“I should wake up two hours earlier and be really productive first thing in the morning.”
“Yes, but, I don’t want to.”
This was a conversation I had with myself pretty much every day for months. If you’ve read any book on productivity or motivation, nearly all of them talk about the benefits of waking up early and getting an early start.
First thing in the morning, I can be very productive. The problem was, waking up in the morning was something I didn’t want to do any earlier than I had to.
I’ve conditioned myself to wake up at a certain time without needing an alarm. So the thought of setting an alarm, and waking up tired, and having to deal with all that unpleasantness was kind of depressing.
I had what I call a persistent “yes, but.”
A persistent “yes, but,” is defined simply as an idea that repeatedly pops into your head that you keep responding to with “yes, but.”
You undoubtedly have at least one – if not many – of these in your own life. It may center around your business, your health, your social life, a hobby, or anything at all. There are some ideas that have been bouncing around your brain for a long time, and you keep responding to them by saying, “yes, but.”
These often start with an “I should.”
Many people will tell you to stop saying “I should,” because it creates a sense of obligation and depression and is usually not helpful. While I agree with that on some level, for our purpose here, you may find it very valuable to pay attention when you find yourself repeatedly saying “I should.”
What you may not realize is that the key to your long term success may very well lie in listening to those nagging “I shoulds,” and tackling those persistent “yes, buts.”
The Benefits of Pursuing Your “Yes, Buts”
There are three important reasons to address your “yes, buts”:
1) That persistent “yes, but” may be the very thing you need to do to move ahead to the next level.
If you have a persistent “yes, but,” it’s probably persistent for a reason. There is some value to that idea. There’s some reason your mind keeps suggesting that this is something you should do.
If it wasn’t a very good idea, or if the idea didn’t at least have potential, it wouldn’t be persistent. You would think of it once and then it would go away.
2) Pursuing your persistent, “yes, buts” may lead to another idea that you never would have thought of otherwise.
Sometimes when we have one idea, we need to pursue it to come up with the next, even better one. Going back to my own example, I eventually got around to getting up earlier. I set my alarm for 5:30am, which was significantly earlier than I was used to waking up.
I hated it.
Whatever benefits there were, the downside was much worse for me. I became tired, stressed, and unproductive. I had committed to trying it for one week, and when that week ended I went back to my normal wake-up time.
However, by running that trial, it got my mind thinking, and I came up with a different productivity technique which did work. I never would have thought of this second idea if I hadn’t said, “yes, and” to that first persistent “I should.”
Sometimes we need to pursue the “yes, but” not because it is the solution, but because it might be the impulse that leads to the real solution.
3) Pursuing your persistent “yes, buts” will free up valuable mental space.
When you have a persistent “yes, but,” that idea is going to keep coming back, keep coming back, keep coming back to you, until you finally implement it. When you implement, regardless of whether that idea works for you or not, your mind will be able to let go of the idea, because you’ll have already tried it.
If you implement and it works, great! If you implement and it doesn’t work, that clears the idea out of your head so you can come up with the next potential solution.
Easy Steps to Make the Most of Your “Yes, Buts”
Here are three tips you can use to turn your persistent “yes, buts” to your advantage:
1) Take it one step at a time.
Sometimes we have giant, persistent “yes, buts.” For example, if you wanted to write a book, you might be saying to yourself, “I should write for two hours every day!” (That may sound crazy, but it is Stephen King’s advice to new writers).
Now, that is a giant task and of course you’re going to say “yes, but I don’t have time for that.”
Instead, take a look at that idea and shrink it down to one small step. You may not have two hours every day to write, so start smaller. Start with 30 minutes. Start with 10 minutes. Start with whatever commitment allows you to follow through on the idea you are “yes, butting.”
2) Use time boxing.
You don’t need to commit to pursuing your “yes, but” forever. That type of all-or-nothing approach is one of the things that often prevents people from taking the first step.
For example, when I set my goal of waking up early, I committed to doing it for just one week and then I would re-evaluate. Every day that week I woke up early, and knowing that I was only doing it for a short time made it much easier for me to set the alarm and get up. If I had started by saying, “every day I’m going to wake up super early,” I probably would have procrastinated and never gotten started.
So set a short time-frame to run an experiment; one that you feel will allow you to take action and get started.
3) Find a partner.
Whether it’s because it makes the activity more fun, it’s more motivating, or it sets up accountability, having someone else participating with you when pursuing your “yes, buts” makes it much more likely that you’ll follow through.
I had been thinking about trying the “Whole 30” clean eating plan for a long time, and of course it became one of my persistent “yes, buts.” The thing that finally got me to implement was the fact that my wife was on board with giving it a try. Since there were two of us involved we were able to work together. It made it a lot easier to get started and give it a fair trial.
If you can find a partner who has a similar “yes, but” to tackle, you can both increase your chances of success by working together.
Put Your “Yes, Buts” to Work for You!
So start paying attention to your “I shoulds” and your persistent “yes, buts,” and start asking yourself, “how can I pursue this in order to break through to the next level?”