I should probably preface this by stating that I’m a classic Capricorn.
A good ol’ goat. Steady, even, hard-working, rarely veering off course. My best friend, on the other hand, is a Scorpio—intense, passionate, risk taker, fiery.
We met when we were 15, and the rest is history. A classic case of opposites attract. She brings spice to my life, and I often have to bring her back down to earth. I wasn’t surprised when I got a random text from her one morning challenging me to a “Month of Yes.” What I was surprised by, however, was my answer—yes.
Normally, I would not agree to such a thing. I spent the majority of my teens and early 20s desperately trying to be perfect and please everyone. My latter 20s were spent trying to undo this vicious cycle. Therapy helped. Yoga really helped. Learning to say “no” was hard. I often pissed off, but mostly confused, everyone around me. I even lost some friends in the process. But I was content on my little journey and stronger than I had ever been. The word “no” became my constant companion. It was my confidant and my new standby. For the first time, I began to find power in my words—and for once, I didn’t let someone’s potential disappointment control me.
So was I nervous agreeing to an entire month of “yes”? Absolutely. But I’d also learned that opening yourself up to new experiences is often how we grow. And of course, in typical Capricorn fashion, I insisted on a few ground rules: 1) Nothing too risky. Examples included, but were not limited to, sky diving, three-ways, ghost-pepper-eating contests, and no nude streaking across Hollywood Blvd. 2) Nothing that will break the bank (I’m a yoga teacher after all) and 3) Nothing permanent like tattoos, piercings, or mug shots that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
The rules were set; all I had to do was sit back and see what these next 31 days had in store for me. Many memorable moments ensued and one unfortunate incident as well. Laughs were had, tears were shed, and through it all I learned a few key life lessons to add to my growing bag of tricks.
1. Alone time is necessary. With today’s never ending to-do lists and technology induced social pressures, sometimes we just need to shut it all down and shut up. While I absolutely enjoyed spending extra time with friends and creating new experiences, I also discovered that alone time is sacred for me. I need that quiet time to disconnect and recharge. To calm my mind and tap into my intuitive voice which is often overshadowed by all the voices around me.
We need to disconnect and reconnect to ourselves once in a while, because when we spend time alone, we learn to love and value ourselves, and then our shared experiences with others become more fulfilling. Even if it’s just a few minutes, spending time alone and checking in daily is vital for our own self-care.
2. Yes equals opportunity. One of the things I said “yes” to during my “Month of Yes” was trying out a new yoga class. Many of us are guilty of falling into routines where we know what we like and what we are going to get, so we stick to it. We’re often hesitant to try something new because maybe we won’t like it. But on the flip side, maybe we actually will.
By being open-minded, I met an awesome teacher who would later become a friend and eventually offer me a teaching opportunity. If I hadn’t stepped outside my comfort zone that day and taken the new class, that never would have happened. It’s hard to predict where the next opportunity may come from or how the dots eventually will connect. All I know for sure is that when I do nothing, nothing usually happens.
3. New experiences are good for you. We all have habits and patterns we wish we could break. And try and try as we might, they just keeping veering their ugly heads. A couple years ago, my therapist recommended that I “try new things.” I was hesitant at first, but found that science actually backs this one up. When we try new things, we create new neural connections in the brain and eventually begin to rewire our brains. The negative patterns we’ve become accustomed to start to fade.
“As we gain new experiences, some connections are strengthened while others are eliminated. This process is known as synaptic pruning. Neurons that are used frequently develop stronger connections and those that are rarely or never used eventually die.”
The brain is much more malleable than we ever thought, so the idea that we are stuck or always “gonna be that way” is not necessarily true. For me, when trying new things, I had to focus so much more on what I was doing that the other thoughts simply dissolved into the background. Maybe not permanently, but even temporarily made a huge impact on my overall sense of well-being.
4. The universe will test you. About halfway through my “Month of Yes,” I agreed to an impromptu concert with the bestie. Her friend had bailed, and knowing I couldn’t possibly say no, she asked me. I agreed, and we had a great time. Afterward, we got to my car to find that it had been keyed. Rightfully pissed, I freaked out. Then the thoughts began. Who would do such a thing? How much is this going to cost me? Why didn’t I just stay at home? Why does this stuff always happen to me? I let the “poor me” moment unfold.
In life, sh*tty stuff happens sometimes, and we need to allow ourselves to spin, and cry, and get it out. The challenge is in letting it pass and then moving forward. I didn’t want to continue with my “Month of Yes.” What bad thing was going to happen next? I thought. I should just stop while I’m ahead. But I knew that mentality was fear based. Maybe the next opportunity I said “yes” to would connect me with the love of my life.
The thing is we never know. That’s what is so terrifying and so exciting. Every day is a new opportunity for something to happen. And yes many things are out of our control, but how we deal with the challenges and whether we see the glass as half-full or half-empty really makes all the difference in the end.
5. We are designed to be in community. Saying “yes” brings us closer to those we love and creates memories. Even though my preference is snuggling in bed with my cat, this month forced me to engage and interact with some of the most important people in my life more than usual. And I am incredibly grateful for that.
Time flies, things change, people get married, people move, babies are had, the dynamics of my relationships will not always be the same, and I realize that if I don’t take advantage of right now, I may never have these opportunities again.
Sure, my Netflix time and reading list is important to me, but actual genuine human connection is what I am going to remember one day when I’m reminiscing about my life. I want to look back and smile because I remember how much Jen was obsessed with that matcha green tea we had, or how while shopping together Ingrid found a cow painting that called out to her, or the time my car got keyed and the only way to deal was go immediately to In-N-Out with Carolina and discuss my feelings over french fries. Now is all we really have. Tomorrow doesn’t actually exist. Be with people. Feel things. Life is meant to be lived and shared with those we love.
I learned a lot over that month. Not only was I forced out of my comfort zone, which triggered many things for me including my dreaded people pleasing, but I came face-to-face with my own habits and insecurities. In yoga we call it raga and dvesha. We constantly seek the things that make us feel good and bring pleasure (raga) and avoid those that cause us discomfort or pain (dvesha).
But, it’s in seeing all experiences as equal, that we can cultivate a state of balance. When we are no longer seeking or avoiding, but taking what comes and accepting instead, we can begin to find a little bit of peace. I became so comfortable in my cocoon of solitude that I avoided a lot of interaction. We need experiences to learn from and grow. We can’t avoid life entirely because it will creep up on us regardless. So would I do it all over again? Maybe.
But perhaps, I’ll keep it to myself the next time around and see just how the universe chooses to respond.
Author: Stephanie Greco
Image: Courtesy of Author
Editor: Travis May