To Change Your Habits, Find the Gap Between No and Yes

No might come before Yes
No might come before Yes

When we are faced with change or choice, we often rely on our regular habits in making a decision. A good friend of mine was recently offered an opportunity to partner on a project with someone who had been a trusted mentor to her. There were many positives about the opportunity. Because my friend is a positive, open minded person who often says yes, she made some exploratory first steps. Eventually, she decided not to pursue the opportunity. As we were talking, I remarked, “Well, if you are saying NO to this, what are you saying YES to?” And this illustrates how we change our habits and our choices.

We can spend much of our lives in our ordinary routines, perfecting what we know and making continuous improvements to those things that are important to us. And we get pretty good at it! So when opportunities come along, we usually do a quick check to assess the opportunity, saying Yes to those things that will create these kind of enhancements. It’s like getting better and better in our current habits.

When a NO lands on your doorstep

Every so often, something occurs to jar us out of our current habit – often in the form of a NO. It could be a No that we initiate, like my friend, or a No that lands on our doorstep – like losing a valued client, or not getting a promotion. Of course this can be disappointing and we may begin to question ourselves,  ranting against other people or a biased system.

Leadership may mean learning to say No; to certain projects, people or relationships, or to values and principles that do not serve.

Finding A Yes in the Whisper Zone

The next step to Yes might not be obvious.  Or it might be a little too obvious! How big a gap do you really want between your current No and the next Yes? Sometimes the next obvious choice is really the same habit pattern in a different guise. A very similar job, the same approach to relationships, the same pattern in how you spend your time or energy.

Listening for whispers
Listening for whispers


we all need to spend some time in 'The Whisper Zone'. This is the zone of ambiguity, of not knowing, of looking in grey corners or listening for quiet hunches.Click To Tweet It’s never easy, because we don’t seem to be producing anything of value, or getting on with our lives. Or our friends and colleagues would just like us to make up our minds! Living with both Yes and No seems like a paradox. People who work in creative fields know that this zone is the source of their creativity and learn to become comfortable with the uncertainty. Leadership in any walk of life also requires that we cultivate this kind of resilience.

We all can learn to cultivate this zone of creative whispers. We can do this by creating little mini-gaps in our daily lives. Like finding time for a short walk, deliberately walking a bit more slowly or slowing down our pace of speech, adding some stretches to our workout routine, asking our sub-conscious a question and waiting for the answer to ‘pop’, spending a few minutes in quiet awareness before we jump out of bed in the morning, cultivating awareness of our body and where we hold both tension and relaxation.  And while we’re in the whisper zone we can do two things.

  • Become clear on what we are we are done with. When we can clearly and simply articulate what we are saying No to, then we can free up time and energy to find a new Yes.
  • Spend some time in open curiosity. “I wonder if… I always wanted to… I’ve always admired so-and-so – maybe I could do that too….when I think about so-and-so I feel so energized.

Building New Habits from the Whisper Zone

When we emerge from the whisper zone, we may not know exactly where to go next. But we do know where we do not want to go, and this narrows the field considerably. And we have ideas or hunches we can test. Now is the time for little experimental actions we can take to turn our hunches into a solid plan of action. You can ask trusted friends for their feedback – but make sure they are not overly invested in you staying just the way you are! You can try out new behaviours – in ways that won’t derail your whole life. And with each of these experimental action, you are testing out the answer to your next Yes. What worked here? What did I like? What kind of surprising feedback did I get? Did it feel energizing or draining? Living with the paradox of both No and Yes builds our personal resilience to respond to all kinds of change challenges. And so in time the whispers become solid voices and you are onto the next steps and solid new habits in your life!


[i] Many thanks to Laura Divine and Joanne Hunt of Integral Coaching Canada Inc. for coining this phrase.

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