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  • Writer's pictureRachael Yahne

Designing A Life You Love With The 'Yes or No' Exercise

woman journaling yes or no exercise

Beloved splayed himself on the couch, still in his work regalia, leaning lazily back with his legs outstretched over the ottoman, boots still on his feet dangling over the edge. A glass of red wine in a coffee mug in one hand, and John Wineland’s book From The Core in the other. I stood in the kitchen 10 feet away, putting together dinner and listening to him read out loud, pushing past his exhaustion to either please me or recruit me into the work of the book.

“First, write down in capital letters at the top of a clean sheet of paper, HELL YES. Then start listing all the activities and projects and passions that fit in this category…” he read. 

What in your life feels like a HELL YES? 

The practice extends to including one’s HELL NO list, and a MAYBE list, followed by sharing the lists with trusted friends and confidants (in the book, a men’s group is suggested. In my mind, my TBM accountability group was the first thought.) The list isn’t meant to perform radical change overnight, though it might, instead create the framework and easy eligibility for evolution to be carved from. It is to create the guideposts that lead us to a life of more HELL YESES. 

But can designing a life you love really be this simple?

After finishing the chapter, I asked my partner what list the job he currently has, which he began at the same time we started our new relationship, was on. The book suggests, if possible, moving toward more yeses in career and personal purpose before aligning to a relationship, to give your future partner a realistic view of who you are and what you stand for. “It all just kind of happened at once,” he told me. Looking back to that time of rapid growth and expansion, when he managed to move to a new home, start a new job, and build a space within his life to invite me to become his wife, I’m not sure how he managed so many yeses at once. 

What in your life feels like a HELL NO? 

On a given day, I feel my life revolves around more nos: work stress, the disordered eating habits, and subsequent digestive issues I’m now seeing countless doctors for, and a million other things that may inevitably bring more feelings of joy and fulfillment but for now, they bring more angst to my physical and emotional sense. Though these things have a purpose now or in the future, they do not feel like YESES. I believe that physical symptoms have spiritual meanings as well. The stomach is a place of digestion and transformation; not online the process of creating art. Wineland’s passage made me wonder further if my aches are caused by my body - or me - not wanting to let go of things that are NOs. Currently experimenting with FODMAP diets and gluten restriction, I can feel things I want to be on my yes list (literal: bread, metaphorical: holding onto control or stress as if it will protect or help me. Literal: sugar, metaphorical: my need for more sweetness to soothe the anxiety) that my body might be screaming “no” at in return. 

The practice of personal transformation is an ironic one. Most of the time, we are only working to return to who we truly are, and how we truly began life as beautiful, lovable, and free beings. Though it feels like a hero’s journey to becoming some new version of ourselves, actually it is more likely we are only going back home, back to the beginning, and back to basics like a simple yes and no. 

Practices such as these are only as effective as you allow them to be. That is to say, the degree of change they can inspire is directly correlated to the degree of courageous honesty you practice in answering yes, no, or maybe. We make things more complicated than they need to be. We convolute simple things and use our heads alone to make decisions while our bodies wreath in pain and send us every kind of signal to slow down or call us to a different way of life. 

Wineland finishes the exercise by suggesting we write what we would need to do for a MAYBE item to become a solid HELL YES. If tangible steps aren’t possible to move toward more YES, the item is to be stricken to the NO list and promptly removed from our life as best we are able. If you find yourself today in the MAYBE about even beginning the practice, it might behoove you to begin by asking yourself why you’re apprehensive to embark down this portal of possible awakening available here, now. Would cost you nothing but the ignorance that is keeping you from seeing what holds you back in your own life? 

After completing the HELL YES, NO, and MAYBE exercise, expand your self-reflection with this:

What HELL NO can you let go with compassion, forgiveness, and love?

What stories about yourself (I’m not good enough, I am not worthy of what I truly want, etc) lead you to accept this HELL NO?

What practices can you use to call in your HELL YES? (Prayer, a formal letter to the universe asking for it, declaring it with the people you love and trust, etc.)

Why, and in what parts of your life, have you overcomplicated things, so that your judgments of a HELL YES or NO weren’t clear?


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