Philip Goldman: When ‘no’​ needs to become ‘​yes’​

Earlier this year my wife went into hospital for a relatively minor operation. Unfortunately, complications meant she ended up spending time in intensive care (she’s on the mend now fortunately). Initially I noticed that my reaction to this unexpected event was a very strong ‘no’. It’s a common human response to something happening that we can’t accept. ‘This can’t and shouldn’t be happening’ we argue.

Thinking like this however means we’re not present with reality; we’re putting ourselves in a position of opposition to real life events which stops us from moving forward objectively. If you can take a moment to steady yourself and accept an event – whether it be a traumatic personal issue or something that’s gone wrong at work – and say ‘yes’, then the energetic shift between the two mindsets can be hugely resourceful.

Accept rather than reject

I saw a client recently – a successful leader of a professional services practice working with high profile clients – who was feeling lost and overwhelmed through a combination of changing work and personal circumstances. He was reacting with a lot of ‘no’ energy to everything that was happening around him. I asked him whether he could show more acceptance to these issues and adopt a ‘yes’ way of thinking; in doing so, he had a profound and positive shift in his mindset.

Much of this of course is about not taking things too personally – a topic discussed in more detail in this recent FT piece. When we allow developments to attack us personally, the attachment means we respond with a categorical ‘no’. It is why mindfulness can play an important role in helping us to step back from the immediate emotion. We forget how complex the human brain is with our hard wired ‘fight or flight response’ still surviving from our early origins and occasionally it will overcome our thinking. I’d compare this to our ‘no’ energy. What mindfulness does is to allow us to direct our attention to the present moment, without making a snap judgement.

The power to choose our response

Psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Viktor E. Frankl is credited as saying: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” The idea being that when there is no space, there is no choice. As soon as you can put some space between what occurs and our reaction to it, we are then able to respond with greater objectivity. In a complex and crowded life, it is the leaders who have the ability to step back from an immediate ‘no’ and rejection of a situation who will be the ones who ultimately prosper.

Next time you feel compelled to say ‘no’, to ‘what is’ take a moment to breathe, observe what has happened, BE calm and find a ‘yes’ because decisions need to be based on an accurate interpretation of our current reality.