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  • Pamela Carey

Should You Say YES or NO More Often? It Depends...

man jumps near lake with mountains in background

The Contrasting Advice

You may have heard that it's good to say yes to things. That it's admirable to say yes to opportunities, to life, and to whatever comes your way. Whether it's a party, a job offer, traveling, or going on a date with that random person who asked you out. Who knows what's going to happen? Say yes!

Hmm. But you may have also heard that it's good to set boundaries and say no and that being a minimalist can help you become more particular about how you're living your life. Because otherwise, people are going to invade your time. How will you get anywhere if you just say yes to everything? You might have been told that while it's hard to say no, you need to be forceful in it so that you stay true to yourself and stick to your path. So say no as a default position.

Huh. So which one is it?

The answer isn't about a specific instance, like saying yes or no to a certain opportunity, person, place, or event. It’s about clarifying whether your default position should be a yes or a no:

Which one should be a habit? Which one should be your way of life?

Approaching life by saying yes or no to things?

Many books discuss both saying yes and saying no, such as: The Power of No by James Altucher and Claudia or The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. There are countless other books on the subject as well, where people say yes or no more often and write about their journey and lessons they learned.

I think that what you find admirable really depends on what your starting position is.

A Relevant Story

A friend of mine finds it very admirable to say yes to things. She tries to live her life saying yes - if there's an opportunity at work, if she gets invited to see a speaker, to go to a book event, to go to a party, to grab a drink with her neighbor, and more. Saying yes is a life philosophy for her that has paid dividends and been fruitful in the last decade.

Now, what's interesting is the reason why she finds that a good exercise. We talked about this concept a lot, and it took us a while to understand why we differed on this subject so much. Then, I noticed two things:

  • She prides herself in consistently saying yes to life.

  • But I'm the opposite - whenever I would say no, I would feel proud of myself for doing that.

After a few years of being friends and this topic occasionally coming up, we realized we had opposite default starting positions:

  • Her default position is “no” by nature. She's very focused and lives a refined life that's quite routine. Her natural position would have been to say no due to how she grew up, how she developed, and the kind of person she was in her early 20s. That's how she positioned herself and her patterns – to say no when presented with something. To keep things more simple and focused. Then, in her later 20s, she realized that saying yes can be powerful, and that really opened her up to life more. Instead of staying closed off, it made her life feel more full.

  • Now, for me, it is the opposite. I am a yes person by nature. For example, in college, I was taking a bunch of classes, working on a thesis, in six clubs, in student government, participating research with the psychology department and the business departments, and would exercise when possible, all while working a job on campus. Needless to say, I was always over scheduled and slept very little. None of that is meant to be a "woe is me story" or some sort of a humble brag about my college resume. I was fortunate to have the experience, yes. But by doing too much, I wasn't really present or enjoying any of it to the fullest. If I could go back and do it again and actually do less, maybe 3 things, but truly be present for each of them, I think I would have felt like it was a much richer and fuller experience.

That's a little closer to how I live my life now. When I get invited to things like a baby shower of a close friend or a good work opportunity, obviously, my answer is yes. But I know I'm someone who's relatively social, relatively excited, and curious about many things. I get pretty passionate quickly about different things. So, if I were to say yes to everything that came my way or that sparked my interest, I'd never focus. I'd never get any depth. My life would just stay surface level.

So I say yes to life by actually saying no to a lot more, and it gives my life a lot more meaning and value.

Finding Balance Between Yes and No

What I want to ask you in this blog is what is your default position by nature? Are you someone who says no? Or do you say yes, naturally?

diagram showing if someone says no more often they need to say yes more often to become balanced, and if they say yes more often they need to say no more to become balanced

If you're a person who says no a lot, choosing to say yes more often can get you closer to a more balanced place.

By being someone who says yes all the time, saying no more often is what can help you achieve greater equilibrium.

The idea here is that what many of us are looking for is balance.

How Does Your Default Position Impact Your Life?

Now, why do these "default positions" matter? Where is that coming from?

Often, forming a new habit or implementing a new way of being is hard, especially in something as broad and all-encompassing as saying yes and no to things coming your way.

