I was mindlessly scrolling through YouTube videos as I waited in a seemingly endless line at a government office. One video immediately caught my eye; I Lived in a Luxury Airport for Four Days. Nobody Noticed. Aside from the title, what intrigued me most was the people behind the video — Yes Theory. I really liked that name, and as someone who travels a lot and spends a long time in airports, although not intentionally. I decided to watch it.
The video was lighthearted and fun, and I decided to watch more as the lengthy queue inched along slowly. Amongst the many humorous videos were some truly inspirational ones, and they were all based around the same mantra — Seek Discomfort.
I now sit down each week as Yes Theory release a video and watch them with my two young sons. Normally I would want to reduce the amount of time that they spend on YouTube, but I truly believe in the message and ethos behind these videos. It’s a mindset that I want to instill in them as they develop — all based on one word. Yes.
Many of us are afraid to say yes. Often our first instinct is to reject an opportunity or proposition. Fear is hard-wired into our brains to protect us from danger. But there is so much more power in overcoming our fears by taking the positive road and saying yes.
The Year of Yes
We often hear of people on their death beds list their regrets. How many of them would long to go back and say yes to both the big and small choices in life. Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse wrote in her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the biggest regret her dying patients had was “they stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others.”
Unfortunately, human nature is to look at what could go wrong, rather than the infinite positive opportunities that may open up.
Famed writer and producer, Shonda Rhimes decided to embrace the power of yes for a whole year. She writes about her experience in her book The Year of Yes. A self-confessed introvert, she outlines the positive impact that saying yes to things she would ordinarily say no to had had on her life.
“Anything that made me nervous, took me out of my comfort zone, I forced myself to say yes to. And a crazy thing happened: the very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear, made it not scary. My fear of public speaking, my social anxiety, poof, gone. It’s amazing, the power of one word.” — Shonda Rhimes
She found that saying yes to her family helped to achieve a positive work-life balance and led her to reclaim her happiness and sanity.
For the Yes Theory crew, they created a way to interrupt the pattern for themselves by following their motto of seeking discomfort. They promoted this throughout their videos, and this has led to a Yes Theory movement where people meet up to try new things and spread positivity and joy. They have created Whatsapp groups, meetups, events, and conferences — all built around getting like-minded people to say yes.
Putting Yes Into Practice: The Golden Rule of Improv
I started doing improv comedy when I was in college. It’s unscripted and a great way to get out of your comfort zone. You’re up on stage with three or four other people and are required to create a scene based on a few prompts from the audience.
The first rule we were taught was the “yes” rule, often called “yes and.” What this meant was that you needed to support your comedy partners and go along with what they said. No matter what line they came up with, you were expected to go along with it and build on their suggestion. As Tina Fey writes in her book Bossypants:
“The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.”
This is a principle that can easily be adapted to our lives. Rather than point out the ‘finger’ in a situation, recognize it as a ‘gun’ and go along with it. Try saying yes — a simple yes can unlock doors to new adventures, opportunities, and growth across all facets of your life.
A new job opportunity or career
Jack Kelly, CEO and founder of Compliance Search Group, one of the worlds largest recruiters, says that while “people say they want to succeed, but when it comes to actually taking the job offer, an overwhelming sense of fear and paralysis takes over, which usually ends up with the person missing out on the opportunity altogether.”
Too often we doubt our own skills and take the easy way out, which is to stay in our current position. Richard Branson, another proponent of saying yes says, “if somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, say yes — then learn how to do it later!”
Mind, body, and soul
Whether it be exercise or a new diet or our mental health, saying yes to our mind and body will have positive results—a simple practice such as positive affirmations (in effect saying yes to our mind). According to researchers, a few positive statements each day can calm your nerves, increase your confidence, and improve your chances of a successful outcome.
Swipe right for love
Saying yes to love. How often do we reject a potential date or partner based on an inconsequential factor? Behavioral economics researcher and dating coach Logan Ury, advises people to widen their search for a partner. She says people, “shop for a partner the way that they would shop for a camera or Bluetooth headphones.” Logan advises her clients to broaden their searches and not use meticulously crafted checklists. In effect, saying yes to a broader range of people and opening up new possibilities.
