The Value of Committing to “Yes” or “No”

A bird takes off from a marsh mallow plant.
When this bird takes flight, it “commits” to one direction. It is still free to move in any direction after taking flight but, until it commits to one direction, it remains only “sitting on the fence.”

I Had an Interesting Conversation Recently

We were speaking about saying “yes” or “no,” and the question came up, “What if my authentic answer is ‘I don’t know.'”

The person I was talking with sees the value of giving an honest “no,” or an honest “yes.” But many times it’s not so clear what the answer is. In fact, the more I do The Work, the less I know anything for sure. I can see both sides of everything when my mind is open.

My Experience Is “No”

No, it doesn’t make it hard to live in the world. In fact, ironically, I find myself able to say “yes” or “no” more easily the more I do The Work. Yes, it’s strange. At the same time that my “don’t know” mind is growing, my willingness to commit is also growing.

In fact, the more I see the good in both sides of things, the more free I am to commit to just one. If I don’t commit to one side, I’m stuck in the middle. So the more I do The Work, the more I find myself having an opinion, or landing on a course of action, or saying “yes” or “no.” And I find myself not worrying about whether my “commitment” is “right” or not. It’s good enough for me for now. There’s a lot of freedom in that.

I Like to Play the Game

I find that “I don’t know,” (while it is usually truer down deep for me than “yes” or “no”), sometimes has the effect of leaving me in a place of no action, not able to act. My mind can hold onto “I don’t know” as a way of staying safe. Of not committing. Of not playing the game. Of staying invisible.

“I don’t know” takes no risk, it is not so vulnerable. That’s why I think there is real value in landing on a “yes” or “no”. Once I expose myself as “yes” or “no,” then I have joined the party. And I may change my “yes” to a “no,” but I’m not hiding.

I Know It’s Just a Game

It’s as if I play the game of “yes” and “no” while not fully believing them. It’s my “good enough” version of how to act.

“Do you want to eat a steak?” No. (I have been a vegetarian for 30 years.)

But I know that I am not completely closed to it. I can see the good in eating a steak. And I could question my no and could find even more reasons to eat a steak. So even though I’m not 100% no, and even though my no could become a yes, it’s still a no for now, until it’s not. I’ve landed. I’ve exposed myself as best I can. And people can interact with me. I can place my order.

“I Don’t Know” Is Not a Bad Answer

“I don’t know” can also be an authentic way to answer. But it leaves me separate from the world, not participating, which is fine too. But if I want to participate, landing on a “yes” or “no,” even with “I don’t know” inside me can still be authentic. I know it’s a game, yet I play with my full commitment to each step of the game.

I think that’s what Katie means when she says that for her there is a “little question mark after everything.” She’ll say, “My name is Katie. Just don’t ask me if I believe it’s true.” She is playing the game of being in the world and committing to being “a somebody,” but deep inside I hear that she’s doesn’t believe a word of it. It’s just a game. I see her as free on the inside, while completely committed to participating on the outside.

It seems like a contradiction, but I see the world of “yes” and “no” and the world of “I don’t know” as capable of coexisting simultaneously. Both can be true. I can land on a “yes” or “no” and still hold “I don’t know.” For me, it is a balance of commitment (landing) and openness (knowing that I don’t know).

We Practice This in Questions 1 and 2

When doing The Work, questions 1 and 2 invite us to land on a “yes” or a “no.” Watch how your mind will try to stay hidden in “I don’t know.”

It is the same when doing The Work as it is in living life. The more I commit to my “yeses” and “no’s,” the more I expose the hidden parts of me to the world and to myself. As I step out of the shadows, I start to move into the world with more integrity and humility.

Join Us in October

If you want to make The Work a steady practice in your life, join us for the upcoming 9-month course called The Work 101 for Busy People starting Oct 6. This version of The Work 101 is quickly becoming my favorite. (Notice how I just landed – it can be a little scary – but there’s no hiding in it.)

Participants in The Work 101 for Busy People do The Work for just 10-20 min/day. A real rhythm seems to get established after nine months. The next course starts Oct 6. Find all the details for The Work 101 (9-week course) and The Work 101 for Busy People (9-month course) on The Work 101 course description page. 

Have a great week,
Todd

“Honest communication begins with you communicating with yourself. It means responding with what is true for you, regardless of how someone may react to your answer. First you have to discover what is really true for you. A dishonest yes is a no to yourself.” Byron Katie, I Need Your Love, Is That True?

P.S. I’m off to Austria this week, join us there too if you can. 

Get Articles like this in your Inbox every week


  • Get weekly tips on how to do The Work of Byron Katie.

  • Read my insights as I do The Work.

  • Be the first to know about new courses and other (cool) stuff.

  • Get my free checklist for filling in the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet.

I will not send spam, and I will not sell or give away your e-mail address to anyone.

>