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  • Writer's pictureEve Bernfeld

Is NO a Four-Letter Word?

Part 2: Without No, there is no Yes

Ready to return to the series on "No" that I started a few months back, I scrolled down to the blog I posted on March 8, 2020 ("Is No a Four-Letter Word? Part 1: Ado Annie"). There I found a description of the chaos of getting everyone out the door to school and work that might as well have been written about another life.

I’m sure someday we’ll be back in a world of rushing to and fro. But I don’t feel in a huge hurry to shove myself back into the rat race that used to feel so normal.

Still, “No” continues to be a word full of potent magic for me.

Awhile back I checked a book out of the library on Minimalism. Haha. It claimed to be Minimalism with kids, so I thought it was worth a try. I didn’t get very far. But there was one thing that caught my attention. The author suggested the need to ruthlessly curate my kids’ art and schoolwork. Yep, the book suggested I should throw away most of the beautiful, precious art and schoolwork that my children have created, rather than saving it.

Because saving everything is the same as throwing everything away.


I took that book back to the library ages ago. And my house is no more minimal than before. Though I think I’m a teeny bit less nostalgic as I recycle some of the paper output of my children. And I have a file for each to save the stuff I really love.

It occurs to me that this applies to more than just my children’s art. If I indiscriminately say Yes to everything (or not so much “Yes” as “well, sure, okay”), I’m not really saying YES to anything. If every thought, opportunity, need, demand on my time is equally important, I have no agency, no space to do the things I really want to do.

Without No, there can be no real Yes.

One of my students told me a story: when he was a teenager and his mother would ask him to do something—anything—his initial response would always be “No.” Somehow this gave him some autonomy to take in what she said and then make up his mind. He reports that he typically did what she asked eventually, but he needed that initial negative response to give him the space to process it. (This is good information for a mother of future teenagers.)

I think this is an excellent idea, and one that we can use stealthily. We don’t have to bark, teen-style, “No!” into the face of everyone who makes a request of us. But the idea of starting with stopping might be tremendously liberating. (And it echoes F.M. Alexander's process.)

So as I finish up this blog and automatically go to check my email or social media, I will say to myself “No.” Which will hopefully give me the space to decide if that’s a good idea. When I find myself rushing though eating because my kids are wild at the table, I will say “No” and put down my fork for a moment. When I’m trying to get us out the door and someone is being so slow I want to stick a fork in my eye I will say “No” and give myself a moment to decide how to proceed.

At least I’ll try.

Giving myself the gift of choice is the heart of the Alexander Technique. It’s absolutely free, but it is not easy. It starts with a No. And it leads to YES!

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