Saying No in order to say Yes

Lately I’ve been having to say “No” a lot to events and activities that appeal to me, in order to make room for “Yes”. Time and energy are finite for us every day and every week, and our desires are inexhaustible.

Last year, I wrote a post about how I use my time. A lot has changed since then, with various rebalancings.


Listening to music

I still do not listen to music much, but I do more of it now than I did last year. I still minimize listening to recorded music (lately I listen to specific music that I am playing myself or attempting to), preferring to listen to live music where I don’t even know the program in advance. In particular, I’ve found it very stimulating to attend more Carnegie Mellon School of Music Convocations, which are targeted toward music students. One of my earliest blog posts was about going to a special convocation featuring Byron Janis. I’ve been to some others since then.

The group Flute Force was here about a month ago for a convocation and of course I had to go, given how I’d gotten serious about playing flute. They gave a nice concert of a variety of music, all of which was unfamiliar to me and stimulating.

Flute Force

Flute Force

Today I went to a rather moving and thought-provoking presentation and performance by the violinist Sangeet-Richard Downs, who was a CMU graduate. (I will write a blog post later about him and his message that completely resonates with me.)

There was a “conventional” concert last Saturday by the Carnegie Mellon Chamber Orchestra that I was planning to take Abby to, and had already obtained tickets for, but this was an example of my saying “No” in order to say “Yes”: we decided instead to do French dancing. And there is no doubt we made the right decision.

Playing instruments

Lately, I’ve said “No” to practicing any musical instrument other than the modern flute. I no longer practice the recorder, and have had to say “No” to the Friday evening gatherings that last year I was rather enjoying, and had led to my performing at Phipps Conservatory. I told the recorder gang that I was going to return to recorder after my April 15 orchestra concert. This is an example of “No” meaning not “never again” but simply “not now”.

Also, just today, Abby said the woman who lent us an accordion for me to try out in case I wanted to buy it and take accordion needed to know whether we were buying it. Since I have barely touched accordion all these months, and will not be doing so for probably another half year at least, I said “No”, I am not prepared to buy it now. In the past I have bought stuff to use “sometime”, and this has only caused clutter. (Yes, we are still incrementally decluttering, getting rid of stuff we don’t use. Just yesterday, I decided to throw away the remainder of my trophy and medal collections that no longer mean anything, except that I am still saving one trophy, from my winning the Pittsburgh Chess Club Championship some years ago; I’m thinking of giving it back to the club so that they can remove my name plate and reuse it.)


One big change since last year is that Abby and I have gotten back into dancing again. Saying “Yes” to dancing has, of course, meant saying “No” to other things. For example, this year I have approximately halved my former blog output. I also reduced my Web reading.


Last year, I didn’t have a daily meditation practice. Now I do. Just ten minutes a day in the morning, but it makes a difference. Saying “Yes” to meditation meant saying “No” to obsessively checking email and the like upon getting out of bed.

Computer usage and reading books

A final tradeoff to mention is that my new habit of getting off the computer earlier in the evening, well before sleeping, has led me to do more paper book reading. Saying “Yes” to reading more books has been a good thing. I plan to start writing up reviews of the books I’ve been reading.


“No” doesn’t just mean deprivation. It means making room for “Yes” too.

What have you happily said “No” to that you wanted to do this year but decided not to do?

(Update of 2014-01-16)

Ironically, I was just getting going with saying too much Yes even just as I was saying No, as I ended up taking two Coursera courses starting in late February: “Software Engineering for Software as a Service (Part I)” and “Model Thinking”. As a result, I was really swamped from late February to June. I didn’t even have time to finish up reviews of the courses once I completed them, and only tried to fill in the gaps almost two years later!!

The temptation after saying No is to take on new Yes. In retrospect, I should have been more careful.

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