It is difficult to override your automatic response and choose something that feels counterintuitive.

Imagine you're at work, and your boss says,"There's an opportunity to help put on this conference for XYZ organization that's coming to town."

If you're the kind of person who would typically immediately agree and say: "Yes, I'll do that!", chances are you often raise your hand without thinking. But what if you tried to pause and take a second to ask yourself:

  • What do I have on my plate?

  • Is that something that I really want to do?

  • Or would it be a positive experience, but maybe not good for me right now?

Perhaps you'd arrive at a conclusion that you need to take a step back this time.

The story is different for those who would immediately refuse that opportunity. Maybe they naturally don't want to do things out of their element, out of their routine and prior commitments, or with people they don't already know. If that's your case, perhaps you could try stopping for a moment to remind yourself of your intention to say yes more often and practice greater authenticity."Would I actually like that? You know what? I think I would! I just hadn't even thought about it - I’ve just never done this before. But yeah, let me sign up for that.” And maybe it's already too late. Maybe you didn't get to raise your hand in the meeting. But you can always go up to your boss after and say yes.

The Science Behind Saying No

There's a fascinating article about four female researchers who said no for a year. They found (in addition to other findings) that:

Lesson 1: Saying no takes practice:

  • In the beginning, it was tough for them to turn down a colleague asking for a favor. If someone asks: "Will you read this paper and give me your thoughts on it?" it's easier to say yes in the moment.

  • But you can always get better at the skill of saying no.

  • They also mentioned saying no requires emotional labor and it is important to acknowledge that.

Lesson 2: You can budget out your yeses:

  • With practice, you realize where your yeses matter and where you want to give them.

  • Of course, you can't say yes to everything, but you can learn to say yes to what matters and learn how to budget for that.

Career Nuance

This also gives rise to another wrinkle or nuanced point - saying yes and no also depends on where you're at in your career. You can read more on this in the article, but you probably heard other people say this as well:

It's generally advised that when you're early in your career, you should say yes to almost everything. Then, later in your career, you should start saying no and be more particular.

For instance, at the beginning of my acting career, I wanted to say yes to all the opportunities that came my way because I wanted to be more open. Then, later, I had more freedom to decide: "Does that work with my schedule? Do I want to play that kind of a character? Do I want to work with these people?" I also work as a trainer, and in the beginning, I'd take on all sorts of clients at any time slot and regardless of what they can pay. With time, I gathered more clients within my preferred specialty, and I had a schedule that worked better for me.

No matter what industry you're in, saying yes at the beginning means opening up to the opportunity to learn more and meet more people. You can build your resume and gain independence to be more particular as you develop.

So it really depends on the area of life, which we're going to dive into more later.

On Introversion & Social Anxiety *

Saying yes and saying no are also tightly linked with our social lives. We're all different, and for extroverted people, the perfect Friday night may be out and about. While for introverts, a night spent home alone or with a couple of friends might sound ideal. However, there's a risk of getting stuck in a rut, and that's where saying yes to social events might be quite helpful - especially if you do want to be more social but feel nervous to. Or if you feel you are doing the same things all the time such as working out, scrolling, and watching your shows. This realization may help prompt you to set a goal to say yes more often when asked to attend events or meet new people. You may have an interest you have been wanting to pursue but putting yourself out there socially may have been what is stopping you.

These days there's an isolation and loneliness epidemic. So stepping out of your comfort zone and saying yes to trying new things can be powerful. Connecting, in-person, with people.

Going to events where you only know one or two people, and have to meet a bunch of new people, is a skill you can develop. As you do more of this, you can start to talk to people you don't know with more ease. Just to be clear - only go to an event if you feel safe enough to do so. Bringing a friend might be a good idea. Or agreeing to come just for an hour to ease into this transition of putting yourself out there. I'm not trying to throw you into the deep end before you're ready. All I mean is that saying yes to things that involve social elements, gets easier with time. This is a skill you can work on with practice.

If you see a flyer for a cause that you want to start volunteering for, by deliberately putting yourself out there more you may say to yourself: "Oh, you know, normally I wouldn't do that on a Sunday, but I'm trying to say yes more. Let me do that."

