I have the word 'yes' tattooed on my wrist. It's there to remind me that no bad can ever come from seizing the clichéd moment; that to do is to be, that movement is progress. Yes! I'll dance til dawn. Yes! I'll commit to that film project. Yes! I can lunch. I'll cram as much as possible into every weekend and evening and sometimes even breakfast because I AM ALIVE!
Alive and bloody knackered.
My new year's resolution was a simple one: to do more of what feels good, and less of what doesn't. And do you know what feels amazing? Saying no.
If you're not used to it, saying no feels really shitty at first. Like you're letting people down, somehow not engaging with life as much as you should be. FOMO - "fear of missing out" - plays a huge part in this. If your diary isn't fit to burst, if you haven't Instagrammed or checked-in another day and another social event, then what, exactly, is the point of it all? I'll sleep when I'm dead, I've reasoned for most of my life. Now how can I fill this gap a week on Wednesday? Not to mention the fact that I am, by nature, a social butterfly, and so as the invitations roll in so do I. I pride myself on being a "go-getter" -- when career opportunity knocks I always come running, too.
Then I read one single sentence, on a blog by Kate Northrup, that struck me like a lightening bolt from the "say no" gods:
"You need to learn how to stop validating your existence through action."
Holy mackerel. I felt like I'd been given permission to relax. I do that, I realised, alarmed. I totally do that. I wondered if instead of saying yes to everything, I started to say no a bit more, and free up some time to just kinda... do nothing? To, like Kate says, say no to more of the external so I can say yes to more of the internal. What if I found the joy in missing out?
For me this means leaving work at bang on 5 p.m., every day, because it might look good to my boss that my nose is to the grindstone, but I can assure her and everyone else: after 8 hours staring at a computer I'm cooked, so it's no good trying to make out otherwise. And I want my evenings back.
It means blocking out nights to train for my first 10k race; after work hours that are non-negotiable because running is my favourite thing in the world, and it's too easy to bump off a couple of miles in the rain for a bottle of Prosecco at the bar.
Saying no to the external means being militant about one night on, one night off: if I'm out after work on Monday, I'm going right home at my 5pm work finish on Tuesday.
The white space in my diary means I'm reading more, taking the long route home more because it's prettier, drawing more baths because there is nothing more luxurious than 45 minutes soaked in hot water. It's film night with my housemates, phone calls to my father, cooking something fancy just because. It's eight hours of sleep every.single.night.
My resolution started January 1st, and as we enter the fourth week of the year already I feel calmer, more in touch with myself. I'm eating better, losing weight, exercising more. My skin, I'm told, is glowing, and I'm less stressed at work and at home. I feel great. Selfish as all hell, but great. And when I do go out it's with my favourite people, with whom I am more present. I'm not shattered from the late night before, or worried about getting home at a decent hour because I'm up early to catch up on work in the morning. Being selfish has made me more selfless, really.
I've started to purposefully chronicle these quieter times in photographs. Pictures of steaming coffee and well-made beds, muddy walks and pretty flowers litter my Instagram feed, and I started a 365 project on my Facebook, using a quotation from Douglas Coupland's Life After God, as my guide:
"And if we were to collect these small moments in a notebook and save them over a period of months we would see certain trends emerge from our collection...maybe it is these small silent moments which are the true story-making events of our lives."
Before, I would've overlooked these moments, caught up in a busy whirl of my own making. I think, for a while, I confused saying yes with positivity, and saying no with the opposite. But in fact, learning to say no has opened up a whole other yes inside of me. I feel more positive than ever before.