When you wake up in the morning, are you satisfied with the day that’s about to unfold ahead of you? Think about it - if this were to be your last day on earth, would you be doing exactly what you’re about to do with your day? If the answer is no, and for the vast majority of us I’ll hedge my bets that it is, therein lies the problem.
OK, so I know that living every day as if it’s your last seems entirely unrealistic, not to mention dangerous as hell. After all we can’t spend every single day skydiving out of planes, eating gourmet burgers for breakfast and never going to work, can we. But is the concept really so unattainable?
It comes down to choice, and our willingness to steer our lives down the course we want them to go down. And it comes down to what we say ‘yes’ to. One little word, three little letters, that wields such an infinite amount of power on the world. Is yes about agreeing to do things for other people or letting others take advantage of your kindness? No, absolutely not.
The type of yes I’m talking about is a state of mind which “engages an open mind, a state of open possibilities” (Dr Ron Alexander, Wise Mind, Open Mind). Alexander sees ‘no’ as a constrictor, and believes that by saying ‘yes’, or ‘why not?’, we open ourselves up to a vast plethora of opportunity.
Think about it – how many times a week do you say no, either to others or to yourself? Should I go out with my girlfriends tonight? No, it’s a Wednesday and I’m tired. Should I call my Mum? No, I’ll do it tomorrow. Should I go to a yoga class? No, I’ve never done it before and I don’t want to make an idiot of myself.
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But what if we said ‘yes’ to those seemingly insignificant events? Maybe nothing at all would change. Or maybe, just maybe, we’d begin to train our brains to make ‘yes’ the knee jerk reaction to decision making, as opposed to ‘no’. Is this mental re-wire a possibility?
Absolutely. You see our brains are designed to make these quick, knee jerk responses because they are time saving and efficient. Our decision making functionality comes from two different parts of the brain: the quick, instinctive reaction comes from the basal ganglia (the section of the brain that looks after fast feedback), and the more considered response comes from the prefrontal cortex (the section that looks after planning and personality development). Using the prefrontal cortex to weigh every decision up takes too much time, so it’s the reactions that come from the basal ganglia that we tend to rely on. So how do we change the way in which this functions? I think you know the answer already; by making ‘yes’ the instinctive answer.
But is saying yes just about us saying yes to ourselves? Oh no. “Much of saying yes involves saying yes to other people” says Dr. Robert Bilder, professor of psychiatry & biobehavioral sciences at the University of California. “By acknowledging that you are going along with a plan initiated by someone else, you are strengthening or creating a bond with them”. Makes sense right? Think about the last time you were asked out by a friend who you hadn’t seen for a while, and whilst your gut instinct was to say no, you did it anyway. Remember how good you felt afterwards? The reason for this, as Bilder reveals, is due to a surge in our oxytocin levels – the same chemicals that are evoked when we fall in love. A rise in these levels makes us feel good, and moreover this feeling is addictive. So when you say yes to someone else and you feel good for it, you’re engaging this reward circuit, making it likely that the next time a similar opportunity arises, you’ll say yes.
So now we know the science behind saying yes, let’s think about the implications of saying no. Why do we say no? Laziness? Fear? Lack of self-belief and self-confidence? I believe all of these, which are fundamental emotions of us all in some capacity or other. We say no simply because it is easier, and safer, than saying yes. Saying no allows us to continue moving down the path we’ve set ourselves on, and whilst this might not be making us happy, we’re too lazy or afraid to veer from the road.
And yet do you know the biggest regret of many old people today? Opportunities they chose not to pursue, or experiences they put off until it was too late. In the final years of people’s lives, it’s not the long days spent at work or the evenings in front of the television they remember. Instead, it’s the murmurings of ‘what if?’. What if they’d got on that plane? What if they’d remembered to call? What if they hadn’t been afraid, and just taken a chance? Is this how you want to be defined, by ‘what if’?
So let’s go back to the original question I posed: if this were to be your last day on earth, would you be doing exactly what you’re about to do with your day? Do you see now the power you hold to make your response to this question a positive one? By saying yes, and training your brain to do the same, you are making every single day a possibility. You might not see a difference tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, but somewhere down the line an opportunity will present itself. This could be in the form of a friend asking you along to a seminar on a topic you’re vaguely interested, reading an article on a destination you’d never imagined travelling to, or doing something new for the very first time. Something in these moments could spark an interest in you, and its then up to you to have the confidence and the belief in yourself to say yes to the possibilities, and to see where they lead. There is infinite value in saying yes to the world, and future you will thank you for it.
We’ve partnered with YouTube twins The Rhodes Bros as part of The Travel Project, challenging them to do something they’ve never done before – travel outside of the United States for the very first time on Contiki’s European Discovery trip, exploring how by saying yes to new experiences, you can discover entirely new things about yourself. Find out about their very first overseas adventure over on their YouTube channel here.
Want to submit your own story to The Travel Project? We’re on the hunt for aspiring content creators who want to take the next step in getting their work published for an audience of travel hungry readers. Find out more here.