Welcome to Unconventional Life Hacks, a regular feature wherein we propose one surprising, unlikely, or absurd idea that just might radically change your approach to life. (Or at least make you *consider* doing so.)
When I was seven years old, I made a huge mistake. School had ended for the day, and I stayed back after the final bell because my dad was coming to fix the single computer in my classroom. I can’t remember exactly what he was doing (installing the Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? game, perhaps?), but I remember one detail of that afternoon incredibly well: As Dad worked away in the corner, my teacher asked me if I’d like anything to play with while I waited for him to finish. I, the polite seven year old, replied, “No, thank you.” For what felt like the next three hours I sat in silence and regretted my decision, too shy to admit that, Actually yes, I am a small child and I made a mistake. May I please have a puzzle?
I wish I could attribute my error to the fact that my brain was still undergoing some pretty intense cognitive development, but that would be dishonest. Since that moment, I’ve said no to countless things I actually very much needed, the most frequent and explicit example being a glass of water. I’ve turned down water in job interviews, at friend’s houses, in salon chairs. And I’ve regretted it each and every time.
My saying no to a toy and a glass of water may seem only tangentially related, but the rationale behind them is identical: I don’t want to be seen as someone who needs to be fussed over (different from not wanting to be fussed over). I remember that particular childhood memory so vividly because it’s a feeling I’ve grown familiar with through adulthood — the feeling of wanting to take up as little space as possible, not to impose, to always be self-sufficient. And once I truly understood the impetus behind my affection for “no,” I felt a deep need to address it.
When I started saying yes to water, I learned that, beyond the important task of keeping you alive, a glass of water is social lubricant. It gives you something to do with your hands and an excuse to pause during conversation. But even more importantly, saying yes to a glass of water is the perfect way to practice saying yes to the bigger things I need, but often feel too self-conscious to ask for. It’s practice for welcoming nourishment in all forms.
Much has been said on the internet in the last few years about the benefits of setting boundaries and saying no to the things and people that leave us feeling like burned out human husks. But I think finding comfort in saying yes should fall under the same umbrella. Saying yes, please to the things you need — whether that’s a glass of water before a presentation, a tour of a new yoga studio, or a jacket when you’re walking home from a friend’s place and the temperature has unexpectedly dropped — is a way of asserting yourself, of reminding the world, and yourself, that your needs don’t make you unworthy, but human. And that sharing those needs can be a conduit for human connection.
The more you say yes to little things, the more you flex the mental muscle that will one day be strong enough to say yes to the things that really matter. So if you’re reading this and recognizing that you might be a little like me, I politely (of course) suggest that the next time you’re offered a glass of water, you take it. And maybe even ask for seconds.
Photo by Samantha Simon / EyeEm via Getty Images.