Lastly in this section, if you have crippling social anxiety that's debilitating in your life, please talk to a professional or find resources. You don't have to face that issue alone. You can face it within the safe space of therapy, assisted by an experienced professional.

The Changing of The Seasons of Life

You might have certain areas of your life where saying no makes more sense. For instance, I am experimenting with a certain way of eating that mostly is non-processed foods or cutting out some refined grains, but I don't do it in a forced way. I actually wrote a whole book on how restriction and forcing ourselves into certain behaviors in the area of nutrition and exercise doesn't work. I believe that applies to other areas of life as well though.

The aim is to become more conscious.

If you want to introduce a change in your life, it's good to approach it consciously and try to get in tune with your emotions, your feelings, and your thoughts. For instance in saying no to those foods, I'm saying yes to health. That's an area of my life where there's a somewhat set default yes or no. It allows me to be more thoughtful about my dietary choices versus snacking on random candies on the counter at work.

And, as you go further in your journey of branching out with nos or yeses, you'll probably experience going against your default patterns. It might inspire you to think about different areas of your life or different goals where breaking these patterns would make sense.

Let's say that you're having a very busy season. You might say “no” a little bit more often if you generally always say yes to social events. That's because you know you need to buckle down at work right now.

Ultimately, we want to get to a place where we're very conscious about our choices. I think that the whole reason these books and articles exist talking about no and yes is to help us notice certain patterns or ways of being that we fall into and take action to break out of them.

How To: Experiment Breaking Out Of Your Pattern

Let's say you decide to give it a real shot, and for the next three months, you will go against your default pattern. You commit to making choices that will allow you to get closer to the middle of the diagram earlier in this article. And after the 3 months pass, you can move on, not aiming to say yes or no more, but by simply being more conscious about it. By conscious, I just mean deliberate and thoughtful, versus autopilot.

For example, if someone asks you if you'd like to go on a trip, you wouldn't have to worry about whether your default is “yes” or “no”. Once you've broken through the patterns and the automation, you might just think:

  • "Is saving money more important to me right now OR is this social experience?"

  • "Do I have the bandwidth and the time to step away from my current obligations?"

So first, we dedicate a chunk of time to this experiment. Whether it's three months or a year, we use it to break away from that default pattern or way of being. But after that, I invite you to aim to be conscious about things, regardless of your default position, one way or the other.

Remember: we're not trying to change our default from just being how we naturally are to now being this other way where we try to constantly say yes or no just because we used to say the other one all the time. It's about being aware.

A note on People Pleasing

Sometimes, declining or refusing an offer can be challenging. If you identify as a people-pleaser and have a hard time setting boundaries or saying no, I would put that in a slightly different category than what we are discussing here. If that issue sounds like something you struggle with, you can check out my latest blog post on how to stop people pleasing and start setting boundaries.

The Opportunity Cost

person flipping a coin doing a magic trick

We sometimes forget about opportunity cost, which in economics means your next best alternative:

Since you chose option A, you don't have option B - that's the cost of what you're foregoing. So, the opportunity cost of option A is missing out on option B.

When you say yes to one thing, you're saying no to something else. Sometimes, we tend to let that "no" sting so much that we forget an important thing.

Each time we say no to something, we're actually choosing to say yes to something else. And often, that "something else" can be what really matters to us.

For instance:

  • Instead of fixating on saying “no” to desserts, you can shift your perspective and focus on saying “yes” to your health.

  • If you're dating someone and you’re in a monogamous relationship, you're saying no to everyone else because you're saying yes to this person. But it's not just that person - it's also the love, structure, and peace that being in a committed relationship can bring you if that's something you want.

So often, we can get quite caught up in what we're losing, when we choose something and say goodbye to another. We end up worrying about it and overthinking our decisions considering the loss. Instead, I'd invite you to try getting excited about all the things you're gaining when you're making a choice! What are you gaining by choosing the path that feels right to you?

And as usual, here is the video version if you prefer to watch. Thank you for stopping by and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


As a note social anxiety and introversion are different things. I am not lumping them together but mentioning points that may apply to either in that section. I do want to note here that one can have social anxiety as an extrovert and one can be at ease around others and be an introvert.


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