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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

If it's not an Absolute Yes, it's an Absolute No

Phil posted quite rightly about how we should stop doing the kinds of things that don’t add value to our lives.

What I’ve noticed over the years is that many people have never learned how to stop doing the things that no longer serve them. In fact, I suspect many of them don't even know that they're doing things they could stop, enhancing their lives in doing so.

For those who know, I offer one way to bring about that sort of change. For nearly ten years, I've been doing it in my life, and have seen fabulous results. It's an exercise taught to me by my dear friend, Cheryl Richardson (the same person Phil quotes in his post). She calls it the Absolute Yes list.

The premise behind it is that we each make choices all day, every day. Every time we say "yes" to one thing, we are very naturally saying "no" to another (and vice versa). The key is to choose wisely, and consistently—and that’s where the list comes in.

Here's how to do it:

On a piece of paper, make a list of one to five things you’re going to commit to (say “yes” to) to the exclusion of all others, for the next 90 days. It’s often not easy to choose a max of five—but that’s why this exercise is so powerful. In causing you to think deeply about what matters most to you right now, you also get clear about what doesn't. Those are the things you'll say "no" to.

Post the list somewhere where you can easily see it during your day, or even in more than one place for ease of use. When I do the exercise, I make several copies and post them around the house; on the fridge, the bathroom mirror, right above my monitor in my home office, on the dashboard of my car, and I even make a mini version that I can carry in my wallet. You can't use the list effectively if you can't access the list items. If you have the sort of brain that can hold the list and access it for every decision you're called to make, more power to ya...have at it and forget the paper lists.

To give you an example, on my current list are:
When it comes to the lists I do, there's always something having to do with my well being. At first, I used to list, "my health," but found I wasn't really taking any action at all because the category was simply too broad for me. By focusing on one aspect at a time, I've been able to bring about more positive changes in my life. If you choose to be specific, make sure you're not being too narrow in your focus, or committing to something you know you aren't able to do. Action matters here... not the words.

You’ll also notice that my items aren’t numbered. Numbering sends a signal to my brain that there’s an order of importance, and in this exercise, when I make #1 more important than #4, I tend to choose #1 more often—which isn’t my want. I want to focus on all of my list items, and the way that works best for me is when I look at them as each being equally weighty. YMMV, so order them, or not, as feels best to you.

With your list in hand, you have a guide for making choices over the next 90 days. When an opportunity presents itself, you hold it up to, and verify it against, your Absolute Yes list. If it’s not an easy fit for an item on the list, then it’s automatically an Absolute No. Simple.

*Note: This doesn’t include things like eating, bathing, working as prescribed by an employer, etc. We all have things that must be done in order to stay alive, pay bills, etc. The list helps you quickly and easily decide about all the other stuff that shows up in your life.

For instance, if a pal calls and asks me to take an intermediate level ASL class with him, I’d look at my list, see that doing the class wouldn’t be about (or contribute to) any of the things on my list, and I’d then easily be able to make it an Absolute No for me. If the class were a creative writing class, though, it could be an Absolute Yes. On the other hand, if Dawn (a member of my family) asked me to take ASL with her, it would be an Absolute Yes because it would be a valuable experience for the two of us to have together, and would nurture our relationship.

Obviously, needs and wants change over time, and so will your list. Make a note on your calendar to review the list in 90 days and see if you want to make changes. You don't have to make changes, of course, but checking in will let you know whether it's time to, or time to recommit to the things already there for another 90 days.

By consciously committing to a small number of things to the exclusion of others, you do what you do every day (make choices about what does or doesn’t get your attention), but you do it in a far more mindful way, and generally end up with far more valuable results, on both sides of your experience.

This is a fantastic idea! I love it. Thank you.
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