Eight years ago, immediate former president of the United States of America, Barack Obama launched his campaign under the much acclaimed slogan: “Yes We Can!” In his farewell address to the nation as he prepared to leave office last month, he reminded Americans to maintain a “Yes We Can” attitude.
Obama inspired Americans with his “Yes We Can” mantra, always walking on the ‘yes’ highway and never on the ‘no’, no matter what challenges he faced.
He made history as the first black US president, was one of the youngest, and when skeptics thought he would be a one-term president, he won his second and final term with an overwhelming majority.
He took over office when America was in economic shambles and left office with a growing economy and rising employment. In Obama’s presidency, the ‘nos’ seemed deafening particularly from the Republicans but he chose the ‘yes’ route. What a lesson!
‘Yes’ is one simple word that can open up your life, transform your relationships and help you feel more positive, but it’s not the word we normally choose. ‘No’ seems more attractive and an easier choice.
Sometimes it can seem as though life is all about saying ‘no’. Turning down invitations because you are too busy, refusing extra responsibilities because your plate is already full, setting rigid boundaries with your family so you can have more time to yourself… It is possible we have shut ourselves off from a lot of possibilities because we have become so obsessed with asserting our right to say ‘no’.
By choosing ‘no’ we miss out on many opportunities. ‘No’ is all about limitations, whereas ‘yes’ represents an open field where there are so many possibilities. ‘Yes’ can help us become more creative, feel happier and more positive, become better able to take advantage of opportunities – whether they are connected to work or relationships – and live life to the fullest.
Developing the ‘yes’ attitude is not about being subservient or a doormat, though. It isn’t a question of relentlessly taking on more. Building your ‘yes’ voice is about paying attention to your responses. Are you seeing the glass as half-empty or resisting opportunities?
That may be because the ‘no’ attitude has taken over. Start saying ‘yes’ internally and you will feel more open and confident. If you develop a ‘yes’ attitude to life, you may actually find it easer to assert yourself.
Each of us who has lived life to adulthood has incidences to narrate of how they said ‘no’ and lost a great opportunity. About 30 years ago, an American investor approached me for a joint venture in bottling water.
Those of you who are old enough know that those were the days we drank water straight from the tap because it was clean. You hardly found bottled water anywhere except perhaps in a few tourist hotels, and even then they were imported. Without giving the proposal much thought, I said ‘no’. Not wanting to go into uncharted territory, I foolishly convinced myself that there was no market for bottled water in Kenya.
I shut the door on a huge opportunity. I can forgive myself because I was young, with a young family and didn’t want to take risks. I had been brought up with repeated warnings: ‘Never go to bed with a stranger’ and so my first instinct was to say ‘no’ to this stranger from the US. I had also been reminded time and again that saying ‘no’ was the only way of asserting myself. Now I know better.
Start from today transforming your ‘nos’ to ‘yeses’ and you will be surprised how this will transform your life. It is not that difficult if you follow these three easy steps.
Listen to yourself: How many times in a day do your thoughts and actions have a ‘no’ element to them? For example, your boss asks you to represent him at a speaking engagement and your immediate response is to make an excuse.
Why? Because it sounds terrifying to speak in public. Or you see a position advertised and you don’t apply because ‘it’s a little out of your league’.
These excuses are emphatic ‘nos’. Think of the opportunities you might miss in each of these scenarios: connections and networks that might have opened more doors if you went to that speaking engagement, or you might have been the perfect fit for the job you failed to apply for.
Transform ‘no’ to ‘yes’: Start to catch the ‘nos’ in your words and actions each day and switch them to ‘yeses.’ Sometimes this is a question of faking it to make it. Your mind may tell you to turn down that invitation because you don’t like the person hosting the party but you never know who you might meet there.
Sometimes, it’s a good idea not to think too hard about it. Say ‘yes’, and trust some positive will come out of it.
Spot opportunities: Once you have started saying ‘yes’ to what comes your way, use your newly found ‘yes’ voice to create opportunities.
For example, start a WhatsApp group with your new networks and share ideas and opportunities. If you want to work in that great company, send your CV whether or not they have jobs openings.
And if your confidence lapses and you go back to saying ‘no’, try using positive affirmations like, “Yes, I can do it.”
Published in February 2017