posttitle = The Unreserved YES titleClass =short len =18

The Unreserved YES

(This post is much more stream-of-consciousness than many of my other posts. I’m working stuff out live.)

I was doing Focusing earlier today, and reflecting on a complex, challenging decision I’m starting to feel into. I found myself remembering a video I’d watched last night. I want to share it with you, so I’ve pulled out the snippet that’s really good. It’s literally 14 seconds, and you only really need the first 5. Click to watch:

Michael Franti and this girl Jocelin have just sung a song together, and he then asks her if she’d like to sing with him onstage. As she comprehends the proposal, her face lights up.

YES!” she says.

Not “yes.”

Not “yes?”

Not “…yes…”


When I saw that video last night, I shared it and wrote:

Interview at start, and the song… eh ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ , kinda cute.

Her utter unreserved enthusiasm at the end, both on her face and in her voice, when he’s like “Do you want to come and sing on stage with us?”…

…glorious. I’m not exaggerating.

I’ve forgotten how to say YES like that. Or maybe it’s that my desires have become complex and conflicted and so it’s never totally clear what I want. Or maybe I’m not putting myself into situations where the right question will even get asked. Or maybe I’m afraid.

I want to say YES like that.

Sincere. Un-ironic. Lacking in pretense or story. Pure YES!

I speculated about situational causes, then today I found myself noting that even if I don’t yet know how to say yes like that in general, I can say YES to my meta-desire to be able to embody that kind of YES more often.

As I reflected on it further, I found myself questioning that assumption that just because a situation is complex and creates internal conflict for me initially, that there can’t ultimately be a clear, unreserved YES!

What if I can say YES anyway?

What would that look like?

Ultimately I’m going to choose to do something, even if that something is “sitting at my laptop with a document open titled ‘Priorities'”. And since I’m choosing to do that something, wouldn’t it be nice to feel a sense that I’m doing that thing with my all?

Here I pause, to check to make sure I’m not corrupting the original thing.

One part, I think, of why I resonate with the girl in this video, because I LOVE being onstage performing. And it’s a love that I haven’t been nurturing that much in the past few years. I used to perform music in front of a crowd at least a few times a year, but lately it’s much rarer, and much shorter. Since noticing this, I have been trying to do it more. For instance, at burning man this year, I made a point of freestyle jamming with Platybus and the Band and preparing a song that I could sing at Jazz Camp.

At any rate, I think I know something of how it would have felt to be her in that moment.

“Hell yeah or no”

There’s a thing that’s medium-famous called “Hell yeah or no”. The basic idea is that you stop giving weak yesses to things. If you aren’t unreservedly stoked about something, you say “no” to it. And I think that that is a lot of the original insight that was present as I found myself wanting to experience in wanting to have more “YES!” moments like this.

That is, I had a sense of wanting to find things I was “Hell yeah” about–which often necessitates saying “no” to some things that one might normally say “sure” to. More on this here. However, as this counter points out, some things end up being really meaningful even if they don’t inititally get a “hell yeah”. But how to tell? And how to consistently navigate towards these?

So I continue to think that there’s something important to the reverse as well: How can I find ways to experience a “Hell yeah” response even if the best option I can find is something I’m ambivalent about? To transcend, rather than embody the ambivalence.

Whence ambivalence?

Why would it make sense to do something hesitantly? Anna Salamon wrote an article pointing out that “the correct response to uncertainty is not half-speed”. Yet it happens. Why?

I think a lot of it has to do with social dynamics. Sometimes this is communicating uncertainty by embodying ambivalence, or other times it’s signaling nebulous amounts of caring, because it can be dangerous to care too much.

  • If I’m more enthusiastic than others, will I be seen as over-eager?
    • If I like my partner more than they like me, will they have power over me that I don’t want?

    • If I work harder than my colleagues, will they blame me for setting the standard too high?

  • If I don’t resist a proposal slightly, will I lose my ability to steer it because others will perceive me to be fully onboard with details that I disprefer?

  • If I’m excited for something and others follow me, and are disappointed, will they blame my enthusiasm? (Whereas if I were more reserved, then I can say “well, I wasn’t sure it would be good.”)

We do a lot, I think, to calibrate our enthusiasm based on those around us, in many ways. Sometimes it’s even a more general phenomenon, where there’s perceived to be an axis that runs from naïve to cynical, so if you’re enthusiastic then you must be naïve.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to have an unreserved YES! in relation to a person or a project–a genuine, reflective, one, not just a spur-of-the-moment proclamation. In my last blog post, I recounted some challenging experiences of ambivalence.

I described Jocelin’s enthusiasm as unreserved. What does it mean to have a reservation, in this context? It seems that it involves some amount of withholding! One reserves the right to be mad later, or to push away later, rather than being all-in. So then the question is, in a situation that you’d like to be all-in for, what needs to happen to make that possible?

I think that part of it is being able to own—both to oneself and to others—one’s reservations.

As I’ve started looking at this recently, I’ve noticed that this seems to require clarity about what one wants. Have we just come in a circle? That sounds like a thing I understood when I wrote that facebook post sharing the video: “maybe it’s that my desires have become complex and conflicted and so it’s never totally clear what I want”.

Levels of clarity

I think there is something else though. As I said earlier, I’m definitely a YES on wanting to be able to experience that kind of YES more. And that desire, if shared, can be built on. I could say to someone, “I’m noticing some resistance in myself to this idea… and I don’t want to dive into this if I’m feeling that. Can we create some space to feel into what that is?” and then we could do that. It seems that the important thing that this does is that it creates a kind of clarity scaffold: a basis on which to build further clarity. Even if I’m not totally sure what is making sense for me in terms of the details yet, I can at least articulate a sense of wanting that. This builds a sense of being on the same page even before the details have been laid out.

I was reflecting on a situation a week or so ago and I noticed that as a result of not having done something like clarity-scaffold thing, that I was feeling a bit in tension. Like there was some information that couldn’t get shared because if it got shared then it might create clarity but it didn’t feel safe to have clarity, so instead I was just feeling kind of tight, closed, constricted. The opposite of the unreserved YES!

But if I raise my standards, and refuse to inhabit that state of tension, then it becomes apparent that I need to cultivate that clarity. Even if the situation is such that I can’t do that interpersonally, I can at least hold a standard for myself to not embody ambivalences, and to feel into what would need to be present for me to be able to YES!

My intuition says that this might be a kind of advanced step: that for most people, trying to do this would not be productive. So if you’re feeling like my advice doesn’t make sense for you, you’re probably right. I wanted to write it up for my own sake and for the handful of people who are maybe needing exactly this right now.

And maybe the thing to do is to consider the whole thing, and to ask: do I have reservations about this? Or…

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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