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How to Feel Better About Saying 'Yes'

Many of us want to do more, but first we have to face our fears. Here's how.

Key points

  • Many people turn down things they want to do because they worry about the expense or suffer from a lack of confidence.
  • Our fear of saying "yes" can cause us to miss out on important experiences that could benefit our health and well-being.
  • Practicing stepping outside of our comfort zones can help us manage our fear of saying "yes."
Florian Schmetz/Unsplash
Source: Florian Schmetz/Unsplash

The invite came in an email.

I had the response ready before I’d even opened it.

No. No way. I’m busy. I’d love to but… thanks but no thanks.

Over the years, my introverted self has become so comfortable with saying "no" that it’s become easier to reject even the opportunities I would enjoy rather than embrace them. I’m not the only one who is in the habit of saying no, but the practice can be bad for our health and well-being.

According to a survey of 2,000 British adults, more than half have FOSY, or "fear of saying yes." The report was commissioned by U.K.-based company Crodino.

The fear of saying "yes" often emerges when we push out of our comfort zone, wrote Emma Kenny, a psychologist evaluating the results for the company.

“When there’s a chance we might be judged or we have pre-conceived ideas that we’re not good at something, our instinctive, knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘no,’" she wrote.

People also worry about the economic strain and expense associated with saying "yes" to an outing or meal. Or we lack the confidence needed to take on something new. But when surveyed, most people said they do want to push through the fear and say "yes" more often.

Finding Balance

Perhaps this fear about seizing new opportunities is also a cultural over-correction for those of us who spent years people-pleasing and waffling behind flimsy boundaries until we finally gained the confidence to say "no" to the things that weren’t right for us.

The ability to say "no" when necessary—“No, thank you, I do not attend multi-level marketing meetings," or "No, I do not want to go out with you," or "Thanks very much, but no, I do not want to be the committee chair"—is essential to managing our time and energy.

But the power lies in our ability to choose, to say "no" to the things that aren't right for us and "yes" to the things that are. Social connections and new experiences can improve our moods, increase our happiness, and ease our stress. It’s healthy for us to get out and do new things.

When I realized I'd become a habitual naysayer, it shook me a bit. I don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines of life, and getting out and having new experiences can be exhilarating once we get over the fear. So, I started saying "yes" more often. Here are some of the things that have made it easier.

Four Ways to Deal With FOSY

  1. Practice. It takes courage to step out of our comfort zone, even though research shows that novelty and engagement are good for us—and we often wind up having a good time. Start small, with low-stakes experiences, like a short trip to the art museum, a quick drop-in to the party, or a casual coffee with friends. Over time, it will become easier to say "yes."
  2. Minimize expectations. Be open, curious, and present when you do say "yes." Pay attention and recognize that showing up is the most important part of the process. When you have rigid ideas about how things should go, or you have clear expectations, you may add to the pressure. Instead, be open and curious about the experience, no matter what happens.
  3. Recruit a support crew. If there is something you are inclined to say “yes” to but are nervous about going alone, take along a plus-one if possible. Having my spouse with me at a party makes it easier for me to walk in. Invite a friend to share the experience with you. The accountability may inspire you to go, and a friend can offer support.
  4. Remember your why. I don’t say "yes" to everything. Instead, I pick the things that support those I love, and the events or activities that I find personally meaningful or interesting, those that align with my values. Then, when it’s time to deal with the nerves that come from moving outside of my comfort zone, I'm reminded about why it is worthwhile and that makes it easier to manage.

I left the email invite unread for a day. Then, I typed my response.

"Yes," I wrote. "I'll be there."

The event offered a chance to connect with a friend, and spend time with my family while doing something that would help the community. Those are the things I want to say "yes" to even though I wrestled with some anxiety.

But, I showed up anyhow.

And, I am so glad I did.