Check Your Default Setting

When my kids were little, I noticed a subtle but significant difference in the way my husband and I parented: his automatic reply when the kids asked for anything was ‘no,’ whereas mine was ‘yes.’ Now this wasn’t conscious – we hadn’t chosen to be this way based on a particular philosophy of parenting. And it isn’t to say that this observation correlated with being a more or less engaged parent – he was a super involved and completely dedicated dad to our little ones. But there was definitely a difference in our orientation toward the children – and more specifically, where we naturally preferred to keep the door of possibility with respect to their activities. For me, that door was wide open unless there was a good reason to close it, while he preferred to keep that door closed unless it was clear that it was a good time to open it.

Now the difference is subtle, like I said – especially if you’re looking at the net result. Perhaps after some consideration, the initial ‘no’ might become a ‘yes,’ as was often the case with my husband and kids. In that case, what would the difference be, really, in having ‘yes’ as a default vs ‘no?’ For those of us living under a judicial system that assumes innocence until guilt is proven, there is probably an intuitive sense of the significance of the nuance. Still, let’s take a moment to consider the relevance of our default setting in our own lives as adults, because this comes up for us too – far more than we realize.

Many of the women I’ve worked with have an unconscious ‘no’ default setting. This can show up in a thousand different ways, like:

“I’ll get that _____ (article of clothing) when I’ve lost another X pounds” or

“My friends invited me to X activity, and I was sort of interested, but I said I didn’t want to go” or

“I really wanted to eat X, but ordered Y instead” or

“I’ve always wanted to try X (activity, class, etc), but . . .”

And we have the sense that we’re waiting for something – maybe weight loss, increased fitness, more confidence, but under that, what we’re really waiting for is a greater sense of worth. ‘When I lose 10 pounds’ is really code for ‘when I feel more worthy.’ And too often, that sense of unworthiness keeps the door of possibility closed in our lives.

Now consider the difference between a ‘no’ default, and deciding ‘no’ after considering the possibility of ‘yes.’ There’s a world of difference between considering an option (and deciding it is not something you want right now, like that shirt, that burger or that family reunion), and saying ‘no’ out of hand. Here’s the nuance: with the former mindset, you’re deciding if something works for YOU; with the latter mindset, you’ve accepted as a foregone conclusion that you don’t work for IT. Or that it’s for other people but not for you.  Having a ‘yes’ default is a way to give yourself permission to participate in your life in a way that works for YOU.

Of course, there are other things that can conspire to keep the door of possibility closed – we can learn that pattern from our care-givers as kids, or we can find ourselves in a place where, for a variety of reasons, it feels unsafe to open ourselves to possibility. The important thing is to be operating from a place of consciousness here – is our orientation to the possibility in our lives aligned with what we truly want? Do we say ‘yes’ in those situations that we really want to, deep down?

I invite you to take some time to reflect on your default setting: are you a person who keeps the door of possibility open or closed? Do you marginalize yourself in your own life by making ‘no’ your default? How would your life change if you said ‘yes’ to possibility, ‘yes’ to yourself?