If someone swipes right on you (in real life or virtually) swipe back. Forget about having a setlist. Have a crush on someone? Ask them out on a date. Even if the date doesn't work out — at least you’ll have a good story to tell.
Shonda was inspired by her older sister who said to her, “you never say yes to anything.” She focused on saying yes to her family, from spending more time with her niece to being more actively involved in her family's life.
How often we are focused on our own worlds and in particular digital devices to the retirement of spending quality time with friends and family? The average amount of screen time per adult is over eleven hours per day. I know I am guilty of aimlessly scrolling my phone instead of saying yes to other activities. I made the promise to my children to work less and spend more active time with them.
I also decided to say yes more to my partner. She is a Pilates enthusiast and had asked me several times to try it out. In 2020, inspired by Shonda and Yes Theory I said yes and bought a mini membership and surprisingly enjoyed it.
Say yes next time your friends ask you to try golf or your grandmother asks you over for a coffee.
The whole wide world
One of my favourite Yes Theory videos is one where they approached actor Will Smith and asked him to bungee jump out of a plane with them. They admired the actor and had seen a 2002 interview with him where he says, “I’m motivated by fear. Fear of fear. I hate being scared to do something”
With no connections to him, they made a video asking him to join them in a crazy stunt — bungee jumping out of a plane, and he said yes. It was a bold request, but if you don't ask, you don't know. This was going outside the comfort zones for both the Yes Theory crew and also Will Smith. The two videos, both of the initial request to Will and the actual helicopter bungee jump are a testament to the power of yes.
You are unlikely to approach Will Smith to ask him to bungee jump out of a plane, but what can you say yes to that you've been afraid to in the past?
“Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment… Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life — and see how life starts suddenly to start working for you rather than against you. “ Eckhart Tolle
The benefits of yes
I left behind my college and improv days long ago, but the Yes Theory crew (along with Shonda) inspired me to embrace this philosophy again. This has been a particularly challenging year, and if I can bring more positivity to myself and others, then I need to revert to my “yes and” days.
I did feel more motivated and happier, but I want to see if this was a placebo effect or there were scientific reasons behind this.
Saying yes empowers and affirms you.
Beth Kurland Ph.D. recommended trying a simple experiment to highlight the difference between yes and no. Try this yourself as you read along. Say the word “no” out loud several times and notice what happens in your body. Then say the word “yes” several times. Kurland advises that for most people, saying no has a feeling of resisting or rejecting something and makes you feel constricted and closed. Saying yes has a feeling of embracing or moving toward something that’s more energizing, open, and hopeful.
Yes breeds confidence
If you are a leader then saying yes can flow onto your team. Whether this is in a sporting environment or within a workplace, people react to leaders who say “yes,” rather than “no.”
According to Glenn Geyer, Ph.D. in Psychology Today, “an approach to leadership with a default of yes instead of no, in fact, can help people develop in all kinds of positive ways.”
From a personal perspective, I have responded better when lead by a positive leader who takes on new opportunities rather than one finding reasons to reject them.
Your brain thrives on yes.
According to Keith Rollag, author of What to Do When You’re New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations, neuroscientists have found that they can promote neuron and synapse growth in the middle-aged and elderly by breaking up normal routines and putting people into new, challenging, interesting situations. By actively seeking discomfort, it forces them to think and act in different ways. Rollag says, “your brain reacts positively to new situations and the opportunity to learn and adapt.”
The takeaway aka how to say yes more.
The team behind Yes Theory has encapsulated what we all should be more open to. Saying yes, even if it means leaving our comfort zones.
“Life’s most beautiful moments and meaningful connections exist outside our comfort zones.“ — Yes Theory
To see how yes may work for you I would recommend putting these few simple steps into practice.
- Practice the “yes and” rule.
- Say yes out loud several times each day.
- Try to do something out of your comfort zone at least once a week.
- Before ever saying no, pause and ask yourself if you should say yes. Think of the positive possibilities that may open up to you.
I would love for you to say yes to just one thing today that you normally wouldn't do. Whether you actively seek discomfort or have an opportunity presented to you — say yes.
And if you get the chance to jump out of a plane with Will Smith — do it!