged, informing the world that this is the way we see things, and by gosh, nothing will change our minds.

Mostly I fear we will stop saying yes.

That we’ll shrink from opening ourselves to new experiences, resist stepping out of our comfort zone to embrace opportunities, and retreat to the familiar. That we’ll stop saying yes to people, unwilling to risk the rejection, embarrassment, criticism, or failure to connect which we expose ourselves to through honest human interaction. That we’ll forget the exhilaration of saying yes to something we fear, that leaning into our fears rather than avoiding them is the first step to putting insecurities behind us.

Saying yes opens the world to us, revealing all the possibilities available in the exact opposite way that saying no shuts doors and minds. Saying yes allows us to engage the world in a way that makes us stretch ourselves, open our minds and hearts, learn new perspectives and approaches. It says I’m willing to try, to learn, to grow.

Saying yes allows us to snatch opportunities, those rare and invaluable moments that enrich us. While no may be our “go to” response, the one we believe keeps us safe, is convenient and doesn’t require us to examine our reasons, it is also stifling. Opportunity may offer itself to us quietly or when we’re unprepared, but a yes mindset will recognize that opportunity for what it is, and we’ll be open to it. If we take the lazy approach, waiting until just the right moment, or until we are one hundred percent sure, it’s often too late.

Opportunity may offer itself to us quietly or when we’re unprepared, but a yes mindset will recognize that opportunity for what it is, and we’ll be open to it

Saying yes expands our understanding of the world and people around us. We frequently assume things are a certain way, that certain people believe certain things. We’re confident things happen for a reason, and that a specific input will lead to an anticipated result. When we say yes to actions or thoughts outside this learned wisdom, we’re open to experiences that are dramatically different than we expect, transforming our way of thinking and understanding. Our entrenched attitudes get shaken up, our field of vision expands, and we become more knowledgeable and accepting.

Saying yes to things we don’t fully understand or which have consequences that are hard to predict will occasionally lead to failure, that wonderful device by which we gain life experiences, learn valuable lessons, build character and shape our future. The things we say yes to will happen, good and bad. When we say no, nothing happens. We’ll never know if we could or couldn’t have succeeded. We’ll forever remember the moment through “What if?” glasses, lamenting missed opportunities.

When we say yes and fail, but survive, our risk tolerance increases and we become bolder in our dreams. A spontaneous and confident, “What’s the worst that can happen?” opens us to fresh adventures and challenges, replacing the cynical, “What’s the worst that can happen?” that we smugly mutter under our breath when we see someone else take a risk that is beyond our comprehension. The willingness to fail at something we’ve considered and said yes to provides us with the realization that our life is our own, and must be measured by ourselves rather than the thoughts or approval of others. This is a truly empowering realization in which self-confidence flourishes.

Saying yes increases our opportunities to be creative. Dr. Robert E. Franken, University of Calgary professor emeritus whose research focuses on understanding curiosity and exploratory behaviour, wrote in his book, Human Motivation, “Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems and communicating with others.” While this definition may relate more to business than the world of art and literature, it’s all about being mentally and emotionally open enough to say yes, that time when we begin to search out opportunities rather than wait for them.

Saying yes allows us to take advantage of random encounters and coincidences, which may lead to a widening of friendships and collaborations. Yes opens conversations and attitudes, no shuts down discussion and stops progress. We’re most honest when we’re vulnerable, a characteristic that attracts others. When we’ve placed ourselves in a position where we may need help, we learn that strangers tend to be more generous and caring than threatening.

Amongst friends, having the reputation for saying yes to others often makes it easier to ask for assistance when we need help, and expect a yes in return.

Saying yes more often can break boring rituals and routines, making life more fun. Our memories seldom consist of what we didn’t tackle. Taking the plunge, throwing caution to the wind, biting off more than we can chew, going for broke and a hundred more clichés that allude to degrees of risk and the unknown excite us when we hear them. When these phrases are prefaced by “I”, an exciting story told with enthusiasm is sure to follow.

Saying yes means learning how to say no, and more importantly, why to say no. Too many yeses can lead to a life that’s so hectic that we let our own needs go unfulfilled. Learning what is important to oneself, and saying no to things on the periphery is legitimate.

Learn to understand if your hesitation is an excuse to say no, or part of the struggle to begin saying yes more often. We must be wary of saying no because of ingrained fears and limiting beliefs, or using a habitual negative response because it is easy.

By saying yes we invite possibility into our lives, grow in ways we might not have expected, test our capabilities and inspire one another, although we might not know it at the time. How often do we look back on those times we said yes and it didn’t seem important, only to learn in hindsight that a decision taken years ago has lead to a series of positive events that would not have otherwise occurred.

There has never been a better time to consider saying yes more often than now.