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saying yes is not easy

It’s not often that an acronym works out meaningfully. Usually you have to bodge it a bit, but yesterday I was writing something about energy and attitude and then I thought about the need for stamina in any human enterprise- E.A.S- and without even thinking I said to myself Yes. EASY eh?

Let’s start at the end, a good place to start- at least you’ll know where you are going. Yes. Or maybe Yes! Saying Yes to something- to a trip, to an idea, to a project, to a meeting- or even to a night of jazz and poetry. We live next door to a rather splendid art gallery that stages events from time to time. They had advertised an evening of jazz and poetry. All we had to do was walk about fifty yards. Did we go? No. Because we never said yes. We kept putting off the decision, until, of course, it was too late. That’s when you start telling yourself you’ve never really liked jazz anyway and as for poetry…

‘Yes Man’- the Jim Carey film- shows the power of saying yes rather well. But it never depicts the problems of saying yes to things that conflict. Most people have way too many things to say yes to which would interfere with, say, writing a book or making a long journey. 'Yes' people may be happy- but they never get anything done because there is always something else better coming along.

But the valuable, almost magical part of yes, what we could call a ‘deep yes’, is when you take something on board sincerely, when you commit. Strangely I have found this to be the opposite of what you may imagine. Instead of ‘telling the world’ you often make a silent inner pact. It’s literally too important to blab about. The fairly trivial but hugely important to me at the time decision to quit smoking  only happened (after years of public announcements to friends and family) when I just stopped. And told no one. It was too important to me to tarnish and cheapen with mere words.

So a ‘deep yes’ or an inner yes is a powerful thing. You can’t fake it- by definition. It’s rather like being with children and one says “I’m going to write a book”. They want the attention you get from writing a book but they don’t really want to write it, or even know what writing one really entails. So this kind of public ‘yes’ is weak. Doesn’t mean it can’t work- the power of shame is stronger in some than others. But for me- I’m pretty shameless and rather good at sliding out of things. So there has to be that inner yes first- then I know something will happen. You get better at recognising them. It’s a calm process, you’re not pumped by it or even that excited. You realise the responsibility implied. It has an inevitable feel. That’s the best description I can think of.

You may have to flout what appears to be ‘the sensible thing’ to get to a deep yes. Often a clue that the sensible thing is wrong is after you have ‘made the decision’ in your mind you still have qualms. And not qualms that are easily allayed. Umming and ahhing over what size hulls to buy for a catamaran (this is going somewhere I guarantee) I said in the end: what size seems right even though it doesn't on the face of it seem the most sensible? I was surprised by the answer, but was happy with it. The qualms magically disappeared. I had my deep yes.  You can sharpen your sense of saying yes in the most everyday of circumstances- which can only help you with more important decisions.

But without that deep yes it doesn’t matter how much energy, attitude and stamina you have you won’t get anywhere with your project.

Take the traditional schema of a human being represented as a cart, pulled by a horse with a driver and passenger. The cart is the body, the horse is the emotions/energy, the driver is the intellect/reason and the passenger is the real you.

The driver does what he is told – otherwise he’ll just go where the horses take him or where his ‘reason’ suggests. Usually that will be a mix of emotion and intellect- the emotion being the desire to copy others and the intellect being how to do it in a clever way. But despite having lots of energy, a strong body and a powerful brain you’ll get nowhere ‘you’ want to go unless the real ‘you’ makes his or her demands heard.

One of the stories told by my friend Fat Frank the carpet dealer is of an Iranian of great energy and intelligence who ran a carpet shop and made no money…until he was caught in a terrible road accident and lost the power of his legs. Wheelchair bound he became a millionaire. What happened? He found the passenger by becoming one. No longer able to run about after ideas and people he sat and planned and got others to do things for him. He focussed on planning what needed to be done and working out ways of doing it rather than reacting and losing direction. Stuck in his wheelchair, denied distraction he was forced to learn how to say yes in a meaningful way.

So, how do you get into that ‘head state’ where a real yes, a deep yes if you like is more likely than a whimsical one? You have to use your inner compass. You have to recognise you have one and then trust it. Then you can ‘test’ your decision by making it match sensible(ish) requirements.

We all know the situation: you want to do something, maybe even are required to do it, but somehow you just can’t get excited about it. Over time this feeling ‘that you ought to do this thing’ grows alongside a feeling that it’s ‘wrong in some way’. And it probably IS wrong- the question is- how do you free your inner compass to find out the right manner to do this thing?

Years ago I was in the common position of having to find a flat in London. We wanted somewhere central for a low reant- ie. a virtual impossibility. My flatmate spent every night visiting potential and entirely unsuitable apartments. I did nothing for two weeks because it just ‘felt wrong’ (having to resist accusations of bone idleness too). Then one day I remembered a friend had once rented a flat from a free ads paper that was three months old. There was a free ads paper on the table- only a few weeks old. I found somewhere promising, rang up to find that though the place had gone and even better flat was available from the same company right now. In three hours I had paid the deposit and arranged to move in.

The inner compass seems to get nudged into action by a random almost nonsensical thought like the one about my friend using an old paper. If crazy thoughts like this occur during an otherwise rational process give them some attention- you have nothing to lose and they may nudge the inner compass needle.

On another occasion I moved somewhere because I thought someone I knew (and admired) lived there. It turned out they didn’t but the place was really excellent in every respect. So the clue can be half wrong- it’s just a supernatural nudge if you like, a nudge from another dimension.

Of course you could end up slavishly copying what friends you admire are doing (and these nudges often seem to be prompted by thoughts of people you hold in higher esteem) and I think the clue is – does the idea just pop into your head or does it end up there by a kind of dull dredging process?

To make that inner compass work you can’t be too needy and desperate. You need to be kicking back a bit. You need to be able to get some detachment- going for a very long walk- at least half a day works for me. Have a party, meet friends, deliberately focus on something very small such as making a plastic kit or even, like Norman Mailer and David Beckham, making a lego model…

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