It is truly important to understand that saying Yes to one thing is actually saying No to everything else. Yes and No are therefore bound together in an eternal pact.

In truth, if you have a particular vision you want to live into, being able to choose between Yes and No is probably the key skill to master.

Nevertheless, to be able to choose you need to have that clear vision of how to live life today or what your world might look like tomorrow. That clarity acts as a touchstone as we go through our day and opportunities and distractions come our way. This therefore requires a more strategic mindset in which we place every single activity into a larger picture of how it will serve. To get that sense of the bigger picture ask yourself:

  • How does this new activity fit in with everything else?
  • What does it mean for the other parts of the picture?
  • What will likely lose out?

Let’s take an example with which we are all very familiar: Your boss, a client or someone you respect comes along and asks you to take on some new role. How do you decide whether to say Yes or No?

A default for many of us is just to say Yes out of a concern that we might damage the relationship or disappoint the other person. Is this a valid criterion? It may be and yet it is surely not the only one. So, let’s do a 360 on this scenario and ask yourself:

  • Does this request fit with my career goals?
  • Would the work use my skills?
  • What is the long-term benefit [for me] of the work? But also of the work – does it have some intrinsic value as opposed to mere signalling.
  • What is the timing of the work?
  • Is it in my job description?
  • Can I do some if not all of it?
  • Can I give up some other responsibility?

In short, you are really asking yourself:

What are the consequences of saying Yes?

In fact, I recently applied for a programme that was wholly in line with part of my long-term vision and yet, when I asked myself this question, it became absolutely clear that the consequences of saying Yes were such that I simply could not join. Switching back and forth between the consequences of Yes and No can therefore be really helpful because sometimes we get blinded as to the bigger picture.

Questions in the Image:

  • What is my relationship with No?
  • If I say Yes, what am I saying No to?
  • What are the consequences of saying Yes?
  • What else might I be doing?

Want to Further Explore This Topic?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (link to This book emphasizes the importance of focusing on what truly matters in order to achieve meaningful results across your world. It provides actionable advice on how to eliminate distractions and prioritise tasks that align with your long-term vision.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. After getting up a 5am to do some writing, I asked myself Why don’t I go easier on myself? Why am I such a hard taskmaster? The power of habit is amazing over time but on a given day it can still be a real effort. So, what wisdom should hold sway on such days?

About Tom O’Leary

My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.

The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.

And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.

That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.

How Might Tom Help?

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