Throughout your life you are presented with hundreds or thousands of opportunities every day. And while you might not recognize them as such, most of us will turn down many of these opportunities on a daily basis.
For instance if someone tries to stop you in the street to chat, then you can view it as a hassle and a drain on your time or you can view it as a potential opportunity to meet someone new and have a conversation where you might learn something. Likewise if you notice a shop you’ve never been in before, then you have the opportunity to explore somewhere new and possibly find something new to play around with.
Then there are the more obvious opportunities, like when someone invites you to a party. I had a very big opportunity (which I took, fortunately) last year when my girlfriend who was arranging the marathon entries for the charity where she worked told me last minute that there was a space free for me if I wanted it. Big or small, life is full of these kinds of opportunities.
Now I’m not suggesting that you take up every opportunity that comes your way, as that’s a quick route to self-destruction. I actually read Yes Man by Danny Wallace a few years back while I was living alone in a new city and it lead me to some strange places – I ended up at a Scientology camp at one point (luckily I managed to get out of there fast), invited a bunch of strangers back to my hotel in Bulgaria and nearly went on a cruise for New Year’s (which actually might have been fun). In the book Danny Wallace tried saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity that came his way and his conclusion, and mine, was that this isn’t a good idea.
More importantly saying yes to everything can quickly get you into a lot of trouble. I have a friend who decided to live life to the fullest by ‘trying everything once’ and he unfortunately went off the rails. You need to draw the line somewhere, to have some discipline just to retain some semblance of sanity and structure and sometimes that means saying ‘no’.
However while saying yes to everything may not be feasible, you can stand to benefit from just saying yes a bit more and most of us turn down far too many opportunities on a daily basis. So how do you set the balance right?
A Guideline for Trying New Things
To solve this problem I recently came up with a solution that has served me well, which is to make sure I never say no for the ‘wrong’ reasons. So what counts as a wrong reason? I conducted this list:
• I can’t be bothered
• I’m ‘a bit tired’
• I’m scared/nervous (this is only a valid complaint if there is actual danger involved)
• I’m trying to save money (this is valid if I’m being offered a £1,000 sky dive, but not if it’s a night out)
• I had planned to read a nice book
On the other hand though, excuses that I do accept from myself include the following:
• I genuinely have no interest or desire to do whatever it is
• I don’t have time to take on that commitment
• It would prevent me from doing something else I have to do or really want to do (not including washing my hair)
• It goes against one of my rules (such as no cheating, no taking drugs)
• It’s illegal, offensive or dangerous for me or others
So just as an example, the other morning a trainer in my gym asked me if I wanted to try a new workout and my initial response was to say ‘no’ because I tend to work out a lone, I thought it could be an awkward social situation, and I wanted to get on with work. However these excuses were tantamount to ‘can’t be bothered’ and ‘I’m nervous’ which meant they weren’t valid. So I took them up on the offer and I had a great workout, learned something and made a new friend – I came away feeling brilliant.
Likewise when my friend invited me to go on holiday with him and all his friends on short notice I couldn’t find a real excuse not to go – I was nervous to spend a whole week in a villa with people I didn’t know, and it was a bit more than I planned to spend. But I had the money, and I don’t back out of things because of nerves – so I went. And lo and behold I had an amazing time.
On the other hand though if I’m offered drugs, or if someone asks me to skip work tomorrow, or to watch paint dry then I can say no. It’s a good system and it’s served me well making sure I take on all those opportunities that might feel inconvenient and not all that tempting at first, but that I know will be valuable experiences.
Seeking Out the Opportunities
But on top of having a good rule system there’s one other thing you need to do to ensure that you take on those opportunities – and that’s to know how to find them. From now on then try to have a more open mind when you pass a street act that looks interesting, or when someone stops you for a chat. Learn to see the opportunity in even the most mundane encounters – because even if’s just a chance to speak to someone new, or to look around an event that you aren’t familiar with, you never know where it might lead.