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The three-letter word that will dramatically improve your day

I spent my birthday in Stage 4 Lockdown. This strategy made my ISO birthday much more fun.

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On the weekend just gone, I “celebrated” my birthday in Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne. I had barely given my birthday any thought this year because really, the options for what us Melbournians can do right now are slightly limited…. However, I did spend a small amount of time thinking about what I could do to make an ISO birthday suck just a little bit less.

My six-year-old daughter Frankie was with me for the weekend, so we had a chat about it on birthday eve. I suggested to Frankie that she might like to be my slave for the day (politically incorrect, I know, but still, not a completely unreasonable idea given the reverse plays out every other day…). She pointed out some flaws to this, such as she doesn’t know how to cook, load the dishwasher, or make coffee. 

So we kept thinking… 

One of the things that can make parenting (especially single parenting) exhausting is the amount of times you have to say “no” during the day. 

“Can I play on my iPad mum?” No.

“Can I ride my bike wearing your jumper (that happens to be really expensive and made out of a very delicate cotton/silk mix)?” No.

“Can I play with this entire pack of blu tac (and get it all over the carpet and my hair)?” No.

Every “no” comes with a feeling of frustration and annoyance. For both of us.

So I thought to myself, “What if my birthday became the day of Yes”? What if for any request Frankie asked of me, I simply said “yes”.

I ran this by Frankie. She reacted as excitedly as if it were her birthday tomorrow, not mine. I pointed out that this rule should probably cut both ways. Any request I made of her would also have to result in “yes”.

We pinkie-promised on this plan. I think Frankie was more excited about it being the day of Yes than an at-home birthday celebration day when she went to sleep that night.

The day started smoothly enough with Frankie presenting me with a homemade birthday present of a tiny felt purse that had been stapled together. Completely non-functional, but obviously one of the best presents I have ever received. I also received a jar of fairy dust but am yet to verify whether it actually works.

We then went downstairs to have breakfast. 

“Can I use the iPad mum?”

We have very strict screen time rules in my household. Normally, if she is lucky, Frankie will get 20 minutes of iPad time on the weekend. But being the day of Yes, I of course said, “yes”.

Frankie decided she needed a lockable notebook so she Googled how to make one on YouTube. She then asked, “Mum can we make this?” 

“Yes,” I replied, thinking this might be the first YouTube craft project I have completed with my daughter in her six years on this planet.

I asked Frankie to collect all the materials to which she helpfully did (because the answer is always “yes”). We then made a notebook that was “lockable” with some pipe cleaner and looked pretty cool.

At 11am, after Frankie had been playing with LEGO and was being relatively self-entertaining, she asked me when it was TV time. One of the rules in my house is that no TV happens before 4pm. So I replied “not yet”. Then Frankie remembered the rules of the day and phrased the question in a different way. “Mum, can I watch TV?”

“Yes” I said, as a part of me died inside. 

The day progressed smoothly and conflict-free. Yes, more TV was watched than normal, but Frankie self-regulated her behaviour to avoid turning into a couch potato during the day of Yes. We danced, built lots of LEGO creation, and baked muffins. It was an awesome day. (Having said that, when Frankie was up an hour past her usual bedtime constructing a highly complex fort in her bedroom to sleep in, I deeply wished for the end of the day of Yes).

The next morning, Frankie asked me “Is today also a day of Yes?”

I sadly informed her that it was not. But it did get me thinking about how much better our lives could be if every day became a day of Yes.

It reminded me of an interview I did for How I Work with Paul Migliorini, who at the time headed up Amazon Web Services for Australia and New Zealand. 

Paul explained to me, “What we think at Amazon, particularly for people leaders, is we try to think of our role as to find a way to say yes. Many managers go into a lot of meetings and think it’s their job to say no. But really, my job is if someone’s given me a proposal is to try to work out how to get it to yes”.

We are so used to saying no right now. And if you are in Melbourne, you are probably used to the government saying “no” to everything too. But perhaps, where you do have some control, see if you can find a way to say yes. I guarantee you’ll create a very different type of day for yourself and those around you.

Dr Amantha Imber is the founder of behavioural science consultancy Inventium and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful people.

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