There’s been a lot of talk about how people are supposed to “say yes to Life” and how that’s a winning operating system for a fruitful and meaningful life. The part that’s omitted from this statement could be summed up as “and say NO to all the bulls**t.” Sure, we should say yes to the good things that make life full and rich, but we need to make space for them. We also need to temper these yeses in time. At this buffet of life, we don’t need to eat everything in sight in one sitting. Over time, you can feast on what you’d like in between lots of activity and movement, but you need time to digest and assimilate.

Saying yes to something right now more often than not means saying no to something you’ve already agreed to.

For example, your friends call you up and say, “Let’s go for a drink.” You impulsively say, “Yes. Okay, great; let’s do this!”

You had plans to go to the gym, eat a healthy dinner, and get home to your family. You need to help your son with a project, and it’s due next week. But now you’ve taken down a few drinks, eaten chicken wings and chips, drunk a few more drinks, skipped the workout, and gotten home after the kid went to bed. That one yes killed three previous yeses. Namely:

Yes to a healthy fitness routine that would boost your energy, clear your head, and make you feel happy in life;

Yes to a healthy dinner that would nourish a robust microbiome, reduce inflammation, feed your cells, hydrate your body, and energize your life; and

Yes to your family that needs you to be a great partner, parent, role model, friend, and positive example of someone who makes the right choices.

Is that one impulsive yes worth backing out of the three yeses you had already committed to? Seldom is that answer “Yes.”

When we fail to hold the line for something we’ve already agreed to, we turn the previous yeses into nos with this one new yes. It’s like keeping the castle doors open and letting the marauding invaders come and go as they please, hurting our families and robbing us of our health.

Every time we say yes to something, we need to understand that there’s an opportunity cost and that there needs to be time and space created in our lives for each thing we say yes to.

That’s where the Life Garden comes in. When we consciously map out our priorities and commitments, we can use the Life Garden as the screen, or the filter, that allows—or, more importantly, disallows—new “invasive species” to come in and drink from our Water. It becomes a task of active discernment. Is this friend or foe? Does this add to the Garden, or is it an invasive weed?

Where does this fit into my life’s plan? Where will it live in the Life Garden, and where will it draw its Water from? At what cost? For every new thing that comes in, we allocate Water (in the form of time, energy, and/or money) for it, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The real question is this: In my current state of limited resources and flickering Vitality, what do I have to give up to take this new thing on?

Is getting drinks with my friends tonight worth skimping on my health and my family? Is it the right use or investment of my life’s Water?

The problem is, it’s very difficult to make this call at the moment of impulsive reactivity. We are irrational and impulsive beings who are not using our brains and are letting decisions be made for us in life. That seldom works to our benefit. Saying no is a survival skill most of us lack. Is it any wonder we feel spent and unfulfilled?

Reprinted with permission from Focus: Bringing Time, Money and Energy into Flow by Pedram Shojai, OMD. Available Nov 10, 2020.